I don’t know if you have yet to discover the voice note function on WhatsApp, but as long as you have your headphones with you, it is a game changer. One of my friends and I voice note each other every day, mainly to keep each other sane because we are aware that we live in vulnerability. We wear our heart on our sleeves, we get in the arena with our friends and we feel others pain… and while Brené Brown tells us this is what the happiest people on the planet do, sometimes we feel like we are losing our minds in a world that is becoming more superficial.
Now I am not casting my net widely to aim that at the whole human race and I am also not claiming we are perfect human beings, far from it. But I can safely say there are some days that living like this breaks you, and I certainly don’t feel like skipping in a meadow and hugging every human being I see. Sometimes I feel quite angry and other days I feel exposed because I chose to be vulnerable and own my feelings, but it perhaps didn’t land very well. While I can high five myself with ‘wow that was fucking courageous’, I also feel like I am naked, I feel so insecure and invalidated.
The problem with being vulnerable is that it needs to come with boundaries. My friend and I are working on this. So we now have a safety net of sending each other notes with: this is what I want to say and if I say it to you, you can validate it first before I go into the trenches and prepare myself for exposure. We can then tell each other the best way to set some boundaries along with the thoughts we are sharing and the way we open ourselves up.
You see sometimes you take the step to be the first person to say something, and the other human doesn’t realise that you need some sort of validation back… and sometimes that person does not respond. Then you spend a few weeks going insane and you ‘fill in data’… or as Brené says, you start telling yourself a story… because you didn’t reply or because you said this, the story I told myself was this… which is a perfectly normal human response by the way.
We all have the capability to overanalyse a situation, especially when there is silence. And this is the problem throughout time, we are so obsessed with communication that even when we couldn’t speak we drew symbols on the wall to each other, we then eventually went on to develop language. Now we have social media, a plethora of apps to message each other and we still get it wrong. I mean, for goodness sake, we have gone from writing letters to sending three emoji’s on someones Facebook wall! Ghosting is one of the number one topics of conversation… why!? Because silence drives us crazy… we just want to know why, how and what happened. Sometimes we just want an ‘ending’ and the ‘unanswered’ is just not satisfactory.
It’s like a song lyric that gets trapped in your head… do you know why it is trapped in your head going round and round? Because you need to finish the song, our brains need that completion. We all hate that feeling, but we do it to others… why!? If you truly want to act from empathy, you respond. You get uncomfortable and you get honest, you tell your story and you help that other person with closure or you admit your pain/feelings too. We all need to stop running away.
Ultimately when you live like this you are happier. The trick my friend and I are trying to master, is that if someone doesn’t reply… if someone doesn’t acknowledge your vulnerability, then you don’t take it personally and you walk away, because it says way more about the other person than it does about you. You were just being your authentic self, and if that scares people, then that’s ok. You just walk away and you feel proud that you at least gave them some closure or that you gave them an ego pick me up for the day. The self respect part is the hard part to master, because we all want to be liked and validated… but not everyone is going to give you that.
But here in lies the problem… when you try to be empathetic you also realise how incredibly hard it is to be vulnerable. It quite literally can induce panic attacks. So when you know this information, and you come from a place of empathy, then you also understand why people do not expose themselves. So when do you walk away and when do you understand that someone is just scared? I think the point you walk away is at the exact point your mental health suffers. Because people, you put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others.
I just wish we could all lean in a little more. All be a little more honest. As much as I think I am tremendously vulnerable, I do recall that my ex was the first to say ‘I love you’… and those three words, as powerful as they are, they are also the most terrifying words to say first. In fact, I think the most courageous people in the world are the ones willing to say those words first. I am nearly 40, and I have never uttered those words first. I think that’s rather sad… but there are a lot of scars that sit behind that… it also means I find it hard to tell a friend first that I would like to be friends… or tell them I enjoy hanging out. To be honest, I struggle to do that first… because the times I have in history have not received the validation I needed, therefore the story I tell myself is that I am not worthy of it… and that story needs to change.
It starts with ‘faking it until you make it’, little things like asking someone else out first… telling someone that you would like to grab a beer with them as you enjoy hanging out… explaining that a comment hurt you and that you would like to work it out… being the first to say that was a special moment in my life and I am so happy it happened. Small steps that hopefully lead to one day being able to say bigger, more courageous words first and feeling worthy of saying them while not fearing the answer. That would be a tremendous place to get to.