Human connection and vulnerability..
People say, and it confirms my personal experience, there is a direct link between human connection and vulnerability.
It seems that, often, what creates the moments of “ah! I see you, I am with you!”, is when people are able to be authentic about what they think, and feel, and are able to say, as it really is. However, when you are being very unguarded about your thoughts and feelings, you are risking the potential to be misunderstood or, rejected, or hurt in some way: hence the feeling vulnerable.
But it’s just another of those fascinating twists of fate. If I don’t really show myself then it’s not the real me that’s going to get hurt. This, then, is at the expense of the real me, who, if not shown, is never going to be seen.
Recently I’ve been noticing, when I’m listening to people in thinking sessions: (a place where people are more likely to say what they really think, and feel and want to say – knowing they are in the presence of Nancy Kline’s 10 Components of a Thinking Environment) that people share about the inner-talk they have with themselves inside their own heads. So much of which hardly ever comes out of their mouths in the situations where it needed to. They are editing who they really are, which results in their feeling disconnected, unable to be seen and heard.
We do this, I guess, because we are afraid: of provoking a negative reaction. People won’t like it, they won’t like us, approve of us, will stop loving us. They will judge us.
Vicious circle 101! If we are not saying what we really think and feel in order to be loved, or in order to not lose being loved – it sets us up for failure, because it is not us that is being loved anyway, but rather a manicured version of us that we let out of our mouths.
Sometimes I ask someone , “well, did you say that?” and they look at me as if I’m mad, they shake their heads and chuckle: 9 out of 10 times they say “no!”
I had my own gremlins (as Steven Spielberg and Brene Brown call them) along the way to writing this newsletter. What’s the point of writing all this stuff when Brene Brown has written it already? What’s the point of writing something that’s already been written – that gremlin is a great one for silencing my writing voice.
So what is the crux of this subject? I think it’s obvious – if you are not going to say what you think and feel in order to avoid being rejected, then the 'you' that isn’t being rejected isn’t you. That whole process is a double wound. You wound yourself by making the assumption that your truth won’t be palatable, and therefore who you are isn’t palatable: the source of shame according to Brene Brown. We feel ashamed when we think that who we are, as a person, is bad, is wrong.
This is the subtle the distinction she makes between guilt and shame.
Guilt is what we feel when we think badly of our behaviour in a given situation, i.e. what we did. Shame is what we feel when we think that who we were, how we are in a given situation is bad, and wrong.
When I reviewed, in a recent thinking session, the place in my life where I most edit myself, I connected with the assumptions I was making that other people would make about me: that I am sick, weak and stupid. Wow! What a set of labels to be carrying inside of oneself!
Little wonder that that area of my life gives rise to shame! And stays hidden. Secrets are the fuel of shame.
Like many others, I carry a big button about not being misunderstood. We withhold our true selves to avoid people making an assumption that isn’t necessarily accurate, the effect of which, is to risk being unseen and not feeling understood. In other words, being invalidated. And we need those moments of connection just like we need food. They are nourishing, vital to our being fully human. And the irony of it is that when you are vulnerable and you do reach out for connection, 99.9% of the time you get it. Most people, presented with another person’s vulnerability will respond to it with love, compassion and understanding. The very things we risk losing when we edit ourselves as though we are unpalatable for human consumption!
Of course, there is no guarantee. But does that justify the cowardice that we buy into because of our addiction to the myth of certainty? I have hesitated to write about this because it is not simple, or clear cut. The issue of the courage it takes to share our vulnerability as a powerful route to real connection is tricky to write about. I don’t want it to come across as twee, neat or tidy. I want to be able to capture the not-clear-cut nature of it because it is a risk – the person you open up to is not necessarily going to get it, or get you.
I think we need to look at it through the lens of risk assessment. Ask yourself whether the loss of the gain from the upside is worth the risk of the loss you would experience from the downside. When you share yourself authentically and do not hide or edit. The downside is (or might be) that someone could respond critically towards you and you would feel devastated because you had shown yourself and been evaluated as wanting in some way. The upside, if you do show who you really are and it gets met with connection, love, compassion – profound acceptance - is that you are giving yourself that essential concoction of ingredients that will enable you to live wholeheartedly.
And that, let’s face it, is a pretty compelling upside.