Vulnerability is something that every relationship needs to thrive, but we’re often sabotaged by the fear of what other people would think if we showed our true selves. Would they still like us? Would they treat us differently?
Yes, this even includes psychiatrists, therapists, counselors and even life coaches. Just because a person happens to be aligned with what we see as being successful does not make them somehow too good to be plagued with some form of fear like everybody else.
People have a belief that professionals in the self-help industry are above having any sort of emotional or psychological issues. Well, world… the truth is that we’re not. No one is perfect. No amount of education, knowledge of psychological techniques and strategies, or income can make you immune to having problems, or defeating thoughts and behaviors that get in the way of living a life that’s joyful and fulfilling 100% of the time.
It’s all about being bold enough to take chances. Even for me, a life coach – one that has founded her practice upon the idea of conquering fear, no less – I’ll admit that my mind still gets in the way. That’s where I shine and why Fearless Pursuits exist and how fearless living is about moving beyond the fear in spite of the stories that replay over and over in our mind.
Fearless living; adventures in my own life.
Today, in the spirit of blogging, which is all about being vulnerable, I’ll get personal about my thoughts and behaviors, so that you can join me as I work through an issue in my own pursuit for a fulfilling life. Maybe it will help you work through your own, maybe not. If anything, it should be comforting to know that what you’re dealing with is purely human.
Perception Is Everything
Tonight was yet another rainy evening, as it often is during the winter here in Oregon. I parked in the back of the parking lot and turned off my car. I purposely stayed for a moment to absorb the peaceful scene. It’s quiet, and all I can hear is the rain tapping softly on the roof of the car. The rain is just a gentle drizzle, not pouring; I know I won’t need a hood or an umbrella. The truth is, I’ve been nervous about seeing him all day and now I have to get a backbone and go talk to him.
As I gather my courage, I hope that I don’t go weak when the time comes to break the news to him. With a deep breath, I step outside of the car, stand tall, and adjust my jacket as I walk to the pub where he chose to meet tonight. I’m so nervous; I’m always nervous when I meet with him. That in and of itself drives me crazy! Why, after five months of dating him, am I STILL this nervous?
I’ve never been to this neighborhood pub before. It’s fun getting to know my new home town. It’s taking time, I’m still learning where everything is, since I’ve only lived in Oregon for eight months now. From the outside, it looked like a humble, ‘hole-in-the-wall’ sort of place. “I sure hope it’s not a grungy place” I say to myself as I make the walk to the front door.
From a young age, I grew to dislike neighborhood bars. There was nothing really “wrong” with them, but I’d learned to associate them with how my Mom would practically live in them when I was a child. I never particularly liked the environment of most bars, either. Smelly, dark and smoky was the norm from what I remember, and as I grew older decided that I didn’t want to have any part in that.
Even as I dreaded what I expected to see, I opened the door to see a well-lit, warm and inviting little restaurant, filled with friendly faces and “normal” looking people having dinner. As I quickly scan the room, I see him seated at the bar. He sees me from a distance, and as our eyes meet, I can’t help but smile as I walk to him.
I’m typically a bubbly kind of lady, it’s hard to get me down. It looks like from the outside that I am walking on sunshine as I go about my days and tonight, glancing at him across the crowded room is no different.
Seeing him tonight brings a smile to my face each and I suddenly have forgotten my mission. We’ve always had that sort of magical chemistry between us. As I lay eyes on him, I seem to go into “giddy little girl” mode. I have to laugh how this seems to happen each time.
I’m dressed in my favorite jeans, brown ankle boots, a colorful long-sleeved shirt, and his favorite sleek black leather jacket. As I stand beside him, he says, “I like the whole package.” I’m not going to lie… it makes a lady feel good when a man points out how he likes the way she puts herself together.
Displaying confidence outwardly is something that I have gotten really good at, even while on the inside I’m freakin’ scared out of my mind! Tonight was no exception, I slide my purse off of my shoulder as if I owned the place, and swing it over the back of the chair, and turn to wrap my arms under his leather jacket around his waist for a tight squeeze.
I love how strongly he holds me. It’s been such a long time, and it feels like it’s been even longer than it has. I’ve been working long hours lately, between writing, coaching, and taking care of my two girls at home. I haven’t seen him outside of the gym for weeks. I decided weeks ago in my mind to end it, but I didn’t have the courage to tell him yet.
Sure, I wanted to stay in his arms for a lot longer, but it’s a restaurant after all, and this is only meant to be a warm greeting. The funny part is that it’s as if we’re too polite to each other, stiff and awkward like high school kids that just got past holding hands. There is undeniable electricity between us, but we hold back.
We always hold back.
As I sit on the bar stool facing him, he asks if I want a drink. I’ve been detoxing lately, and I didn’t want to have a drink, so I say, “I’ll just have water.” He doesn’t ask about my personal life, and he isn’t aware that I have been taking huge steps to detoxify my body.
If you detect a little hurt in that statement, you would be right. That was part of why I wanted to stop seeing him. He just doesn’t seem that into me. After all, wouldn’t a friend be interested in what I am doing in my personal life?
It’s just all so superficial sometimes with our conversations. “How was your day?” or “Did you have a good workout?” I want more intellect, stimulating conversations that stir the soul. I want to laugh and be teased. I want to tease back. I want to be flirty and to be flirted with.
Being an outgoing person, I have no trouble being the first to spark up conversation. Of course, I direct the conversation away from myself. I wouldn’t want to let him in or anything crazy like that – no way!
How is it possible for me to want him to come in to my world, and yet at the same time be so closed off? I know intellectually that I do this, and I do want to change, but it’s been my “thing” for all of my adult life. I don’t let people in. This is something he and I have talked about. He senses that I am closed off, and he prefers not to pry.
When I begin dating someone, I am always excited and hopeful for the possibilities. I go into a new relationship being open. Men are wired to be hopeful of getting some “action”; that’s a given, and it’s cool. I totally get that.
Once he figures out that I want a committed relationship, he will do one of two things: He will decide that he’s ready to give me what I want, or, worst-case scenario – he will stop giving me attention, and I will have discovered that it’s simply not meant to be.
We have had fun dating these last five months. The intimacy factor was turning up to a higher level, and honestly, I didn’t feel like we were growing. One night a few months ago, we had “The Talk”. We opened up about what phase of our lives each of us were in.
He told me that he was still in a healing stage from his divorce. I told him that I was ready to have the “Full Monty”. With the new understanding and how we weren’t after the same thing, I cooled off.
The texts and phone calls from him kept coming with sweet and caring words. Maybe some would call me a sucker, because I kept seeing him. I was just so conflicted.
I really like him! What’s not to like? He’s brilliant, handsome, and we have crazy electricity. We are just not connecting and growing on a deeper level.
I know that I need to stay strong to my convictions of what I want, so I try to stay away from him and I have gotten even more closed off. What would the point be in sharing who I am? Why would I share my hopes, my desires, my time, and my attention with someone who doesn’t want the same thing?
As we sit across from one another, facing each other on the bar stools, our knees touch. Does he know how he drives me crazy? The conversation is light and fun as we smile and laugh, I know that this meeting has a purpose. I think it’s time now to tell him…
I take his big, rough hands in my dainty ones. I feel the strength in his hands and I like it. I don’t remember ever grabbing his hands like that. I think I am making him feel uncomfortable, but he doesn’t pull away.
I muster the courage to take this as my opportunity to tell him what’s on my mind. I begin explaining that, although we have been seeing each other on and off for several months, we aren’t growing and we simply don’t want the same things.
He doesn’t seem terribly shocked as he leans back and slips his hands out of mine. He simply asks me why. Wow, that’s different. It’s been his nature previously to simply accept what I say, and to not question it. Not in a passive way, but more in the “Okay, I don’t care” sort of way.
I further explain that I really should have stood strong that day months ago when he told me he was not ready for the kind of relationship that I was looking for.
It was this attraction and chemistry that I felt for him, and how he gives me such sweet attention that kept me hanging on. (No, I don’t have S-U-C-K-E-R tattooed on my forehead, but maybe I should.)
With the news finally out in the open, I felt strong. Suddenly, I have a new awareness of how open I can be. I just felt free. This is what he has been waiting for. It’s what he wants. This is what I want, too. At last, I am pouring out my constitutions and standards to him.
I explain how I knew I was holding back, and I took responsibility for contributing to the relationship not growing. I say, “You are in a different place than I am.”
I told him that I would not open up and give any more of myself with someone who I knew didn’t really want a committed relationship. What would be the point?
He agrees that this makes sense, and he understands that I want a relationship to grow. I feel that I am off the hook. Phew! I don’t need to let him in. I don’t have to share my… secrets.
Being vulnerable means sharing all of you – even the ugly parts.
I’m hiding something. A deep, dark secret. He doesn’t know, and I’m afraid to tell him. Now that we are splitting up, I feel relieved. Relieved that I don’t have to tell him and risk being rejected.
Want to know the truth? Mr. Perfect wouldn’t really want me… Not the whole me. If he knew my secret, he would see what a hot mess I really am, and think I was too much work.
Ahhhh! Who is this in my head? Stop this nonsense…
For some guys, there’s actually some truth to this, and a real concern – but if two people are meant to be, then the past shouldn’t get in the way. If the whole you is enough to drive someone off, you should’ve kept looking anyway.
As a coach and interventionist, I know that no one is perfect and we are all dealing with some sort of conflict. In my career so far, I have dealt with people who, on the surface, have successful professional titles and a family unit that appear to be normal.
Yet, all of them still have secrets and painful baggage that interferes with their full ability to have joyful, rewarding and enriched lives.
Working with them to move past all that is my job. It’s what others do with their baggage that is beyond anyone’s control. This is my concern for myself when the time comes that I have to share this part of me.
You know my story, well some of it. In a nutshell, there has been a lifetime of destitution and tremendous violence. The pain runs deep, but I have managed to turn the page and not live day to day with suffering.
These remains of a long period of living with low self-worth and abuse are left festering in a deep, dark box somewhere. Truthfully, I find that a bit embarrassing, and I prefer to ignore that it exists at all.
I share this in my professional world because it is helpful to people going through pain. People who are suffering need hope. They need to be inspired by the knowing that someone who has gone through a tragedy can come out of it, not just surviving but to come out thriving.
This is however, not something I want to share with my friends or a person I am romantically involved with.
Walking around in a world seeing what “normal” is has made me ultra-sensitive to the awareness that my life was anything but normal. Being homeless at 13 years old and hiding it from my teachers and class mates is a good example of how I have been hiding my secret, embarrassing life.
I am good at hiding it to a fault. I am closed off and don’t let anyone in.
Back then as a teenager, I was maturing in a way where I had an understanding that it was how you looked that determined whether you were accepted or not.
When I was in elementary school, I was struggling to get through each day. The kids were mean. My dirty hair and elbows didn’t make the other kids want to be my friend, so I was lonely.
I was too young to know what to do about it. I wasn’t taught how to brush my hair and teeth or take a bath, and there was no parent around. I was an abused, neglected child.
That was another lifetime…
The violence, abandonment and rejection are a memory. They don’t define me. I do know this for certain.
I’ll admit now, to you… While I don’t suffer anymore, the decades and decades and oh wow… decades of pain like that seem to be a layer of skin that I wear every day. I can’t take the skin off like a shirt, I wish that I could.
It’s mine, my life and I wear it. Often, something that someone will say, or a familiar image of something from my past will cause the trauma to rush to the front of my mind all over again.
With each new relationship that I start, I am hoping it is my soul-mate. As much as I want to connect with a man who accepts all of me, I dread letting him in.
The pretty outward skin that I show him is all that I truly wish there was, but there’s more. I will most certainly NOT share the depth of this layer of myself with someone who doesn’t want me beyond the physical. This layer is NEVER shared to any of my friends or potential boyfriends.
This layer is protected. My new boyfriend, in his wise instinct, is aware that there is more to me than what meets the eye, but I won’t tell him. I won’t let him in. Unless…
Vulnerability is difficult for everyone – even the people who are supposed to help you open up.
After I had delivered the bad news of breaking up with him, we began talking further about me being closed off and my awareness that I was doing it. Then, he has the boldness to say something to the effect that a life coach should not have hang-ups.
Excuse me?! First, I was outraged and shocked that he seemed to think that a professional coach was free of any baggage. It was laughable, and I felt confident in my knowing it’s normal to have a history that still affects me today.
For a while, I moved beyond the comment with a healthy awareness that saved me from being hurt by it. Then, the more I thought about it as we were chatting, I began to feel embarrassed.
Regardless, I sat there, still strong in the comfort of knowing that it was okay to be imperfect, but for the first time realizing how the world sees me… At least how he saw me. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it did sting a little bit.
Flattering as it is to think that I was perfect in his eyes, perfect simply isn’t real.
I’m pursuing a fulfilling life in spite of tremendously painful events in my life, and still continue to grow on the inside. Psychiatrists get divorced too. Therapists and coaches can have dangerous learned mindsets, or have painful pasts that haunt them.
This is called: Permanence. It is seen in people in different aspects of their life for example a person who has been abused for many years and has a BELIEF that their life will ALWAYS be that way. This sort of belief is responsible for wives who stay in an abusive marriage.
This is a “learned” behavior. While this CAN be changed, it is difficult for the person to gain faith enough to give in to trusting. For me, vulnerability meant trusting someone with all of me and I have dealt with not feeling like I was “worthy”.
Being vulnerable for the sake of helping people is one thing, but being vulnerable and giving your heart for the sake of love is taking it to the next level.
When you know Robert Kiyosaki’s story of how, at his very lowest and being homeless, came out of it a millionaire, or when you learn that Lisa Nichols hit rock bottom with her husband in prison while she was caring for a young child, only to become one of the most successful black women of our time – these are reasons to become inspired by example.
This is why vulnerability with you is so important. I know it helps you.
A romantic love is about opening our hearts and risking being hurt. It’s a vulnerable state that, naturally, most humans fear. With a first love, we are open without reservations and are easy to love.
With each experience of rejection and heart-break, we learn to build a wall around our heart. The wall is thick, and few people can break through it. If we dare to install a door on the wall and crack it open, we can become hopeful and sometimes irrational.
Being vulnerable lifts the mask and reveals your authentic self.
He and I are a lot alike in some ways, that’s one of the things I like about him. He’s not showing signs of being energetic like me, but we’re both the same “walking on sunshine” type of personality.
My ex-husband once said that, if I was a dog, I would be a Jack-Russel Terrier… on caffeine. That’s an accurate description of me, but I keep that a secret, too.
Not many people know this side of me. In fact, I shut it down and tone it down so much of the time that it just boils up inside of me and drives me a little crazy.
I’ve been frightened that the intensity of my energy would scare people away. The people in the gym get a small glimpse of it as they see how aggressively I train; I’m practically bouncing off the walls!
He’s finished his beer now, and he pays for the check. I stand and put my purse on, and as we continue talking, we walk to the door. We’re talking and talking as if I didn’t even break up with him at all. It’s as if nothing has changed. We are somehow just as connected as before. We’re friends and I like it.
Just as soon as we are on the other side of the door and outside of the restaurant, we stop and take notice of how beautiful it is under the night sky. It’s quiet and suddenly…romantic.
The rain falls like a drizzle most of the time here in Oregon rather than like a shower that gets you soaked. Most people just tend to walk quickly from door to door, with no need to carry an umbrella most of the time.
We are clearly procrastinating, and lingering close to one another. Truthfully, I didn’t want to break it off.
Becoming a life coach has taught me that I should stand strong to my standards and convictions. I KNOW that a relationship needs to progress or grow, and if it isn’t, then it should end. It’s just this darn connection that we have that makes it so hard to let go.
We both know it…
Finally, I accept his offer to walk me to my car. We are being rained on, and as I turn to face him and say good night, he grabs me and pulls me close to kiss me.
I hear the loud rush of the traffic from the road nearby and my jacket doesn’t seem to be enough to keep me warm, but his embrace and kiss makes me want to stay. The rain falling gracefully on my head added a romantic aspect that I’ll never forget.
The senses are heightened and the energy is high.
He’s whispering in my ear now…all sorts of sweet words. I’m in trouble. Why isn’t over?!
I just broke up with him! This topic of me wanting more out of a relationship and him not being ready to give it is nothing new to him. I have standards, and I have no problem letting a guy know it too! He understands and I let him know that I respect that he’s in a different place. I would never push a man – ever!
Then he says something surprising. He says quietly, “I want to get to know you”. Oh God! NO! Yes? NO! Oh boy… I don’t say anything. What can I say? I just broke up with him. How could he, within such a short amount of time, suddenly be ready?
Could he have really heard me? Maybe he really understood and respects me for staying committed to my standards and desires for a loving, committed relationship that blossoms.
Maybe, deep down, he wants that too, and he has been afraid. Maybe he’s been conflicted these last few months, but didn’t know how to deal with it until there was the threat that I might potentially no longer be in his life. Maybe the idea of not being together anymore made him switch.
Having mastered the technique of avoiding, I manage to end the romantic and enticing embrace, say my final goodbye for the night, and drive away feeling confused. How did the night end this way? It began with being nervous, then I felt comfortable and confident, and now I was just plain confused. Now what?
The sweet texts and calls didn’t stop, but instead, they looked different. Now there’s an unspoken vibe that seems to come with them.
“Will you go out to dinner with me?”
I still say “no” and he still pursues me anyway. Days go by and I bump in to him and now I feel I will fumble. He pins me down with the question… again.
How many times do I have to say “no”? He makes me so nervous. I am normally such a confident person but this man makes me crazy. I’m like a little girl.
Finally, he says that he is ready to try. Honestly, I can’t believe him. My thoughts are that he doesn’t know what he wants but he persists in pursuing so I give in and say “yes”.
After all of these months, we’re trying again. It’s new again and silly. It’s sweet and romantic.
He doesn’t know that I am saying yes to something else too.
Since that rainy night at the neighborhood pub where he kissed me under the night sky, I’ve been primed with the idea that he wasn’t giving up on me. This is somebody who is genuine and really wants to get to know me but I am challenged in good faith to be open.
It isn’t fair to be closed off to a person who is asking to know you… All of you.
Will I get that far in this relationship where I will be presented with the probing of my past? I don’t know. He doesn’t seem to pry like other boyfriends who, by the way, never got to that level to know my secrets.
Being open and vulnerable with my heart is not a new dilemma. Throughout human history we are not ready to give our heart so easily.
It is my secret that is the true conflict for me. When I said yes to his dinner date, it meant more to both of us. It means we are moving to the next level to attempt to open our hearts and grow together.
In my pursuit of fearless living and creating honest vulnerability, I am committed to saying yes, I will be open. I am saying yes to being vulnerable. I am saying yes, I will share my secret with you.