This vulnerability thing
Updated: Mar 20
Preaching kindness when you are not hurt is easy. Staying kind when someone stabs you at the back is the real deal.
What I experienced today will define who I am becoming, I needed to write this out.
From that day on, I dared to think about what I really want to do for it rest of my life, change my career trajectory. Oh, trying to live whole-hearted, becoming one’s own person, expressing needs and feelings - it feels like open-heart surgery.
Dare to be yourself, be out there, get in the arena and dare to tell people what I think or feel.
I must tell Brene that I hate her at times, for being so spot on, so right about this thing, and relentlessly advocating for vulnerability. She is right. But it so painful and hard.
And I kind of like it. Let me tell you why.
Today is March 31, 2020. I am writing this letter from NY. The whole world, the US is no exception, we are in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic. Elbow deep. It is bad and scary. The unknown and uncertainty. I am scared seeing how times like this crisis brings up the true nature of people. Good, and the bad.
I am scared and feeling lonely. I have my husband and my 10-mo old daughter. That’s it. We are all self-isolating now, to be protected from the virus. But for us, it is not specific to this time, it is kind of second nature to our family of three. We have been practicing self-isolation for a while now, not having close contact with the family of origins. But that is a story of another day.
As my core support system relies on my work and now that we are bound to work from home, I feel depressed and disconnected every day little more. Even we sure connect once a week for zoom lab meetings as 20 people of the lab, I miss talking to my colleagues casually over a coffee, or just stopping by to say hi and have a nice small talk. (And I normally hate small talk.)
When I was suffocating in my loneliness, it occurred to me that I can reach out to our support group here at the college which is a family’s-wellness the group consisted of members of the college. I have been involved as an advocacy coordinator in this group for a while.
The whole point of this group, to me, is to connect and support one another during parenthood or emerging family. I have been involved with the board and organized events for a while.
Today I decided to send out a message to the whole group asking how are they doing at this tough time and revealing that it has been a struggle for me to work from home and take care of my 10 mo-old and I would love to talk with other people, set up a virtual meeting may be, to hear how they are dealing with this anxiety-provoking situation.
After I pressed the send button, a sinking feeling started to fill my heart. What did I just do? I asked a group of maybe almost 30 strangers “how they are feeling?” And I know how to turn out ratio to group messages are so low. So probably no one will answer me?! Why did I do that?
And then I vaguely remember that I told them bluntly how stressed I am feeling and asked them to reach out… oh, my, god. I felt so exposed and open at that moment and the sinking feeling kept getting worse as hours passed. As I waited more and more for some human soul to respond to my desperate cry, that I regretted to let out. I have already convinced myself that this was a terrible mistake and I should have shut my mouth. Forever, probably.
Then I saw a reply, oh thank god, and happily scrolled down.
To my surprise and then terror, someone in the group told me that there were enough meetings going on now, and scheduling one more is just distracting and useless. And that we should all focus on safety and work now and that there has been already some helpful content shared, referring to previously shared videos on covid-19 info, some meditation exercises, and some distance learning course suggestions for kids. Thank you she said, to them.
I felt that shame running through all my veins and my hands were shaking.
Why on earth someone would reply to my “cry for connection” with such a rude, hurtful, put-down way? How dare she, and who this person is?
I was ready to armor up and bring her down. I was also about to shout out and cry hysterically.
Then I put my emotions in check, and I replied to her saying I am not sure which part of my message she really didn’t agree with and found distracting and useless. I wanted to connect with people, I see nothing wrong with that and everyone responds to stress differently so being mindful of basic respect while we communicate within this medium.
I tried to be respectful while the only thing I wanted to do really is to something else...
Then my husband came into the room, as I explained the situation to him, he raged to search this person online and to our surprise, we recognized that she is our neighbor from the same floor at the apartment! whom I have never met personally. We saw her and her son on an occasional basis entering the apartment but never exchanged greeting.
She continued to reply to the group that it is useless and empty to ask for people to connect if people can not say hi to each other when they see each other in their apartments or at school.
Then, I realized what this was about.
She was actively seeking an opportunity to get back to me about the fact that we didn’t meet personally, and “I” did not say hi to her when we see each other before in the apartment.
I decided to continue confronting her in a private message saying that she apparently seems very upset about the fact that I haven’t said hi to her, and I don’t understand that why this is my responsibility. She could have said hi to me, too. She expressed her concern that I am not a shy person apparently and it seemed so strange to her that I didn’t say hi. I told her that it is totally unintentional and did not mean to actively hurt her or ignore her. And it is not true that I am not shy-I am introverted. But the fact of the matter is how she could characterize me without even exchanging a hello?!
She told me that she was glad that this is sorted out and wish well.
Not that fast to escape. It was not sorted out for me. At all. Just starting to unravel.
I was appalled by the fact that she can confront me so boldly in public but then wanted to close it up fast when we were talking in private.
I was unaware that I have offended her in such a bad way unknowingly and she became someone actively pursuing a personal vendetta or grudge against me in an open platform of a support group.
By no means, I find her behavior okay. And I told to her, that she told the group that we should be kind and mindful of one another, but her behavior totally negates this kindness aspect where she replies to my open request for connection with such a bitter attitude. She eventually expressed that she was sorry and didn’t mean to hurt me but, this comment was very hurtful and unkind.
I must have hurt her unknowingly bad and she waited for a moment to get even or she was displacing anger to me as a safer outlet at that moment. No way for me to know really. And that it is not the point here.
My point is, upon her response, for a split second, I hated all this vulnerability thing. I was so ashamed. For reaching out for help. For wanting to connect. I lost my belief (whatever was left) in humanity. For a minute (or more…)
Then something magical happened there.
Two people responded to my message after her response.
Saying that they would love to chat over a coffee.
We talked to three of us for an hour and it was a lovely, intimate talk. We talked about how hard it was to deal with current uncertainty, everyone’s own struggles with their childcare. They were mothers, too. We happened to be from different cultures, and I loved how we connected at this chat. I learned parts of them I didn’t know before. It was exactly the kind of connection and sharing I envisioned to have when initially I sent this message to the group. Who would have known that it would come after such an eventful start?
These lovely ladies gave me further reassurance that this person does not represent how the group thinks of me, but only her opinion. They were concerned that I would take this hurtful comment to heart. Which I did for a minute. ok, maybe a little more...
This one-hour talk was so precious and made me feel so good. Seen and connected.
That almost cleared up that shame storm in my soul, together with a deeper understanding that this was only one person that I may have hurt unknowing and chose to try to hurt me, instead of reaching out to me for connection. What a pity.
With this, I realized this previously unacclaimed power in me, that I was able to say to this person, “I am sorry if I hurt you unknowingly”. I did not mean to do anything wrong to her. But sometimes people get hurt without us being intentionally hurtful. And what they need is just an understanding of that hurt. No explanation. Nothing.
I know that feeling.
I am so well-versed with that feeling of feeling misunderstood, unloved, and unwanted for a good portion of my life. Oh, we have maybe more commonality with this person that she thinks, but one fundamental difference that I do not actively seek out to hurt people who wronged me.
I wish for people who I truly care about, could have this capacity to respond to me by choosing the latter of the following three scenarios when I tell them they hurt me.
The first scenario is when people choose to lash out and hit back saying you deserved it for the following reasons, and it only gets worse. Just don’t attack further. The attack- blame and shame game doesn’t take us further. It makes us fall apart.
The second one is where they know they hurt you, and kind of see that, but can not bring themselves to accept it and apologize truly. For whatever reason, they start explaining their rationale for that behavior, and how their own part of the story is. Oh, that is truly maddening for me. Justifying your behavior, I can’t stand. Just don’t self-serve and play the victim anymore when someone tells you that your actions were not well received. It makes you seem narcissistic, which you truly are probably, and again we don’t go further.
The last scenario would be where they would see my hurt. And that would be the only important thing for them. Not being right or wrong. I am hurt and it doesn’t matter at that point whether they intended or not. What I just need is to hear is “I am sorry that I hurt you. I didn’t mean that”. This does not mean they were wrong. This means they value me more than their ego, and willing to see that something has gone awry and they are happy to work on that for this relationship.
Ah, I am so eager to find some more people with the last scene. This is a rare find for me.
Unless it is my therapist or my husband. Well, maybe there would be only a handful of people in my life who will respond like this. Yet to discover.
What I know for sure if that, I chose to be someone acting as the last scenario.
I didn’t deserve to see that message today. I cried upon receiving that.
But that person who wrote that thought the same thing probably. That she was %100 right. She was upset with me. That’s why she did this. And if I was not able to acknowledge that, what would that make me really?
Preaching kindness when you are not hurt is easy. But staying kind when someone stabs you at the back is the real deal.
And, I decided not to take her comment that “my message was useless, empty and distracting” to my heart eventually, rather trusting the comments of two ladies, who said they really enjoyed talking to me and we should do this again. I chose to take that one to my heart.
That goes along with the message of Brene as well.
I was in the arena. I have been working for this family wellness initiative from day one and I genuinely put myself out there to connect people, I tell them how I feel even though it is scary to the possibility of not being understood or shamed or ridiculed. But every day, after every single defeat, I stand up, I walk to the arena again and again. I show up for myself, for my family.
I agree with Brene that I do not take comments or feedback from someone who is not in the arena. Who has not expressed genuine interest in kindness or connecting people, who haven’t worked herself to create something meaningful for others, but chose to attack people in public to address a personal agenda? To me, their feedback doesn’t count.
So, in the end, I decided that this vulnerability thing, it is messy, hard, and beautiful. And that I want to stay like this. Continue to practice the dark art of vulnerability. Getting better at it, if possible. (I don’t think it is ever easy or possible not to feel hurt when someone attacks you and not armor up)
I want to stay like this, despite people who love criticizing and despite people who love attacking the people in the arena. I want my daughter to see that this vulnerability thing, it is messy, hard, and beautiful.
And one can only really live and become their own person by being open-hearted, honest, and kind.
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