I’m an expert at hiding how I feel. It comes naturally to me, and I honed the art to virtual perfection well into my 30’s. It wasn’t until I had kids that I lost some of my skills, and came to realize how utterly poisonous a habit I’d been cultivating. The slipping of my masks caused me some panic, as I thought the world would come crashing down around me if I cried in public, showed anger, or expressed fears. Just a tad messed up I’m afraid! Having kids ripped me open emotionally (not to mention physically) and I’ve done my best to keep my heart open so I can begin to relate honestly to the people around me. I’m learning to be vulnerable.
We’re born completely and utterly vulnerable, and we spend a lifetime paring that river of possible hurts and joys down to a manageable stream or trickle. We learn to guard our hearts, cushioning them from potential pains. We find our emotional risk-tolerance by trial and error. Some of us shut down early, getting hurt and peering at the world through a peephole in our armor. Others seem to careen through life with everything hanging out for all the world to comment on. Being vulnerable IS risky, it means we have every chance of being misunderstood, mocked, or messed with. It also means though that we have every opportunity to be seen, heard, understood, and loved. We’re actually visible, real, and open for contact: deliciously human.
I had a particularly rough month earlier this year, where my emotions were all over the place, and I was utterly incapable of stuffing them back in. During one long talk with a girlfriend who was also feeling extremely vulnerable, we wryly dubbed each other the Sashimi Sisters thanks to our mutually raw feelings. It helped me feel known, and a lot less alone in my angst. I’ve mused many times that marriage has deepened my capacity for both loneliness and joy, and having kids has made that spread even wider. The more emotionally engaged I am, the further the pendulum swings.
We all crave being known, and being loved. The easier we make it for others to know us, the more chances we have to find kindred spirits, as my childhood heroine Anne used to say. People who share our hearts, and match our curiosities. Friends who finish sentences, know silences, and hold heartaches. These are not found by hiding feelings and guarding hearts, they’re gained by being boldly and unashamedly ourselves, and sometimes seeing that glint of recognition in another’s eye. Fear of being judged or disliked may hold us back, but it also robs us of potential connections, which make our lives infinitely richer and our hearts more resilient. I’m learning to embrace my feelings, own my vulnerability, and lower my masks so I can be truly seen.