Leaving the script behind
My palms start to get hot and sweaty, I’m feeling restless, fidgety; the fight or flight adrenaline is starting to course through my veins and I’m trying to think of excuses…
This is my normal reaction when people talk about being ‘vulnerable’. It is one of those words so deeply connected with hurt that it is hard to think of one without the other. Like gin and tonic, cheese and wine, tea and toast. Except not in a good way. It is a word with so many negative connotations that all, at the end of the day, come down to trust, security or weakness.
Why is it so hard to be real with people?
We carry a massive weight of expectations. Inherited from family, from people at work, from friends, society, culture, ourselves.
Don’t make mistakes. Keep up. Don’t make other people feel awkward. Somehow find the time to complete your entire to-do list whilst still getting 8 hours sleep each night. Always have the right thing to say at at the drop of a hat. Ignore what you feel and think of others for a change.
This expectation of flawlessness can chain us to small talk. A place where we won’t accidentally stumble upon any awkwardness, where we stick within carefully constructed social boundaries. But as safe as we are wandering around that pleasant, perfectly manicured garden of small talk, we are also constrained by it. We won’t roam far enough to find any comfort or freedom there.
We are comfortable putting our faces on each morning and playing the part we are expected to play. It’s safe. We won’t get hurt. Regardless of how we feel we can go through life interacting with those around us as if we are following a script. But as we do this, our feelings, our disappointments, our hurts and losses are slowly retreating to a comfortable isolation somewhere deep inside us. And they sit there, heavy like stone.
We need other people. Other people need us. We were never meant to navigate this life, with its ups and downs, emotions, tragedies, mountain-top moments and all, alone. We are wired for inter-dependence.
Sometimes it might be as little as allowing someone to see us when we don’t look our best. At other times, it can be as big as letting someone in when we aren’t at our best; times when we have messed up, when we have failed. It’s these moments which help us to understand what it means to be human. Which bring us together and creates those ‘me too!’ moments which make us feel less alone. They break down the barriers of our own struggles and the regret that we build when we look at the mask someone else is wearing and compare our real selves to that.
There is a beauty in exposing our flaws. We can only experience grace in those dark areas of our lives if we give others the opportunity to bring in light. And, equally important, when we embrace the opportunity to practice grace towards ourselves. But first, we have to let go of the shame we associate with being real. In reality, shame thrives in solitude and isolation, while grace flourishes in community and vulnerability.
Vulnerability is so often painted as a weakness, but the truth is that it takes an inordinate amount of personal strength and courage to choose to let yourself be real with others. It is awkward and uncomfortable. But without vulnerability we can’t have relationships. At least, not the ones that have the power to bring us freedom, forgiveness and healing.