Reblogged from Julia Pitt coaching (links at the bottom of the post)
Last week’s column looked at the social masks we wear, the personas we often rely on to hide our true selves in fear that if people really saw who we were beneath, they might not approve or accept us, or we might face flat-out rejection.
The desire to protect ourselves is understandable, but only by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable can we find true connection with others.
I recently witnessed the power and effect of vulnerability, during the ‘Saving our Sons’ Conference at Sandys 360.
I arrived late and couldn’t spot anyone I knew among the impressive crowd of Ministers (political and religious), Officials, law enforcement officers, service providers, business executives, journalists, concerned citizens, activists: young and old, men and women of varying faiths, background and opinion.
I self-consciously shuffled to a spare seat at a table of serious-looking individuals, feeling more than a little intimidated.
Speaking was a young man “from the streets” who now works with the Street Talk initiative helping others. He shared his journey of reform through prison from drug and gang involvement.
His message was: to solve this problem, we need to work together. He asked everyone to stand up. He asked us to take each others’ hands and form a chain around the room. We obliged.
And something happened: a shift.
We might handshake hello or bump fists now and then, but it takes a certain amount of openness, trust and … vulnerability, to look in the eyes of a stranger and hold their hand and allow your hand to be held by them.
Around the room, in this group, all now joined together in this very personal way, suddenly the suits, the uniforms, the badges, the labels and all those other markers of distinction just melted away.
We were just people, standing there united in an intention, with a new communal power that felt palpable … and I knew exactly what that young man meant.
Vulnerability removes walls and brings us together in strength.
So how can we introduce more of it into our lives, when it may not be appropriate to go around holding everyone’s hand?
Some questions to consider:
• When am I not being authentic? When do I try to be something I’m not, out of fear of rejection?
• What challenges me? We may find certain areas of our life present more of struggle to be ‘real’ than others. For example, I feel confident coaching clients, but awkward and slightly phoney when asked to market what I do, fearing it won’t sound impressive, or professional etc
• What keeps me playing small in life, afraid to express myself? I once spent half an hour attempting to perfect a 4-line text message … hoping to hit just the right mix of witty, inspiring and nonchalance, because just saying what I thought seemed too pedestrian.
While mortifying to admit, it glaringly highlights the huge waste of creative time and energy sucked into maintaining our masks. Where are you losing precious moments to not being yourself?
• What is really important to me in this? What do I value and care about, and can I be brave enough to honour that?
What is the worst that could happen if somebody disagrees with me, thinks I’m silly or, dare I say it, rejects me? Will I still live to see another day?
Some practical steps to glide us into empowering vulnerability:
Accept the dark corners and learn to love them. We all have parts of us that don’t live up to our preconceived notion of what we ‘should’ be — the mental ideal of perfection we each constructed from early childhood, and we reject our very selves for not being able to achieve it, even though logically we may recognise its impossible expectations.
And those places we fall short, we want to hide from the world — we cannot let them see how we are failing ourselves.
But what happens when we look at our real self with understanding and acceptance? What if we could embrace those shortcomings? Could we learn to love even those messy parts of us, for being human?
When we truly love and accept ourselves, we worry less that somebody else might not. We are happier to be open and ourselves, less afraid of others’ rejection.
Embrace negative feelings. What happens when we allow ourselves to really experience the pain and discomfort that can crop up in life? We fear the fallout of raw emotion, perhaps afraid we won’t be able to regain composure and leave us ‘weak’.
But using a mask (or other defensive tactics or distractions like alcohol, food, drugs, work etc) to sidestep or repress our emotions, only allows them to fester and rear their ugly heads elsewhere in our lives.
Making ourselves vulnerable to really look at and explore our hurt, anger, disappointment, fear etc takes the sting out of them and allows us to process them in healthy, honest and safe ways.
Be honest. When it comes to what we’re feeling and thinking, we often try to mask the truth, fearing others’ reaction or judgment.
What would happen if we just said, “I feel nervous” when we do, or “I feel hurt” or “I love you” … Letting down our pretences and showing others our position prevents guessing-games and assumptions and brings our truth and reality to the dialogue, hopefully encouraging their openness, together finding common ground.
Act with no guarantees. We try to protect ourselves by ‘playing it safe’, not risking any perceived failure. Vulnerability involves taking action aligned with our authentic self, without any certainty of how it will turn out. Being bold and brave. Knowing that we can handle whatever happens.
Ask for help. Accepting our limits, admitting fallibility, and relinquishing our perceived ‘control’ on things, is all part of opening to truth and being vulnerable.
Asking for help allows others to shine at what they do, often increases productivity and efficiency and leads to greater connection through teamwork and shared vision.
Get rejected. What happens when we face our greatest fear? We see the truth rarely compares with the frightening preconceptions in our head.
Try welcoming rejection — using its feedback for improvement, allow it to strengthen our resolve and teach us we’re going to be all right.
Rejection itself, isn’t going to kill us. Succeeding is often a numbers game. Embrace the empowering idea that every rejection is just one try closer to acceptance.
Soften our critical eye of others. It’s probable they too get scared, fear rejection, may be trying to protect themselves, likely to be wearing a mask.
As we become less judgmental of others, we also invite their compassion towards us.
Practice. Becoming more open with others isn’t like calling an elevator, it’s more an ongoing process of incremental steps.
Test it out. Be encouraged by the empowering effects of being truer to your authentic self and slowly invite the vulnerability in.