and now if you would kindly remove your clothing

“When you lose your capacity to care what other people think, you’ve lost your ability to connect. But when you’re defined by it, you’ve lost your ability to be vulnerable.” Brené Brown

Living fully and existing freely matters to all but these are often desirable states rarely occupied. Many times we refuse to be the first to say “I love you” fearful of heartbreak or we pretend everything is easy peasy lemon squeezy instead of confronting conflict from others. Often the warmth we crave from another we find more easily generated within the confines of a hibernation cave, a dwelling constructed of blankets, Netflix and comfort food where life can be put on hold for a time and there is no great risk, no daring taken. It is easier to hold back and remain quiet when stress frays our happiness and we are so obsessively concerned with being liked and wanted that we will frequently crop out the flaws in our personality and filter ourselves to attract and look like what we think others want us to be. It is a difficult thing for a person to allow another to love them for who they truly are if they do not know and love themselves, and it is more so difficult to try be yourself when open honest conversations within yourself and others are avoided. Perceived control over our being in the world removes our ability to be truly vulnerable. People occupy two places within themselves, self-inhibition and self-expression. We are pushed into inhibition from fear of rejection, it is scary confronting inner failings, accepting when we disappoint and even accepting fully our successes. Inhibition displays itself as discontent, a holding back when around others, limiting who we are and clinging to changeable fads in a bid to remain relevant. When we free ourselves to be and express fully there is a lingering sense of sureness, security in the base of one’s identity is consistently present, with occasional wavering and adaptability, and a real self is projected into the real world, no longer based on the projections of others onto us. It is difficult contending with a culture driven by self and weaving vulnerable living into a world of self-sufficiency is a frightening concept.

“How are things in the ole heart?”
“Ehhhhhh….”
*Cue sleight of hand magic trick/verbal display of prowess by regurgitating comically developed tales and initiation of banter for successful avoidance of awkward intense interpersonal connection*
A scenario we all know well, the provocative questioning of a concerned friend desiring to know the truth. It’s invasive and difficult and not hardwired into our skill set to naturally respond with ease. It is red hot discomfort where the thought of sharing something personal and conversing honestly causes us to pedal through a crazy number of thoughts and internal arguements until what remains is a dazed and confused, wooly headed person in an awkwardly quiet conversation. If you are in any way skilled at shifting the spotlight of the conversation elsewhere it can generally be avoidable. However, sharing with others is an essential, and ultimately enjoyable, part of life and not because it procures a human superglue shot to our broken parts nor as a security blanket to assuage insecurities.  Choosing openness and being vulnerable lets us stop viewing others opinions as a measuring stick for our worthiness and meaning.

Conversing with others, imparting ‘secrets’ and seeking personal advice is a fundamental skill that warrents investigation and practice over time. Wariness and wisdom should both be enacted when operating on this level in order to avoid feeling over-exposed and emotionally raw/abused. Balance is about striking the right sort of guardedness while ensuring we don’t resort to total hiding of our true self behind masks. Revelation is a gradual process and very individualised particular to the people you are with, it is always important to set discernable boundaries. A good mindset to have is honesty with all and vulnerability with some, that will result in thought led vulnerability rather than blunt exposure. Lean into the discomfort of being with others, of connecting and relating, of awkward moments and happy firsts. It is a funny one really we often would think admission of failure or verbalising struggle comes from making ourselves inferior but in fact successful vulnerability requires a totality in self-acceptance, an assuredness in one’s own strength and a fixed agreement with the self that the result is something that can be handled. That hardly seems weak to me. I love asking questions a lot hoping always that people will find the freedom to chatter incessantly of their brain turnings to me, to express concepts of their character and values they hold and then I can meet them in turn to engender bonding and closeness. What a wonderful declaration of love to share truths and thoughts with another.

Human connection is unravelled by fear and shame, these both regularly tell me either ‘I’m not enough’ or ‘I am too much’. Fear can be intensely controlling, we are afraid to appear weak or needy. This is a dangerous and diminutive mindset to hold, look to any person in your life and what do you think when you see them opening up and seeking help? We see courage, respect at the emotional risk taken and are awed by the display of their capacity for emotional intelligence. Realigning our perception involves letting ourselves be seen to inhabit honesty. Viewing the vulnerable part of ourselves as the birthplace of innovative thinking leading to adaptability, creativity making us new and teaching appropriate responses to change, gives us a framework to cope with difficulty and above all else facilitates healthy processing. Undoubtedly we will all experience a vulnerability hangover at some point or another. The dull ache and spiking paranoia lurking on the edges of our recollections is familiar. It feels something like finding yourself naked with another person for the first time, sudden overwhelming doubt and reeling questions to which the brain supplies imagined scenarios of ridiculously humiliating proportions one unfolding maliciously upon the other. It comes from a part of ourselves that works in response to engineer safety and control. Combatting it requires acknowledging any potential shame and the fear of rejection we feel, not a denial of it’s presence or fearful ignorance but a choosing to deviate from it’s suggestions.

Shame inhibits us from truly open, vulnerable conversations and also from even confronting and getting to know ourselves. When you engage with honesty you leave feeling a little exposed and a little on edge but this is how you know you have let go of the control, freely giving to others in an authentic way. Shame is that gremlin that causes you to halt, encourages you to not open the door to the party because ‘nobody wants you there anyway’, the voice of unreason, the fear bringer that holds evidence for your failings/lackings in front of you. Who is this critic but ourselves? I tell myself I am a mistake, I punish myself for not living up to expectations I set. Shame robs us of our assurance and worth. To combat this we need to re-contextualise our experiences, change our understanding of who we are and how we are particularly in a world of mass insecurity.  The online community has no perimeters and there can be a personal price to public representation, while we have more freedom for self-expression we live by growing numbers of methods of limitation. We have created a marketplace for expression attempts. Shaming has become an industry, while affirmation is a hot commodity that is desperately sought through careful manipulation, selling and filtering.

It is easy to fall into the trap of false vulnerability. A cultural abuse of the vulnerability gap in order to affirm the individualisation of people that ends up leading to yet another platform of comparison i.e. unworthiness felt over the lack of difficulty in our lives or a feeling that we should suffer more to be better people. Public platforms are a powerful way to breed honest living but it can be easy to start over-sharing for self-fulfillment rather than out of integrity and to give support. This is recognisable where a person has a hidden agenda when sharing and presents itself as over-exposure or usually accompanies a shock factor detail in their revelation. I am no stranger to this  I can recall key times in my life where I have strategically revealed certain happenings unnecessarily in order to engineer a particular reaction, to shape my image a certain way or to catch the attention of specific individuals. When really what I should be trying to do is share more intimately and wisely, to be honest and upfront but not deeply revelatory which is often more about my self-betterment than I let on. True vulnerablity is not always so admirable, nor easily done and does not always leave the vulnerable one in a heroic light. Learning the necessity of timely and essential revelation is a skill that we hone as we go through life, the practice of reserved self-disclosure. For me finding myself opening up to the idea of conversing honestly with God and crossing that awkward doubt boundary of “I feel a bit stupid talking about my problems to the air” enabled me to not only have more confidence opening up to people but to see clearly where I was only willing to use my vulnerability for my gain. God, being a mostly silent listening ear, gave me an objective viewpoint on how I was representing myself and what my actions hoped to consequence and taught me more about what true authenticity really looks like. After all it is rather difficult to manipulate any sort of reputation or gain status from a spiritual being.

The very core of our identities is formed on the basis of truths we hold about our way of being in the world, moral codes and personal belief systems. Seeking to know and be known by others involves many actions and happenings but the fundamental aspect of connection is formed on a basis of sharing, a vulnerable extension of truths about ourselves and a reciprocal receiving of the truths of others.  Can you allow others to see the truth you hold to about yourself if you can’t even face yourself? The secret to being able to fully and freely be with others is to fully and freely be with your own self. Self-expression is a controlled application of your identity therefore it would make sense to get to know yourself. What we want to avoid is a Patrick Star mindset of surface awareness, where he himself expresses  “The inner machinations of my mind are an enigma”. Encouraging openness requires us to return to a valuing of compassion, an honouring of self-removed empathy and motivation simply to better the other. A life is not well lived if it is lived without making a mistake or taking a wrong turn in one’s path, humans have the capacity to utilise regret and choose to wilfully respond to shame and error in order to better their experiences for themselves and others. We will never be able to let go fully of the part of ourselves that is anxious, that feels a stab of fear when laying out the cards on the table, that is a tad insecure in their sharing with another but we have the clarity and the ability to accept this part of ourselves and live, choose, speak regardless. Insecurities and fear do not dictate how we live they simply have to be moulded into allowing us to live. How freeing it can be to embrace failure. Achieve loss, accept error and learn from the implications of these.

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