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If you would’ve talked to me a year ago about vulnerability, I would’ve rolled my eyes or had a sarcastic comment ready. I would have ridiculed talking about feelings and emotions.
I don’t mean happy emotions like joy, happiness, gratitude, or amusement.
I’m talking about the ones that I would never talk about. The ones that mistakenly get seen as weak emotions. Shame, sadness, fear, all of these emotions that get seen as negative and weaker. It’s easy to admit something makes you angry because that gets seen as a strong emotion, even though so much anger comes from feelings of shame, sadness, fear, and unworthiness. We just cover it all up with anger. That way we don’t have to feel vulnerable and show any weakness.
That was what I’d done my entire life. It’s taken a lot of self-reflection and a lot of self-education to finally see how backward I saw everything. I was so sure I didn’t have any of those weaker emotions. Anger? Sure. But sadness or shame? No. I wouldn’t ever admit to that. That would mean that I’m not always strong, that I’m not always in control. If I admitted that, then I’d also have to admit that so many of my views on relationships, love, and life, in general, were completely wrong. But that’s exactly what happened. I couldn’t have been more wrong about what vulnerability is and what it actually means. I think this quote by Madeleine L’Engle sums it up:
To grow up is to accept vulnerability. To be alive is to be vulnerable.
This has taken me a long time to start accepting. I’m definitely not perfect at it–far from it. I am learning and changing long-held beliefs. I don’t think you’re truly alive unless you allow yourself to feel all emotions, even the ones that make you feel weak. It’s amazing how repressing emotions you don’t want to feel can have long-term effects on you. You don’t realize that you’re also repressing positive emotions because of this. When you repress the negative ones, you’re really repressing all emotion. You’re never that sad or feel that much shame but you’re also never that happy either. Basically, you’re emotionally deadened. That can lead to all kinds of problems, like narcissism and depression.
I know this intimately because it’s exactly the road I took. The only emotion I really let myself feel was anger, which was of course came from all the emotions I was repressing. The area in your life that this usually starts becoming a problem in is relationships. In a healthy relationship, you’re vulnerable with each other. You can see how repressing the hell out of all your emotions could be disastrous for having a healthy, long-term relationship. This definitely affected every relationship I’ve ever had. And covering all of it up with anger is a great way to destroy relationships. I know this from experience as I was the expert in doing just that. That’s not strength, it’s weakness.
Not allowing yourself to be vulnerable with people is actually weakness. Real strength is the person that allows themselves to be vulnerable. It’s when you feel fear, but do it anyway. It’s when you let someone you love know that they’ve hurt you, instead of reacting with anger. It’s being truthful when you feel shame for what you did. That’s strength, and it’s to be admired.
It’s not shocking, then, that the amount of narcissistic personality disorders has doubled in the last 10 years. How can it not when so many of us are obsessed about showing this grandiose mask of ourselves and celebrating selfishness?
Talking about vulnerability is easy, but actually doing it and changing how we view it is hard. Especially when it’s not celebrated to be vulnerable, even though it should be, as it takes real courage. I think it’s extremely hard because it involves taking a deep look into yourself and admitting things to yourself that make you uncomfortable. Especially for guys, it can be tough since not showing emotion and being “strong” is seen as masculinity. But that’s fake masculinity. That’s just putting on a strong mask and acting macho. There’s nothing masculine about that. It’s being too afraid to be authentic.
Even writing about this was not that easy for me. I had doubts about getting it published. I thought–what if people I personally know read this? What will they think? It’s because I wanted to hide behind this mask of strength. I didn’t want anyone to know that I actually doubt myself sometimes, that I actually have “weaker” emotions.
In short, I wanted to be seen as strong. That’s a habit I’m slowly starting to break. It will likely always be a work in progress. The people that allow themselves to be the most vulnerable will always be the strongest people. By living the most authentically, they will feel the most fulfilled in their lives.
Originally published on ThoughtCatalog and republished with permission.
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