What if We're Not as Vulnerable as We Think?
“Man is not what he thinks he is, he is what he hides.”
I talk a lot about ‘being real.' Part of this focus is because of how much I see individuals struggling to really tap into the parts of their hearts that they believe versus what they feel they should believe.
In a conversation with a friend this week, we were talking about our previous level of vulnerability with each other. At its core, it was really ‘faux’ vulnerability - we shared hard stuff, but generally the stuff we had already worked on, thought through, and felt somewhat comfortable sharing. Sure, there was still the awkwardness of hearing your sin said out loud, but most of the time a simple response of “wow...thanks for your vulnerability” made both of us feel like we had done the hard work of being real.
We have often made the work of being real with each other complicated. It has to fit a certain rubric, a guide to make sure we’re not only sharing, but we’re learning and growing and moving in a direction. While those may be a bigger piece of the process of really knowing ourselves, I think we sacrifice the ability to know when we focus on doing it ‘right’...when we settle for what feels like vulnerability...when we’re just checking off the list of what we have been told is being real.
My Lesson on Being Vulnerable
For me, this didn’t sink in until I was faced with something I absolutely could not shake. A few years ago, I hit a rough patch of anxiety and fear that I couldn’t explain...couldn’t figure out...couldn’t pull my bootstraps up and proceed...I was incapacitated. Spending years of being ‘faux vulnerable’ meant that I thought I was sharing the real stuff. But at this moment it dawned on me that I had been sharing what I had prepared to be ‘real.’ I never shared with people the crippling anxiety I felt or the moments of terror in my heart when I couldn’t make a decision.
It’s hard even writing that last sentence. It makes me feel weak. It reminds me of the ugly parts of my heart that I’d prefer nobody know about. And don’t miss this - I have worked on it, so sharing it with you now is even out of my already knowing and feeling comfortable being ‘real.’ It’s a tension - I’m being honest with where I was, but I’m also not necessarily thinking about it in terms of how I feel anxious now. How I still wrestle with it now. That would be too real for a blog post...
Taking the Risk of Vulnerability
Another way to think about it. When you walk into a room and people are talking, everyone thinks something about you. Even if it’s your closest friends, we all have simple judgements we make on the inside: “They look disheveled today...of course they are late, they are always late...I still can’t believe they said that stuff about me last week…” But ten times out of ten, we function in the space of, “Hey! You look great! Great to see you today!”
What would happen if we said those initial thoughts out loud? We have an entire part of our brain that prevents this. The prefrontal cortex has a job to inhibit those kind of outbursts. That’s why when someone is under the influence of alcohol, they are ‘disinhibited’ - their prefrontal cortex has stopped keeping the thoughts in and the word flow freely.
I’m not suggesting being ‘real’ means saying everything that comes to our minds. But I wonder what would happen in our relationships if we started taking those risks? What would happen if I was more honest about where I was at any given moment? What would happen if my friends were willing to receive my honesty and help me see which parts were real and true and which parts represent pieces of my heart that need to be explored? What kind of grace would I have to learn?
Last year, I got to be a part of a group experience for a class. If you haven’t been in group therapy - it’s a wild ride. I told the group my goal was to ‘know how others experience me.’ What was said about me was not the kind of stuff I was thinking about when I set this goal. I heard some truly awful things. Some were true about me. A lot had nothing to do with me. All of it helped me enter a different level of trust with the people in my group. It was painful. It was awkward. But at the end of the day I was given a gift - a gift of being really authentic with a group of people (cue the ending scene of The Breakfast Club).
I think I’ve written this next sentence at least once a month here...but I need to keep reading it, hearing it, letting it soak in for my own learning: we have to take risks with each other not hoping for an outcome. Only by seeking to know Jesus more, each other better and ourselves rightly can we experience the fullness of being real. What is one way you can be more vulnerable this week?