As I was reading "Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead" last night, this excerpt really struck me, and I wanted to share it:
I looked right at her and said, “I frickin’ hate vulnerability.” I figured she’s a therapist - I’m sure she’s had tougher cases. Plus, the sooner she knows what she’s dealing with, the faster we can get this whole therapy thing wrapped up. “I hate uncertainty. I hate not knowing. I can’t stand opening myself to getting hurt or being disappointed. It’s excruciating. Vulnerability is complicated. And it’s excruciating. Do you know what I mean?"
Diana nods. “Yes I know vulnerability. I know it well. It’s an exquisite emotion.” Then she looks up and kind of smiles, as if she’s picturing something really beautiful. I’m sure I look confused because I can’t imagine what she’s picturing. I’m suddenly concerned for her well-being and my own.
“I said it was excruciating, not exquisite,” I point out. “And let me say this for the record, if my research didn’t link being vulnerable with living a wholehearted life, I wouldn’t be here. I hate how it makes me feel.”
“What does it feel like?”
“Like I’m coming out of my skin. Like I need to fix whatever’s happening and make it better.”
“And if you can’t?”
“Then I feel like punching someone in the face.”
“And do you?"
“No. Of course not.”
“So what do you do?”
“Clean the house. Eat peanut butter. Blame people. Make everything around me perfect. Control whatever I can-whatever’s not nailed down.”
“When do you feel the most vulnerable?”
“When I am in fear.” I look up as Diana responds with that annoying pause and head nodding done by therapists to draw us out. “When I’m anxious and unsure about how things are going to go, or if I’m having a difficult conversation, or if I’m trying something new or doing something that makes me uncomfortable or opens me up to criticism or judgment.” Another annoying pause as the empathetic nodding continues. “When I think about how much I love my kids and Steve, and how my life would be over if something happened to them. When I see the people I care about struggling, and I can’t fix it or make it better. All I can do is be with them.”
I feel it when I’m scared that things are too good. Or too scary. I’d really like for it to be exquisite, but right now it’s just excruciating. Can people change that?”
“Yes, I believe they can.”
“Can you give me some homework or something? Should I review the data?”
"No data and gold stars in here. Less thinking. More feeling.”
“Can I get to exquisite without having to feel really vulnerable in the process?
“Well, shit. That’s just awesome."
I have spent my entire life trying to outrun and outsmart vulnerability. I'm a fifth-generation Texan with a family motto of "lock and load," so I come by my aversion to uncertainty and emotional exposure honestly (and genetically). By middle school, which is the time when most of us begin to wrestle with vulnerability, I began to develop and hone my vulnerability-avoidance skills.
Over time I tried everything from "the good girl" with my "perform-ferfect-please" routine, to clove-smoking poet, angry activist, corporate climber, and out-of-control party girl. At first glace these may seem like reasonable, if not predictable, developmental stages, but they were more than that for me. All of my stages were different suits of armor that kept me from becoming too engaged and too vulnerable. Each strategy was built on the same premise: Keep everyone at a safe distance and always have an exit strategy.
All of this is still liquid in my head. I'm waiting for it to gel before I discuss it.... Until then, I'll let you think on it too :)