Hello. My name is Amy, and this is how I get over my fear of vulnerability.
Vulnerability is scary, and we all have struggles with it, whether we realize it or not. I began thinking about this about ten months ago when my friend showed me a TEDTalk given by Dr. Brene Brown, who spoke of the power that lies in being vulnerable. At first I was resistant to this idea, making up all kinds of excuses for myself. Oh, I’m just not a vulnerable person. Oh, I’m too strong for that. Oh, I’m vulnerable enough for me. But over time, and with a little nudging from this project, I have realized that most of my problems in life are related to my fear of being vulnerable.
I was raised by a mother with Borderline Personality Disorder, which does manifest differently in each person, but I was flung into the caregiver role at a very young age. Over time I learned to shove my own feelings aside (because my mother’s were more important) and to revile weakness in myself. Now I realize that this was a practical psychological survival skill, but it has taken years of estrangement from my mother to even ask people for things or admit to having feelings at all. About anything. Ever. And I don’t mean asking people for help moving, I mean small things like asking people to pass the salt.
People who know me well know that I separated from my husband about a year ago and our divorce was finalized in February of this year. I did not talk about this with anybody, and most people, including my close friends, heard about it through the small town grapevine. It was extremely difficult to see my life unravel so quickly and rebuild, but all of the unraveling was my own doing. In all the years with my ex-husband I could never tell him how I felt. If he did something to hurt me or was insensitive, I kept it to myself. Eventually it would boil to the surface and I would talk to him, things would get better for a while, and eventually settle back into the routine of two roommates sharing a bed. This killed me, and I let it for a long time. Around the same time as my separation, I lost a couple of very good friends for various reasons. Instead of talking about it and admitting they hurt me, I adopted the “Whatever, I don’t need them!” attitude. Almost a year later, we still have not spoken. I have no idea why, and it still hurts.
These issues go deeper than my personal life, however. I have noticed that I have been operating under the assumption that I have social anxiety for years, but lately pointed out to myself that I am just afraid to screw up in front of people because screwing up is a sign of weakness. When I have looked for jobs in the past, I always looked for jobs with new businesses, that way I wouldn’t be the only new one and thus my mistakes would be part of the sea of other mistakes. This is why this fear has to be conquered. I lost my job earlier this summer and have been struggling. Luckily I found a new position with a healthcare company, which I start tomorrow, but it is doing something that I am not familiar with. Naturally I’m terrified, but grateful for the week of training with other new people. I know I am smart and I will get it down eventually, but there is nothing quite like that “first day” feeling when you have no idea who to eat lunch with.
This is a big step for me, admitting to friends and the internet that I am scared, and I have feelings, and sometimes I even cry. One of the things Dr. Brown discussed in her TEDTalk was the common misconception that vulnerability equates to weakness. This is untrue, but a hard cognition to change. It is because vulnerability is perceived as weakness that choosing to be vulnerable in the face of potential judgment is a sign of great strength. I need to remind myself of this every day, and I know I am not the only one.