When you’ve been in boarding school since the age of five, feeling detached and apart from people in general becomes ingrained in your psyche. You cannot escape feeling detached and when you are scared that others may not want you around because they feel your disconnection. Those first years in boarding school were like being in a torture chamber of uncertainty: would anyone want to be my friend, what happens if Iwet my bed (again), why can’t I fit in, how will I know which bells are for which subjects in school, will I have the books in my book bag for the right class. My anxiety started at five years old.
What it did was make me more vulnerable and the more my heart ached in my chest the more I disconnected and the more I disconnected the more alone I felt and the more alone I felt the more vulnerable I was. How does one escape vulnerability? For me it started when I understood that the underlying emotion was fear. Fear of rejection, being excluded, not being good enough, smart enough, fast enough, too fat, too clever, too stupid … Nothing is more certain to hurt us than living. Even in Church we aren’t immune from hurt.
Vulnerability is that terrible ache in the pit of your stomach that sits like an ice cube and melts your sense of belonging. We go to great lengths to avoid those feelings and it seems the harder we try the more likely we are to fall, desperately and flat on our faces. It took me a long time to say the words: My mother is dead. I was raw and in complete disbelief that I would no longer hear her laugh, accompany her to watch my brother’s cricket games or listen to her mutt-speak to our dachshund Coco. I figured if I didn’t say the words they couldn’t be true.
However, what was worse than not being able to say the words were the pitiful looks I got from other people. I was an object for pity and because of their inability to reach out I avoided talking about my mother’s death and once again I disconnected. Because the grief was too heavy to bear, I tucked my mother’s death into a dark recess of my young mind and returned to life as I knew it.
In time I came to process and understand the heart aching in my chest and the grief and the feelings of detachment and vulnerability. They were all connected but I had found a way out of fear and back to relationship. I could push through those feelings and when I did things got better. It took courage to reach out, but others were there to take my hand. And then I learned the art of reciprocity and was able to reach out to others and be there to take their hand in compassion to acknowledge their vulnerability and let them know it is okay to feel raw.
The way out of fear of vulnerability is not to nurture a tough exterior. Rather it is to face life head on with courage, compassion and to connect with those who have earned the right to offer you a hand up. In Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection she says that living wholeheartedly is “about engaging our lives from a place of worthiness. It is about cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.” Without realising it I had found these keys to unlocking the vice of fear that had become a stronghold on my ability to connect with others.
Despite our best efforts, the boundaries we have built around our hearts to protect us from feeling pain, discomfort, and hurt are the very chains that keep us tethered to it, disallowing us from feeling the opposites—joy, love and passion. Riding the pendulum from disconnection and detachment to transparent vulnerability and reconnection took all of my courage, much compassion from others but I am grateful for the connection I now have. I am careful still to guard my heart and am willing to be vulnerable with people who can hold space for me when I have lost perspective.
The final words belong again to Brene Brown in her book Daring Greatly:
Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and crativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and ore meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.
Over to you. Has there been a time when you have closed yourself off from the world to nurture a woundedness you ffelt you could not share with another human being? If you resolved the hurt how did you do so?