vulnerability hangover

Vulnerability should come with a warning label. Being vulnerable and letting people in is a really good thing and necessary for real connection. However, you’ll probably feel like an a$$ within 24 hours of letting yourself be seen.

So, after my last post (you know, when I talked about wanting to be more vulnerable and let people get to know me better!), I decided to practice a little. An acquaintance had asked me to coffee to chat about my counseling practice and what it was like starting my own business. I agreed, knowing that I’d appreciate the opportunity to cultivate a friendship and to help her out as much as I could.

The conversation started with the usual, “It’s been so long.” “How’ve you been?” etc. Then she filled me in on the business she’s creating and the purpose of her invitation to coffee. I saw this as a prime opportunity to practice a little vulnerability and to come clean with someone about just how my first year or so of self-employment has gone. I explained to her everything I wish I had done differently and what very important steps in the process I had simply overlooked. I spoke very honestly about the struggles and challenges I’ve faced and offered what little guidance I felt I could. I shared my journey with her. I even went so far as to tell her about my dream for the future.

Let me tell you, I was feeling pretty good. I was proud of myself for opening up and finally NOT saying, “Work is fine. Everything is great!” And, she was very receptive and empathetic and appreciative of my honesty and vulnerability. She shared with me. I shared with her. It was a great experience of connecting with someone and feeling heard. We said goodbye, and I headed to my car.

THEN. Wah-wah… In the twenty paces between the cafe door and my front seat, it began – that sinking feeling, the rock in the pit of the stomach, the barrage of self-critical thoughts that inevitably flood in after feeling like you’ve said too much. “Why did I have to present myself as such a failure!?!” “Why did I tell her about my dream for moving forward?” “Why didn’t I just stick to the facts?”

Bam. Vulnerability hangover.
(I can’t claim the term, btw. It belongs to Brené Brown. And, it’s oh. so. accurate.)

Why is it that when we’ve shared even a tiny bit of ourselves, a little bit of truth about our lives, our hopes, our fears – why is it that we often end up feeling terrible?!? I think it’s because we’re so self-critical and judgmental that we assume everyone else is just as critical and judgmental of our journeys as we are. Thinking back on it, I’m pretty sure my friend was genuine in her appreciation of my story. And, I honestly don’t think she was judging me at all. AND, it was really liberating to tell my truth rather than find a way to sugar coat what has actually been a rather difficult year.

I think vulnerability takes practice. I think we have to be intentional about sharing our truth with people we can trust to hear it. And, I’m guessing the more practice we have at it, the easier it will become. I certainly hope so, anyway.

Sunday evening I went to a friend’s house for a dessert party. As is usual in a gathering of friends and acquaintances, someone asked me about work. This was not the opportunity to practice my vulnerability (at least I didn’t think so). I gave a very polite, “Work is good,” and walked away. Funny thing is, I still felt like an a$$. I had not been even the slightest bit vulnerable but had rather lied to this man’s face. And, it felt rotten.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we practice our vulnerability in every circumstance or with every person. Brené Brown talks about vulnerability with boundaries. We’re not required to expose our underbellies to strangers or people we don’t trust. We all know over-sharers, those people who tell their business to anyone who will listen – the grocery cashier, the lady at the neighboring gas pump, the bank teller. I’m not talking about over-sharing. But, I’m wondering what it would have been like had I neither revealed it all nor lied about work being peachy. Perhaps I could have said something like, “You know, it’s been an interesting year. I’ve learned a lot about starting a business, and it has definitely not been easy!”

I think I would have felt more authentic in my interaction. I may have even received some empathy and experienced a different kind of connection with my friend.

Anyway, I don’t regret sharing my story over coffee last week. I trust that what I shared was with good intention and was received with integrity. And, while I did experience that hangover and I did question the brutality of my honesty, ultimately I feel good about revealing a bit of my truth.

So, I’ll keep practicing. I’ll remember that being vulnerable means taking some risk and potentially feeling really exposed and nauseous. And, I’ll remember that sharing a bit of one’s truth can lead to authentic connection. And, that feels pretty darn good, I have to tell ya…

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