How to Make Vulnerability Your Bitch!
When I was in my mid twenties, I had a really hard time maintaining meaningful relationships. I had friends, sure, but I didn’t have the kind of gal pals you grow with. I dated, but I couldn’t seem to manage to stick around past a few months. I went from feeling like an independent person to a lonely lone wolf and I couldn’t quite figure out why I wasn’t able to connect with anyone.
Along came a sassy southern therapist who pushed a pair of bedazzled bifocals up her nose, looked me dead in the eye, and asked, “Honey, when was the last time you told someone the truth about what was really going on in your head?”
That stopped me flat. I didn’t. I just didn’t. And to be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me that people actually did that. I figured hey, I’m fucked up, who the heck wants to hear about that?!
Over the ensuing months I took a deep dive into my depths and discovered that this fear of being vulnerable to others had a profound impact on every aspect of my life. Not only did I not enjoy most things, but I had little more than surface level relationships with just about everyone, especially myself.
Every day I’d analyze and re-analyze everything I did. I’d dissect every action, weigh every word, and then beat myself up wishing I’d done something different. Ultimately, I didn’t fully trust anyone and, worse, I didn’t trust myself!
Laying yourself bare before someone else is really hard to do. What if they reject you? Judge you? What if they fuck you over, let you down, or hurt you so bad you can’t get up again? If you’ve ever asked yourself this then you’ve done what I did; you’ve spent a significant amount of your life asking the wrong questions. Try this on for size: “How can developing deep, meaningful connections improve the quality of my life?”
Turns out, when you actually do it, your life will be a helllllllllll of a lot better! So much better, in fact, that when I look back and remember what my life was like then, I realize that it was such a crap storm of awful that just about every day was magnificently miserable.
When you have quality connections, you have a quality life. Period. When you love deeply, speak openly, and share yourself with someone else, they’re able to give you the same in return. It takes time and work in order to get to a place where you can just plain be who and what you are without worrying about how everyone else is going to feel about it. But if you put in that work, the payoff is in a lot more highs than lows, and for anyone with a mental illness, that’s a pretty sweet deal!
Live and let go! Here are the 5 strategies I use to get vulnerable without getting destroyed:
1. Respect Yo’self:
How many times have you walked up to someone, picked out the thing you knew they were most vulnerable about, and then raked them over the coals about it? Would you call someone fat or ugly or stupid? Would you push them down, steal their lunch money, and tell them what a horrible human they are? Chances are, you wouldn’t do that. But if your mental illness has any say in the matter, you’re probably more than willing to do all of those things to yourself.
There are a number of practices you can use to learn how to change your inner dialogue but the bottom line is that you’ve got to catch and replace self-abusive thoughts. Talk to yourself like you’re speaking to someone you not only respect, but someone you’d like to receive respect from. If you wouldn’t say it to a person you admire, you sure as shit shouldn’t be saying it to yourself!
2. No Strings Attached:
Life lesson: The less strings you attach to your actions, the more freedom you’ll find. You can’t control anyone but you. You can beg, plead, get down on your knees and kiss the feet of the folks you want to control, and they’re still going to do what they want to do because that’s what they want to do!
Focus on yourself, your actions, and the intentions behind those actions. I ask myself all the time, “Why am I doing this? Is it because I truly believe, in my heart of hearts, that it’s the right thing to do? Or is it because I’m hoping that it’ll cause someone else to do something?” Taking action because you’ve set an expectation on the outcome of a situation or a reaction from someone else is a recipe for disappointment and disaster. Instead, do it because it’s what you want to do.
3. Trust In Your Strength:
If you’re living with a mental illness today, you’ve already overcome enormous obstacles. Thor and his hammer are chicken shit compared to you. Sure, he may have a serious six pack, but you’ve survived a brain battle that far too many never will.
In spite of mental illness I’ve managed to bounce back from some absolutely devastating situations. Life has knocked me down and kicked the shit out of me so hard that I’ve actually spent years feeling utterly humiliated just for being myself. I’ve lost loved ones, destroyed things I cared about, and watched as my worst case scenarios became reality. And guess what? I’m still here. And so are you!
When you worry that someone is going to hurt you again, remember, you’ve been through this battle before. If you work on yourself and maintain your mental health, you’ll stay standing the next time someone tries to knock you down!
4. Take a Step At a Time:
Ever watched a baby learn to walk? First, they start pulling themselves up. Then, they hold onto something and take teeny tiny scoot steps. Finally, when they’ve worked up the courage, they walk on wobbly legs one at a time until they topple over. Learning how to do something you don’t regularly do is the exact same way. If you expect yourself to wake up and run, you’re setting yourself up to fail.
Be gentle with yourself! It’s going to take time to really open up and let people in. The best thing you can do is figure out something that feels uncomfortable but not completely terrifying and to go from there. I picked a person I knew loved me and started by sharing something I was really nervous about. They didn’t judge me, they supported me, and that’s the kind of fuel I needed to continue to light that fire under my ass! Dip your toe in the vulnerability pond and one day you’ll look around and realize you’re swimming.
5. Find Forgiveness For Flops:
If you’ve had even a smidgen of life experience you know that you’re not always going to win the day. You’re going to be rejected. You’re going to be let down. You’re going to put in time and effort and give it all ya got and every once in awhile you’ll get clobbered.
Sometimes we want others to lift us up but all they end up doing is letting us down. We’re all horribly human, okay? People fuck up! Forgiving ourselves and others is not about letting anyone off the hook. It’s about moving through what happened and turning it into a tool to be better.
If you get vulnerable and someone hurts you, you’ll probably want to build your own Hobbit hole to live in. While that’s a perfectly normal reaction, (especially if you’re a big Frodo fan), the big losses shouldn’t outweigh all of the little wins you’ll have under your belt. It’s in your power to brush off the bruises and keep on keepin’ on!