Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mountain Time, now with less sarcasm, more earnestness

Someone googled their way here last night with the query "how to be comfortable with vulnerability." I'm pretty sure they didn't get what they were looking for -- Dog knows I have no idea how to handle vulnerability. I learned from the best, after all. My parents taught me the dangers of actually feeling early on, and until a perceptive therapist pointed this out to me a few years ago, I thought we were actually strong personalities.

Turns out we're just a bunch of emotional cowards. It's still my first instinct, to downplay or silence entirely the strength of my own feelings, fears and wounds. With the exception of a very few people in my life (and you know who you are), I'd almost always rather talk to someone about their problems than discuss my own. I'm pretty good at it, so that's led to an odd dynamic in my family. I'm the youngest of five, and probably considered the most all-around "successful" one -- married for thirteen years, no divorce, good career, decent financial position, nice kid, two dogs. I get to travel and I have vibrant hobbies.

Contrast that with some of the things my siblings have gone through and are still going through, and all of a sudden my relatively unremarkable life is transformed into some kind of winning lottery ticket, and I owe everyone else 1) penance for having it "easier" than they do, and 2) endless advice and support for their own pains and agonies with little or no reciprocation. This results in them being even less comfortable with my vulnerability than I am. Which kind of reinforces these things. It's sort of an unsavory blend of resentment and dependence.

Of course, the therapist observed wryly how well this fits in with my own emotional narrative, the one I'm comfortable with -- me as invulnerable, strong person. But it's fake, it gets old, and that narrative fails to recognize me as an actual, whole person. And it doesn't really help anyone else either.

So, Anonymous Googler, here's what my therapist advised me. Breathe. No, really, she said that. Breathe, and notice how you feel when you start to get that locked up feeling. It's not going to kill you. Really. Something else undoubtedly will, eventually. But feeling won't.

I still forget -- probably because it's so easy to slip back into old patterns unless you constantly remind yourself -- but the panic attacks usually remind me that it's time to go back to Square Uno. And find someone who is comfortable with you being vulnerable to talk to. These things don't happen in a vacuum. I bet if you think about it, there's someone out there who benefits -- or thinks they do -- from you playing the Rock.

Please do comment. I'll feel all weird and vulnerable if you all stay quiet. Then, back to our regularly scheduled sarcastic defense mechanisms.


Rose said...

Nicely put.

I just saw "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" last weekend and it posed many of these questions about vulnerability and the human condition & spirit.

Hat tip to you for throwing out a message in a bottle.

Trailhead said...

I just looked that up on Rotten Tomatoes, and it looks like I need to see that. Wow.

Anonymous said...

I'm the opposit. I'm like super vunerable sissy pants. Sometimes I wish I could be on that other side even if it is fake. I have recently gotten rid of a group of friends because I didn't like the way they treated me. And they said I was complaining too much when Rascal Died. If he were a dog they would understand more becasue they have dogs. Isn't that crazy? I had Rascal from the size of a hampster, I wish I could have been more heartless but it really did strike me hard. I couldn't go to these friends about it thought

It brought me right back to gradeschool. Only then the beatings were physical instead of mental.But it's been my fault for being SUPER Wimp! I put up with a lot but have gotten to the point, when you get mad just cut them off, permanently. I am at the point where I don't care if I have freinds at all. YOu can't do that with family however. But yeah I guess I consider myself super vulnerable. Gotten a little stronger with age though.

Take Care


Trailhead said...

I'm like super vunerable sissy pants.

Eh, you're probably just more honest than I am. I'm pretty much a weenie at heart, too. At least you can talk about it.

As for the Rascal issue, I really do think there's a certain type of person who just doesn't get the hold that animals have on us sometimes. Too bad they weren't able to be more understanding and empathetic.

michael said...

I don't like the whole - fitting into a box thing; subtle self labeling. I have more empathy for animals then people - its that whole rational mind.

Kristy said...

Your sure it was "vulnerability" that they googled and not an unintentional contraction of the other "v" phrase that brings people to you regularly? Just asking--the question had to be asked.

Isn't it funny how our lives can look so good on paper in some contexts and just the opposite in others? I get that torn feeling whenever my kids ask if we are rich. No. Yes. Well, compared to most people on this planet, we have an embarrassment of riches. But, no, we're never going to be able to afford the lifestyle that your buddy in homeroom does. So, yes, the glass is definitely either half empty or half full. Whatever. Why are you asking anyway?

Anonymous said...


I think riches are in the eyes of the beholder as well. I remember growing up we were rich rich rich according to all the kids on the block. My parents owned a home, didn't rent an apartment and we didn't get free canned goods for (poor) families by any organization. When I went to ARt school I was poor white Trash.

I remember a woman who said she always thought her family was poor becasue their home was not large enought to have a, get this, basketball court, and all the neighbors did. I mean we can range from having 12 houses and a private jet to laying on the ground dying of starvation and everywhere in between.

Trailhead, Weeenie at heart, that's funny. As long as your not a weenie roast! OUch!


kris said...

A very reflective post. My therapist encouraged me to surround myself with people who give me breath - a nice companion for remembering to breathe.