I remember the first time I experienced a “vulnerability hangover.”
I remember the exact date, to be exact. It was January 1, 2013.
I had been blogging for nearly 2 years, sharing our adventures in sailing and minimalism. I had quit Facebook and started corresponding with friends via e-mail. These interactions were a huge part of my journey, and each of these friends pushed me to break away from the script given to us by society and realize the life that I actually wanted to live.
As these friends encouraged me, I began to see how the impressions I had of myself–the beliefs I had about who I was and what I was capable of–were severely limiting me. I wrote one friend a long e-mail about what I thought to be the source of my self-doubts, and with their encouragement, turned it into my “New Year’s Eve post.”
And it was after writing this post that the hangover came.
I was afraid of what people would say after reading my post. How would they judge me? I was convinced that I was secretly a head case, and if those around me agreed, wouldn’t that mean what I was?
I was afraid to go back to work, after growing and changing so much on break. I wanted to live life differently, but that would mean taking more risks, and risking losing the security that I thought I had.
I was afraid of how much I trusted my e-mail friends. They believed in me, and I was addicted to their attention. If they stopped writing me, if they decided I was a headcase, if they decided I was too clingy–what would that mean about me?
I was vulnerable in so many ways.
It was during this time that one of my friends e-mailed me a link to Brene Brown’s TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.” I watched it and responded with, “How did this lady get inside my head?”
Brown told of her own journey through perceived unworthiness, and in the end she asserted that the way to find our own worthiness is by being willing to be vulnerable. And, to be true, vulnerability was an important part of my journey at that time. I stopped hiding in the shadows, and made some bold choices to share, to risk judgement, and to break free from the seemingly “secure” life I had been living for 10 years.
Like Brown, my journey involved two years of therapy (and counting! Because I want to continue to grow). But rather than learning to embrace my vulnerability, I learned to grow beyond it, to see that I was only vulnerable BECAUSE I did not understand my own worth. The reality is that nobody can hurt us, even if they do “judge.” Judgements show truth about the judge and their insecurities, not about us. When we perceive ourselves as lacking, then we use other people’s words as evidence to support our limiting beliefs. Everything is interpreted as being about us. This is what causes us to think that we are vulnerable at all.
As my journey continued, I saw that I was not vulnerable. That even actions that seemed to be about me, were not.
- Nobody acted any differently toward me. But if they had, that wouldn’t mean there was something wrong with me, or that I was a headcase. It would mean that sometime from my experience triggered a fear in the other person, that they were misunderstanding.
- There has been a natural ebb and flow in my online friendships, just like there is with friendships in “real life.” And some of this has even been initiated by me, because I’m not needing that constant positive feedback anymore. I rejoined Facebook, so we could stay in touch without spending time writing lengthy e-mails. All of that is fine, and I understand that if people are choosing to spend more time doing other activities, it means nothing about me.
- Some friends have chosen not to stay in touch. In fact, some of the people I confided the most to, who gave me the most support during the most difficult times, have drifted away. And yet, I understand that this means nothing about me. They are on their own journey and always have been.
- In not “needing” anything from those around me, I also do not “need” them to be a certain way or choose to do or say anything in particular. They are free to be as they are, and I no longer try manipulate my relationships in an effort to meet my own needs.
- I am slowly working my way away from the illusion of security. I am learning that I don’t need my life to be a certain way either. As I have discovered my own worth, I am learning that everyone and everything can be how it is.
So what does this all mean? It means that you should embrace your vulnerability. Be willing to step out there and take risks.