I have been working at this vulnerability business for a few weeks now and I am somewhat startled by the disruption it has caused in my life. I say disruption very deliberately because I believe disruption can have positive benefits. We interrupt our normal behavior to force ourselves to address matters that might be low lying and would otherwise never rise to the surface. Disruption is, by definition, temporary but can yield very powerful results.
By exploring vulnerability, I disrupted by own status quo that had me comfortably staying inside my own walls and coming out only when I deemed safe – which is not allowing myself to be vulnerable, at all. I was controlling – or at least attempting to control – experiences in my life and the related emotions. That did not work so well because the minute I even peeked behind the curtain to look at what vulnerability might look like, my life was disrupted so completely that it alerted me to the fact that hiding and covering was not going to serve me in the long run.
So, I have been trying very hard to be exposed and allow myself to be vulnerable. I have put my emotions out in front of me and forced myself to experience them. And it has sucked. I am typically a very self-contained person who can easily float through life avoiding too much deep emotional interaction. I have close friends and a level of intimacy with many of them but I still can maintain my “boundaries” – something that is ingrained in me from years of seeking protection. And then I find the rare few who get under my skin and force me into a place of vulnerability that I try to resist kicking and screaming but, ultimately, I relent and I pray that I will not get hurt.
It is difficult to write this because even under the cloak of anonymity (which there is little of anymore with this blog), it exposes aspects of my personality that I typically do not share – and don’t like very much. Because the subject of vulnerability is so complex and riddled with emotional baggage, it is difficult for many to understand how you can have close relationships and still leave your emotions at the door. Anyone who has learned to build walls in their life to protect themselves from whatever emotional enemy they believe is out there waiting to harm them understands that you can be capable of love without truly allowing yourself to experience vulnerability – especially when it comes to friends.
As I have been on this journey of vulnerability, a lot of emotions have come to surface. I have felt scared, joyful, serene, anxious and, most surprisingly, angry. Anger is an emotion that I struggle with, as many do, because I never know exactly what to do with my anger. Despite the fact that I have outlets like kickboxing to channel my aggression, I still find myself having face-offs with my anger, trying to wrestle it to the ground. I started re-reading Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Anger recently in order to help me address some of the underlying issues associated with my anger and I relate so deeply to how she talks about anger:
“Anger is a signal, one worth listening to…Anger is one of the most painful emotions we experience, and the most difficult to use wisely and well. Yet our anger is an important signal that always deserves our attention and respect. The difficulty is that feeling angry doesn’t tell us what is wrong, or what specifically we can do that will make things better rather than worse…The challenge of anger is at the heart of our struggle to achieve intimacy, self-esteem, and joy.”
So, once again, I see these connections between complicated emotions and achieving joy. I want to be joyful as much as possible and yet I struggle with getting comfortable with these emotions that will ultimately enable me to experience joy. I continue to dance in this vicious circle. Brene Brown, in her video on vulnerability, suggests that in order to be joyful, we often feel like we have to beat vulnerability to the punch. Rather than loving with our whole hearts without uncertainty, we are guarded. And rather than experiencing joy, we are living with low-grade disconnection. It is not obvious to most but, in fact, it keeps us pretty miserable.
In my estimation, anger serves several purposes in our lives. As Harriet Lerner says, it is a signal that something is wrong but it is also a way to distance ourselves from other emotions. It provides us with another shield against feeling vulnerable. I certainly can speak for myself when I say that even the thought of vulnerability makes me angry at times. I am resentful that I cannot experience that joy that I so desperately seek. By getting angry I can focus on the anger and not the pain that I am feeling underneath it. Anger is a repository for unwanted feelings and emotions. Unfortunately, for me at least, they end up clogging the drain because I cannot flush out the anger and rarely know where else to dispose of it. I struggle with processing through anger and it just festers or grows and begins to cloud over everything else.
Last night I was having a quiet moment to myself, which is a rare thing these days. I started thinking about my own anger and recognized how easily I become angry at those closest to me. Perhaps the expectations are greater or the stakes higher but, nonetheless, I feel anger when I suspect I should probably be feeling something else. I expect that the anger is all about my vulnerability and my discomfort with feeling raw and exposed and not knowing how to put a salve on a wound to make it feel better. If I am feeling needy or disconnected, I get angry rather than asking for what I need. I replace love and affection with anger in order to distance myself and, seemingly, protect myself. I know these are all ineffective strategies that will ultimately injure my rare intimate relationships. And so my journey continues.
In my contemplation last night, I acknowledged that I no longer want to be in this boxing match with anger. I am losing this battle for sure. I need to find new ways to discharge my feelings and stop numbing myself from the complex emotions related to being vulnerable. If I am truly going to take on this beast of vulnerability, I need to stop running scared and see if I can meet in and stare it square in the face. I might hang on to a little armor in the meantime but I’m committed to hanging up my gloves for now.