When we feel scared, sad, anxious or lonely, the last thing many of us would think of doing is confessing to our distress or insecurity. As social creatures, programmed to survival, acceptance and the need to appear in control, we feel that it’s best to say nothing, to smile, or to change the subject. In this way we hide our vulnerability and appear cool, calm and collected.
An article from *The School of Life Sydney poses an interesting alternative to this punishing philosophy that alienates us from ourselves and from one another.
Why don’t we take the exact opposite approach in our bad moments? How about actually opening up and revealing that things aren’t perfect, that we’re pretty scared and in need of company, that it’s hard to talk or maintain faith in the future?
It sounds alarming but we might discover that by sharing more of our inner turmoil we feel lighter and less oppressed, with a deeper connection to those around us. Revealing our vulnerability might even make us appear stronger rather than weaker.
One reason for not opening up about what’s troubling us is that we think all disclosures about our distress or insecurity must be the same. Really, there is a difference between an insistent, desperate demand for rescue, and revealing a problem with an attitude of sober, sad dignity. This is the distinction between neediness and vulnerability.
Revelation may also be the very ingredient that enhances our dignity. While it might appear heroic to never show weakness of any kind, it is more impressive to have the courage, psychological insight and self-discipline to talk about our weaknesses. A “true adult” is able to disclose, in a measured way, aspects of their less grown up and more dependent self: expressing how they’re going through a really bad time, or they really don’t want to be here, or they don’t want to look like an idiot.
Being able to do this depends on a further piece of maturity and that is a knowledge that other people are just as scared, sad, lonely and anxious as we are. Even if they are not showing it, we know they are not different from or tougher than us; rather, we recognise that they, too, are afraid to share their vulnerable reality.
We should accept that it is normal to be lonely or sick with worry – even though we are meant to have all the friends we need and a steady faith in the future. By revealing our weaknesses we are not owning up to a strange or freakish aspect of ourselves. Leaning into our fears, rather than treating them as shameful enemies, allows us to show our own fragility and humanity. This in turn gives others the chance to feel safe enough to show theirs.
*From The School of Life Sydney, www.theschooloflife.com