“And you can’t feel nothing small…”
I radiate my feelings outward, the intensity of my energy palpable and present. Of course, as things are prone to equal and opposite reactions, I also feel very deeply the external – the energy of a room, the weight of a situation, the heavy meaning of a storyline.
I wonder if it is that sensitivity – the continuous consciousness of emotions – that has enabled me to exercise vulnerability as a means of connection, or rather, if it was merely foisted upon me an ultimatum of existence: either you utilize the vulnerability as a means of connection, or you can masquerade through life, choosing isolation over engagement, which to me seems a wholly distasteful option.
I’ve chosen to live a vulnerable life – one of openness and honesty, partly because I can’t help but live any other way, and partly because I feel as though eschewing vulnerability as a way of being leads to nothing but superficiality, stunting relationships and intimacy. This was a choice made a long time ago, but that said, it isn’t easy to always live that way, especially in times of insecurity.
I’ve never felt comfortable pretending to be someone I’m not; finding and acting from a place of authenticity came about some time during later adolescence/early adulthood, and I’ve found that my greatest joys, successes, and bliss all stem from moments when I was nothing but myself. Granted, it’s not always popular, or prudent, to be so much yourself, but I find that if you’d like to find the depths of the human experience, you have to dig in a bit. Thankfully, I’m also incredibly stubborn.
So what is vulnerability, exactly? The dictionary defines it being open to injury, which is exactly what it is, but also, it’s not that at all. Yes, it’s about what can happen when you lower your defenses, bringing down your walls to let other people in. For me, it’s a willingness to share feelings or experiences in order to increase intimate connection, which of course could result in injury, mostly of the emotional kind. But that’s half the adventure, right?
I’ve been working on being a better listener since I learned how to talk. (Mostly because I never learned how to stop talking, and thus, learning how to listen will always be a project on which I should focus.) I am a verbal processer, which is beautiful but also really frustrating, because combined with the ADHD and my love of information, I’m a whole bunch of output, when I should be better about attempting to increase the input balance.
I even interrupt my own sleep to talk. Last night, I woke up boyfriend in the middle of the night (accidentally, I was talking in that half-awake, mostly unconscious but really urgent, I-have-a-point-to-make-but-I’m-also-half-asleep-so-I’m-probably-slurring-a-little way) to tell him that even though we’re trying to track our sleep using his FitBit, the experiment is already compromised because of his own awareness of it. Sleep me was very concerned about sharing the Hawthorne effect with him. I think sleep him was not as excited.
However…even with that basic communication shortcoming, people have always confided in me, which is amazing because I love knowing stuff and also because I love knowing that I’m a safe space for secrets or sharing. Having a safe space is important. If you want to know someone, you have to know their experiences and perspectives, and in order to find out that there might be commonalities, someone has to start the sharing.
It’s a basic tenet of communication: you throw down information; I match and expand; you respond; the conversation continues. In order for that to be effective, someone has to get beyond the weather and get real. It doesn’t have to start with an onslaught of depth, it can be as minute as an interest, a hobby, a passion, whatever. And you can work from there.
Vulnerability as a means of connection is curious – why don’t we do it more? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a fear of judgement, of being seen as “other,” of being rejected. When I open up, sharing an embarrassing story or an emotional memory, having someone judge me in a negative way is the very last thing I want. Who is that person to be critical of something that is mine? Who am I to be critical of something that is someone else’s? Often, to the observer, the vulnerability being communicated is basic, simple, easily addressed or managed. But that’s not the case, and we’re foolish if we think otherwise. Life is messy, sticky; things and events and experiences adhere themselves and change our course and perspective in often unknown and unseen ways.
I think that’s part of the problem with vulnerability – sometimes you don’t have to respond. People assume that there’s a necessary or basic etiquette-driven platitude, but there’s often not. That’s why vulnerability is so different than superficial communication. It changes the conversation. Sometimes the hearing is enough. The presence of another, a subtle acknowledgement of the veracity of one’s experiences.
I’m not advocating an all-out, no-holds barred onslaught of information as a means of connection. That would be far too overwhelming.
Vulnerability is hard. I know this, because even though I sit here and preach from my ivory tower of vulnerability-as-a-way-of-life immersion, I also struggle with it. It’s like I have two levels – the first, not superficial, but also not that deep, and then the level where I lock everyone out. Sometimes I’m not even vulnerable enough to acknowledge my own feelings to myself. I think we’re all like that, at least in some ways, defiant and resolute in our thinking and unwilling to share with others.
There are 800 TED talks (not an accurate figure) about vulnerability, and countless articles touting the benefits. It’s like the new emotional kale; it’s everywhere! It’s an awesome principle, but of course, there are risks. Opening up and then being let down can be absolutely devastating. However, opening up and being embraced and accepted can be the most healing feeling, and to me, it’s part of the root of the human experience. Trusting other people sucks, but we have to do it to really, actually thrive, because the marrow of life isn’t surface-level bullshit, it’s deep and it’s gritty and it’s real. And if you want to get at the marrow, (ha, popular food of the late aughts for a thousand, Alex), you have to sink your teeth in and get ready to get real.
I’m currently out of time, because apparently, I have a job, but my roommate and I are in the process of ruminating more about vulnerability, and so perhaps we shall return with additional ideas. But for now, have the above. J