“One can be less vulnerable by becoming less sensitive—more of a stone and less of a man—and so less capable of enjoyment.” –Alan Watts
I’ve never found it easy to allow myself to be vulnerable. It isn’t something I valued until recently. In fact I considered it a dangerous weakness. I have been for as long as I could remember fairly shy and inward directed. But I also remember being enthusiastic and open as a child. Then (during adolescence I think) I began to become more self-aware and self-conscious. I became afraid of any attention. That openness and enthusiasm became a liability because it brought attention, often negative. So I started building a shell, attempting to make myself as invulnerable as possible. I built walls, closing myself off from people because I was afraid of rejection. I was afraid of getting hurt. I don’t think I ever consciously formulated it that way, but now reflecting on it I believe I thought if I did this I would be somehow safe from the potential negative feelings that can come from being open. Those walls were meant to protect me from pain. But it turned out (obviously to me now) to be extremely naïve. Those barriers shut out a lot of positive experiences as well. And in the end those barriers only cause more pain.
I’m often lonely. It will hit me at random times without any specific trigger. And it’s not necessarily for lack of friends and family to spend time with. I can be with people and lose myself in that interaction. And for that time I feel good again. But then as soon as I am by myself the loneliness returns. Sometimes it’s present even when I’m with others. I think it’s a matter of not learning how to effectively engage in connections with others at an early age. It’s not just about being in the vicinity of people. It’s about being understood and heard and hearing and understanding others. I used to think I was good at being alone, but now I realized I was only good at biding my time until I wouldn’t have to be alone again. That’s definitely not the same thing.
It’s easy to overlook how we are all part of an interconnected web of relationships. At least it is for me. I get absorbed in the anxieties and insecurities in my head. The world around me becomes distorted through those lenses. While I’m trying to put out the fires of the chaotic brain stew in my mind other people can seem like a distraction to that task. But it turns out to be the opposite. Focusing on others, engaging with the world outside my own head is a much more effective way of quelling the mess inside it. We, I, need those connections to feel complete. We’re social animals and though we each have our own necessary degree of connection, whatever that level is for each of us needs to be reached in order for each of us to feel fulfilled. The thicker and more robust that web of relationships is the better we are emotionally as human beings. I actively shunned that idea early on, or rather I mistakenly thought my level of connection needed to be low and am only now learning that isn’t the case for me. I’m learning to take emotional chances within myself and in connecting to other people. I enjoy other people. And though I’m not the most socially outgoing person I do need to regularly be engaged with others in order to meet my own level of fulfillment.
I guess what all of this comes down to for me is the realization that vulnerability is a huge part of this process of opening up. Making oneself vulnerable is essential to building relationships. It’s how we build connections with other people. It’s scary and it’s difficult, but it’s necessary. This blog is one way I’ve tried to open myself to vulnerability. I’ve written about things here that not that long ago I wouldn’t have talked about with even my closest friends. Now those things are easier to speak about. For me it’s been a process of continually going deeper. I’ve built up layers of mental and emotional armor to protect myself. Growing as a human involves stripping down these layers of armor a bit at a time. I don’t know if there is a core to be reached, but it feels important to keep moving in that direction. There will always be the chance to be hurt, or embarrassed, or to suffer loss. That’s the way life works though. There is no safe way through life. Walling off any connection to the rest of the world is a miserable way to go through this existence. I’d rather push myself to take those chances and risk being hurt than stay “safe” and alone.