"I am imperfect. I am wired for struggle. I am worthy of love and belonging."
We walked into the gymastics complex and my energetic daughter bolted for her class. I walked past my usual place on the chairs, separated from the group of moms who had been coming much longer and seemed to know each other well. I was usually content alone, content to watch my daughter or read blogs on my phone. But deep down I knew the reason I was avoiding the mom group was shame. Or at least, shame as Brene Brown defines it; "the fear of disconnection."
What if they reject me? What if we have nothing in common? It is much safer over here alone.
If I waited until I was the person I wanted these women to think I was, before I tried to initiate a friendship, I would wait forever. So I took a seat next to the mom-group in an effort to take a risk and include myself.
For an hour I tried to make eye contact and laugh at the jokes. For an hour I was [for all intents and purposes] ignored. I don't think these women are snobs. I don't think they were deliberately excluding me.
The result of my experiment? I felt humiliated. I did not feel loved or worthy. My gut reaction was to swear them off, go back to my little corner, build a giant wall to protect myself from any further rejection. But what would that accomplish? Wouldn't it just validate my feelings of inadequacy? Wouldn't it just say "You are right. You are not worthy. You belong over there. Alone." Even though my actions are guided by these defeating thoughts, I don't really believe them. I am imperfect, yes. But I am worthy of connection.
I decided to take another shot. I hadn't actually met my daughter's new coach yet. She is young and beautiful and I hadn't introduced myself because I always assume people think the worst of me, and by default my children.
I am being annoying. She is annoyed that my three year old doesn't understand how to stand in line. She doesn't care about knowing me.
After the class was over I waited for her by the gate. I introduced myself and her face lit up.
"I love your little girl! She has so much enthusiasm. I just love her so much!"
What better reward could a mother ask for than such expressions of adoration about her child? And a connection. I am worthy.
Vulnerability is risky. It is so risky. I thought I got it. A few weeks ago after watching Brene's Ted Talk a couple times, I thought I had it down. I hadn't perfected it, but I felt like I was living authentically, willing to be really seen. Then when a good friend said "love you" on the phone and I couldn't say it back, I knew I was way off the mark.
"do[ing] something where there are no guarantees... [being] willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out...
I personally thought it was betrayal. I could not believe I had pledged allegiance to research, where our job --you know, the definition of research is to control and predict, to study phenomena, for the explicit reason to control and predict. And now my mission to control and predict had turned up the answer that the way to live is with vulnerability and to stop controlling and predicting."
It is terrifying. It means that there are unquestionably going to be disappointments, heartbreak, and betrayal. It is counterintuitive. Maybe because we are built for survival, we are built for emotional survival. Protect, protect, protect.
I know I walk around in shame and fear. I automatically assume that unless otherwise told, people are entirely focused on my flaws, and I am ashamed of my flaws. It is much easier to be unseen, to pretend I'm the person I want people to think I am.
Sometimes the reward for courage is disappointment. But sometimes the reward for courage is to really feel, to connect, to be loved and have my worth validated. The real courage and authenticity comes when I let go of trying to predict the results of my vulnerability. I let go of my anxious method of trying to selectively choose the situations where I can guarantee a positive response.
One last quote from Brene (emphasis added)
"To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there's no guarantee --and that's really hard...to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror... just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen,to say, "I'm just so grateful,because to feel this vulnerable means I'm alive."
And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we're enough. Because when we work from a place..that says, "I'm enough," then we stop screaming and start listening, we're kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we're kinder and gentler to ourselves."