I don’t know how well you know me. It seems that few people really do know me, and some of those don’t seem thrilled that they do. The fact that few seem to know me, though, is largely my fault. I tend to be guarded…extremely guarded…some might even say repressed. I have a tendency to learn as much as I can about you and then show you only the parts of me that I think you might like. Why? To keep me safe I guess…and I suppose because I don’t know who to trust. I want to be loved and wanted and valued, but I generally think that I can’t have that and let people know me…but knowing that people don’t truly know does leave me lonely. Walls…or even chain link fences are great for keeping people out, but then all you’re left with is yourself.
I’ve been thinking about why I’m so guarded…it’s probably the same reason that I’ve been prone to self-destructive behaviors and anxiety…why I’m at risk for disorders associated with avoidance and anxiety as opposed to depression.
But where did all this come from? Who really knows? I mean, I suppose some of it might be my upbringing…the feeling that I must be “together” and “self-sufficient” because my sisters need my parents’ attention. I mean, often times my parents don’t know about my struggles, hardships and heartaches because they seem so busy being absorbed in the troubles of my sisters. I need to be okay because no one has time to deal with my problems…or something…It could be one of my most grandiose relationship failures. I made myself so vulnerable once upon a time…I let that man-boy know me so intimately…I let myself be exposed in so many ways…and believe it or not it ended terribly. Oh, the hurt! There was such physical, mental, emotional pain…and circumstances that left me feeling like I’m just too much to deal with…too complex…too messy.
Maybe that’s why I’ve been so careful to be squeaky clean since. Maybe…that’s most assuredly why I am even more wary of being vulnerable around men than I am women…I mean, if anyone will take advantage of my vulnerability or fail to appreciate it for what it is, it’d be man, right? I don’t know…I just…I hate that one relationship with a jerk has led me to be wary of trusting any men with who I am…all of me…
My pastor’s sermon was on vulnerability today. He pointed out that the dictionary holds two definitions: 1) able to be hurt 2) unprotected, exposed to danger. I thought this was significant because those two types of vulnerability apply to different situations for me…both scare me, but I respond to them very differently. The second definition “unprotected, exposed to danger”, would be the kind of vulnerability I feel when I take a risk in my life. Situations like going off to school in South Dakota, breaking up with a boyfriend, starting a new job, leaving a position to seek another, etc. It’s the kind of vulnerability I need in order to grow as a person and move forward in my life. It scares the crap out of me because it’s a situation in which I’m stepping out unprotected, not without a safety net, but definitely out on a ledge…I mean, I know there are people in my life who would step in and catch me if I were falling, rescue me if I were floundering…but it would be one terrifyingly jarring ride down…until I reach them…and there’s always the risk that they fall through and I do actually crash into the cement floor below. This is the type of vulnerability that makes me want a security blanket…a soft place to land…reassurance that I won’t be a goner if something goes wrong…or if I just can’t do it…The first definition “able to be hurt” is the type of vulnerability I need in relationships if the relationship is going to grow and if the other person is going to be able to truly get to know me. It’s scary because that’s the kind of vulnerability that requires me to “let my guard down”. To expose my fleshy parts, my flaws, my “messiness”. It’s really hard for me to do. In some ways, I’d rather be exposed to the whole world than to my closest friends because those that I love most are those who can hurt me most. Their rejection would be traumatizing. I just…don’t want to be hurt, but I don’t know who I can trust…who can see me vulnerable and not take that opportunity to take a jab. Worse yet, though, I’m pretty quick to put my guard back up, to put away my messiness…I’m like a snail or some type of mollusk that will peek it’s head out, and if you’re lucky will crawl around your hand or at least crawl around in your presence, but if you make one false move…zip, slide, slam…I’m back in my shell and even harder to coax out. I think this type of vulnerability is hardest for me because there are no guarantees…no safety precautions.
I don’t know how to make myself vulnerable, though…how to be myself in front of people who think they have me all figured out…I don’t know who is willing to deal with my mess…
I hope that those who do see me all vulnerable appreciate it because it means that they must be someone truly special and truly trustworthy…because they are one of the few. That’s why there are a few people in this world that I just can’t stay mad at…that I appreciate more than I know how to say…because they know me well enough to yell at me…or disagree with me…straighten me out…and put up with me when I’m ridiculous…they may get exasperated, but they don’t give up. That’s important to me.
I know I’ll be stronger for all of this, including the pushing and prodding from my friends. I guess I’m kind of excited about that because it’ll be real strength not just a strong front. But that doesn’t mean I’m not scared to death.