On Being Vulnerable

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Over the last few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about the correlation between what we put out into the world, how we view our own privacy and the level of vulnerability with which we are comfortable sharing with others. Facebook, blogs, and other social media sites have completely changed the level of involvement we’ve come to expect in the lives of people we come in contact with, most of whom we don’t even know. Not even a little bit. It has also changed what others have come to expect of us.

I’ve thought a lot about happiness and misery, reality and perception, and this constant game of true or false we seem to play online. It seems that everyone now has a platform. It is expected that we are to share our struggles, to put it out there so that others might benefit from our private stories. You aren’t alone. Others go through this too. This is largely a good thing on some platforms: those struggling with depression or mental illness or thoughts of suicide, those dealing with infertility, thoughts of inferiority, failure or insecurity (i.e. every encouraging Mommy blog post, ever). We are now in constant need of validation, and I think there are certain areas of our lives where this has become extremely dangerous and damaging to our relationships.

Those closest to me know that I have always been comfortable in my vulnerability, and in the past I found myself really frustrated with others who hid their feelings and protected their own vulnerability. I highly valued authenticity and transparency: raw realness. I enjoyed it in college lectures and discussions, and I came to expect it from my family and closest friends. There was always, and still is, a very personal element in how I stand when I feel passionately about things, honesty, saying the hard things, and standing firm when I draw a hard line on what I will or will not accept. In the past, it almost hurt my feelings to know someone wasn’t being honest with me, or themselves, about their feelings, whether it had anything to do with me directly or not. I wanted their trust, which to me meant they would show me the most vulnerable parts of themselves. And if they couldn’t do this, it meant they weren’t authentic, that our friendship wasn’t “real.” I have wholeheartedly come to believe this is not true. At all.

My feelings about someone’s comfort level in exposing their vulnerability has everything to do with me, and nothing to do with them. In short, when those thoughts cross your mind, that someone “wants everybody to think their life is perfect,” and you start sounding irritated, that’s your own insecurity talking. It could also be this nasty thing called jealousy. There is a very fine line we must walk in our Facebook lives. We get our news from there, we make inferences and draw conclusions on the state of our “friends'” marriages, what sort of mother a woman is from how many selfies she posts, whether she works, whether she stays home, if she’s seeking attention, validation or being passive aggressive or vague. People use Facebook to say things. People have come to expect us to say things too, to share enough to make us vulnerable, to make us relatable. But what if we don’t share our struggles, what does this mean? If we share the happy moments only, suddenly we find ourselves being crucified for trying to make everyone think we’re perfect. However, when someone “overshares,” judgment comes fast and furious about what should be our private lives. Facebook doesn’t make us public figures, and no one has a right to the private moments or struggles in my life, or your life. We let others see what we are comfortable with them seeing, and it is solely our choice on who sees what. Those closest to us can see what we don’t say, they know our souls to the core and help us coax it out when we need. Sometimes it’s as clear as day to see through someone’s bullshit, but when it comes to others’ expectations of what we owe them in terms of our vulnerability, we could all use a dose of reality on what we are required to give, as well as what we have come to expect from others.

The older I get, the more private I’ve become, and the more I’ve come to respect the autonomy and privacy of the family in which I grew up. Our interpersonal relationships were never public fodder. My parents’ disappointments in us, discipline issues, times of unrest, big challenges, even sicknesses: big things stayed within our four walls. This wasn’t to trick others or paint an inaccurate picture of our family, it was to respect the privacy of our struggles, to anchor our relationships in trust and safety. Until I married and had my own family, I never felt safer than in the presence of my parents and my brother- because they were the keepers of my heart. Despite my teenage angst, the fight to spread my wings, my mistakes and failures, I knew without hesitation I could place it all in the hands of my family and it would be safe there. Despite my resistance and that stretch of cross-armed, pinched-brow years, I knew this to be true: unconditionally they loved us, and protected us. It was not complete transparency or the dumping of every secret, and they didn’t expect this of us. If I give my children nothing else, I pray that I can be this safe place, a place of trust for them as well. The beauty in having children is deep and wide, and extends every day in application of every area of my life. There is something so powerful in bearing witness and sharing our lives with others, telling our story, if we are moved to do so. But as adults, there isn’t an unspoken rule of law that we are required to do this with people who, because of their own expectations, demand or try to force that we do it.

“Life is just messy, and we will clean it up.”  -Sarah Ezell

Thank God for those whom we wrap up in our arms and absorb their stories for them when they place their hurt delicately in our care, and for those who wrap us up, protect our stories, and help us fix things when we are in desperate need. When it comes to our vulnerability, we could all benefit from reevaluating what we’ve come to expect from others in terms of what they share with the world, what they share with us, and what we’ve come to believe they owe us, and approach it with more understanding, respect and grace. We can always assume there are struggles. We can always assume nothing.is.perfect. We are all flawed and damaged and worried and stressed because LIFE. But there is also happiness and purity and dedication and pride and thankfulness. The presence of one set of feelings does not negate the presence of the reverse, whether it’s on Facebook or not.

Oh how I have come to love and respect those dear to me who are introverts, keep a bit of distance, or privacy. I am so blessed in those moments in which I serve as a safe place, a landing place, or a listening ear but I’ve grown to understand not everyone needs me to be that person in their lives. I can be, but I don’t have to be.

Wednesdays are for deep thoughts around here. Thanks for reading! Have a great one!

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