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.