“Connection is why we're here. It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives…neurobiologically that's how we're wired. Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won't be worthy of connection? What underpinned this shame, this "I'm not good enough," The thing that underpinned this was excruciating vulnerability, this idea of, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.” –Bréne Brown
There was a girl I went to school with who always smiled. She had the best attitude you could ask for in 15-year-old and never believed in gossip. But if you read between the lines you’d see that she didn’t talk about other people in no small part because she didn’t like to talk about herself. Then, on a fateful bus ride one afternoon I found out why. When she was a child, she once tried to open up her feelings to a friend. But the person cut her off, blatantly annoyed saying, “Why are you telling me this?” From then on, she kept her thoughts to herself.
It may seem like a dramatic response, but what you experience as a child often has exponential, even traumatically debilitating effects. I, for one, know this to be true. You see, I have a secret. I used to have a really bad temper. Like, really bad. It was so bad one day my middle school best friends decided to stop being friends with me. It was the first time I realized that people whom you’ve completely revealed yourself to could and would turn you away. It told me, as Brown says, that there was something about me that wasn’t worthy of connection. And so, using my above-average learning curve, I conditioned myself (mostly subconsciously) to stop showing that side of me entirely. And it worked. In fact, it worked so well that when I told one of my post high school friends that I perform acts of violence against those who dare disturb my slumber, she looked at me incredulously and said, “Yeah right, you wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
But whenever I see their heads shake in disbelief, instead of feeling a sense of accomplishment I feel a little sad. In an attempt to find out why, I looked back on some of my most recent conversations with friends over ludicrously priced coffee and found myself to be so…boring. Conversation was bland as we circled the same topics that barely scratched the surface of my inner thoughts. The words I uttered felt tired as I echoed their small talk and regurgitated happy nothings. And as an introvert who often loses energy during meaningless conversation, I found myself constantly drained.
I was sad because in all that effort to be personable, lovable and agreeable I had forgotten what it felt like to have an engaging conversation and to dig into each other's minds, to talk about things that are uncomfortable in hopes of emerging with a greater understanding of the topic, if not a greater understanding of each other.
“One of the ways we deal with vulnerability,” says Brown, “is we numb it. But you can't numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness.”
Indeed, I’ve found that those who’ve grown up with me and seen the gracious and the volatile, who have seen me completely go off the rails, lose my shit in anger and rant at 950 words per minute are the only ones that I feel truly know me. And I think, in turn, they feel that this other side of me informs and explains the rest of my personality.
I’ve found that I actually enjoy it when my friends seek my sympathetic ear when something’s troubling them, and when they show me the side of them that isn’t always happy. It makes me feel like they trust me enough to help carry their burden, and value my support enough to ask for it. They, in essence, are deeming me worthy of knowing them better, so maybe it is only polite that I return the favor.
After all, “those who embraced vulnerability,” says Brown, “Neither spoke of it as being comfortable nor excruciating. They simple saw it as a necessity. As a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which you have to absolutely do that for connection.”
So watch out world, from now on, you’re going to get me, unreserved, uninhibited, unequivocally, me. Good luck!