Why am I doing this?
What do I have to add to the global conversations about life, love, relationships, God, what it’s all about, and how we can do it better but still love ourselves just where we’re at?
I have struggled with that question, and with self-doubts that I have anything meaningful to add. But I truly believe that we each have a unique voice, that we exist for a purpose, that we are God-breathed, and that we are special. We each have something to add – that only we can.
For most of my life, for various and numerous reasons, I have believed this specialness to be true of other people, but not of myself. I have always believed, without formulating it into clear-cut, specific thoughts, yet still acting on it, that others were beautiful, worth-filled, and special, but I would never let me put myself in that category.
I became extremely adept at listening well, at asking questions, and at steering the conversation away from myself. I was so uncomfortable talking about myself that I lacked some very basic social skills of being able to talk about myself and what I thought. And God forbid I would ever put forth what I wanted! (I am still not very good at having attention focused on me and talking about myself – it has only been a few years that I have been working my “self” muscle and practicing this skill that seems to come so naturally to most).
I was so shut in that I missed some glorious opportunities. When I was studying for my master’s degree, I was in a group of 6 other students that met once a week to discuss how we were DOING, how our internships were going, the ups and downs and trials and craziness of becoming therapists. For the first year and some of the second, I was so anti-talking-about-myself that every time it came around to my turn to check in, I would mumble something about “I’m fine, just workin’ away!” and pass it on to the next person. People cried in practicum, they shared their hearts, they got support. But I missed out on what would have been a huge help to me by not letting people in.
I didn’t even realize I was doing this really, or the detriment it was causing to me, until one night when we were almost done with our program and getting ready to graduate. I was at dinner with two of my girlfriends, and one of them said to me something like, “I’ve told our other friend here something really private and important to me, but I haven’t told you. Not because I don’t think you care, but because YOU never tell me anything about YOURSELF! We can’t have an equal friendship if all you ever do is hear what I’m saying but never share your heart with me.”
It hit me like a ton of bricks. It was the first time someone had challenged me this way, someone I loved dearly and trusted. It had never even begun to occur to me that I could be hurting the very relationships I cherished most, simply by holding myself back.
That day, my challenge began.
It was slow, and it was painful. But what I have learned and am continuing to learn is that being open and vulnerable with the people we are safe with, is the most valuable thing we can do in our relationships. We don’t know the safety net is there until we let ourselves fall. And we can’t have deep, connected, trusting, powerful relationships until we open ourselves up to others – others who are just as fallible, just as capable of hurting us, and yet just as beautiful as we are.
I have been greatly inspired by Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and her groundbreaking studies on vulnerability. As she said at a recent talk, here are some common factors she found between people who she describes as living “from a strong sense of love and connection”:
- “People who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy.”
- “What they had in common was a sense of courage. …the original definition of which was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. …And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect.”
- “They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first, and then to others. Because as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.”
- “They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which is — you have to — to absolutely do that for connection.”
- “They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. …They talked about the willingness to say I love you first. The willingness to do something where there are no guarantees. …They thought this was fundamental.”
They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.
My challenge to myself, and to all of us, is to begin to step into vulnerability and authenticity. Living life fully and deeply and connectedly can only come from this. It is hard, but as I am learning, it is so very worth it.
One more quote from Brené that really sums it up:
“What unravels connection? Shame. … It’s universal; we all have it. ‘I’m not “blank” enough.’ …In order to let connection happen, we have to let ourselves be seen. Really seen.”
Here’s to letting ourselves be seen, and known, and loved exactly how we are at this very moment in time.
See Brené’s entire (and amazing!!) talk here: