Fear of vulnerability in my life was one of the biggest reasons I was unhappy for so many years. During my coach training program I gave a presentation on the topic of vulnerability. As I researched my project, I came across Dr. Brené Brown’s writings on wholehearted living. Her work put everything that I believed about how to live authentically into quantifiable data. Except, I wasn’t actually living what I believed. Since that time, my life has turned in a completely different direction.
Authenticity is a choice and a practice and there is nothing easy about it. Many of us find it difficult to be ourselves because of the fear of rejection and the pain it brings. The research indicates that rejection is a real possibility when we start to change. From her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brené Brown lists several reasons for this (page 51):
- Loved ones may be fearful and uncertain when we behave in new ways.
- They may struggle to understand how and why we are changing.
- Some may feel abandoned or worried about how the changes will affect them.
- Some may find inspiration while others see the changes as uncomfortable mirrors of their own behaviors.
With possibilities like that, who really wants to jump on the authenticity bandwagon?
Here is a personal example of one of my very vulnerable moments:
The Situation: I was in a relatively new relationship when I realized that I had to talk to my partner about my thoughts and feelings around his periodic visits to Hooters, a popular restaurant chain. Ugh! Gulp! I can’t believe that I am telling you this…
The Thoughts: I attempted to mentally excuse his visits in an attempt at “stiff upper lip” and just hope the situation magically disappeared.
My rationalizations were as follows:
- “Boys will be boys.” Meaning, “Why are you so uptight?”
- “Why do you care if he looks at other women?” Meaning, “You must not have very good self-esteem.”
- “You’re just trying to control him.” Meaning, “You’re just being a ‘controlling b*%tch’.” (The worst, right?)
- “He should know this bothers me.” Meaning, “If he really loved me, he would change his ways without me needing to say anything.”
My self-shaming fears ultimately led to “what is wrong with me because everyone else is OK with this” kind-of-thinking. This quickly transitioned to “I am too ashamed to tell anyone I feel this way” thinking. Finally, the numbing with Netflix and ice cream commenced. See how truly vicious this is? Being real is the only way to break the cycle.
What actually happened: Well…with every fiber of courage I could muster, I did talk to him. There was discomfort and defensiveness, but we were actually able to set some boundaries without ultimatums. Was the communication perfect? No, but we’re going for progress here. I no longer felt like my stomach was eating itself and he understood where I was coming from. I’m so grateful for his empathy.
Yes, some friends and family let me know their opinions and I felt judged, but from their criticisms I also learned who I could trust with my super vulnerable stuff. Everyone doesn’t have to believe in or support what I do.
After all was said and done, it really wasn’t about Hooters. It was really about owning my story, letting others hear it, and shifting to a place where I have the courage to live in a world where my “outsides” match my “insides.”
And with authenticity, most times, comes sweet relief.