I have to be honest with myself: I have been using the Internet and social media as a crutch. The world is scary. No, I’m not talking about the impending nuclear assault, or the men finally being held accountable for their actions after years of inaction. No, I’m talking about interpersonal relationships. I’ve been avoiding connections with people in real life; preferring the distance facebook and instagram put between us. What I’m talking about the V word we try so hard to avoid: “vulnerability”. I have been trying to write this blog post for at leas two weeks now; every time I sit down to write I am scared about the truth I know inside my soul. I’m not walking the walk, and quite frankly, if I talk the talk, I’ll force myself to be accountable.
Vulnerability scares me because it goes against everything I’ve learned growing up. I was taught that I needed to polish myself, to keep those ugly terrible parts of myself a secret from those around me. A lot of this comes from the cultural teachings of my family that taught me to keep up appearances. I also have to speak to the shields I’ve built over the years, shields that deflect taunts about my body, my weight, my queerness, my blackness, my femininity, my masculinity, etc. I have been holding back my entire life. I remember a moment in my adolescence where I realized I was living two different lives: I was one person while at my high school, but when I came home I felt like a completely different person.
Years later, I’ve developed such a great coping mechanism in hiding myself that I don’t even see myself as playing a role anymore. There are people who are able to break through certain layers of protection I have built, but those people are truly few and far between. One of the reasons I have such a problem with being vulnerable is that I internalize the rejection I face from others. In fact, I expect that rejection to eventually come. I have had a lot of relationships blow up in my face (romantic, platonic, sexual, etc.); those situations built a system of protection that was meant to heal me after those deep wounds occurred. The problem, however, is that those same walls I built to protect myself while I worked on learning and healing myself became the same walls that now keep genuine connections from forming. Every corner of my mind is filled with whispers of inadequacy, failed intimacy and, quite frankly, fear.
By now you should be wondering why even write this post if I haven’t overcome this obstacle yet, but bear with me. Vulnerability is scary, I think we all know this. However, vulnerability is the key to everything: intimacy, empathy, and sustained enjoyment (or happiness). My inability to allow myself to be raw and open to hurt and pain is keeping be from taking the leaps and bounds I need to be the best me possible. Where I should be trailblazing, I’m slowly inching because I don’t want people to think I’m weird. Where I should be screaming and yelling, I’m whispering for fear that people won’t like the things I have to say.
I’m not sure if you feel the shift that is occurring in our culture, but the time for vulnerability is now, not later. We are divided in ways that are crystal clear to all of us, and the only way to build bridges, and to break down inequity is going to be vulnerability. A mentor of mine was walking me through some of me apprehension with fully embracing this. This former professor explained to me that I cannot change my core values, I cannot stop caring for people or being empathetic. The work I’ve been doing to shut myself down, to stop feeling (read: stop being vulnerable) hasn’t been working because I need to be more, do more, not less.
I’m not going to offer any advice here about how to be better about being vulnerable, but I am going to speak to myself in hopes that it resonates with at least one person reading this. Be open. Be soft. Be squishy. Part of being vulnerable is having those tough conversations with people when they hurt you, or they disappoint you. We spend so much of our time avoiding conflict not realizing how much of that we internalize. I want to do better; I want to be better about being honest with myself, and those around me. I will fail at this. I will fall down and need to pick myself back up. However, if I’m ever going to reach my goals, developing vulnerability is the necessary genesis.