20 votes

How do I get better at expressing vulnerability?

Hi my lovelies,,

I've been having a hard time over the past few weeks because my life is pretty much a never-ending stream of problems and insecurities right now, most of which I cannot resolve for at least a few months. This has led me into a state of intense listlessness and unhappiness. I do not like being unhappy and have Officially Decided that I would like to be happy again. But I think I need some help getting there.

Moving beyond the basic "I'm terribly lonely in this very unpleasant pandemic" stuff, my main issue is that I actually am not alone at all, at least physically or socially, I am just alone emotionally/spiritually. I live with a bunch of other people my age and certianly have opportunities for interactions (quite a few). I get dinner with some of my very favorite people every week (on Wednesday!!!!) and am kept on at least a slightly consistent social/exercise schedule with some of my other very favorite people every day. My issue is that in most or possibly all of these settings, there is something preventing me from totally relaxing. I can only talk about my surface-level problems, like "oh haha I'm so busy with class ahah lol joke" and not "my deepest darkest insecurities are clawing their way into my brain more intensely every day and I Cannot Stop Them." Its like I keep my little shield up the whole time and don't allow myself to be vulnerable. I suspect there are a few factors going on here:

  • I have several leadership positions, either formally or informally, and actually have a very difficult time not stumbling into them and accepting more responsibility in general. I think I have internalized the stoicism or steadfastness I try to exemplify in those positions, in my everyday life
  • I often (usually?) look like I have my shit together, even when I very much do not. My default way of existing is just pretty relaxed and I think people assume that means I have no stress in my life (false lol)
  • I like it when people think and say Good Things about me and not when they think and say Bad Things about me, and that includes their perceptions of me as someone who has their shit together all the time

sooo the leadership thing is unfortunate because it means that kind ofa lot of people look up to me as a beacon of stability and idealness. I know this because I have been told it several times by several different people, and it's sort of obvious when people emulate your mannerisms or call you at 2 am because they're drunk and lost and need help. There is exactly a 0% chance that I will do anything other than express my normal "everything is going good" attitude when I am running a meeting or giving a presentation or whatever because doing so would signify "everything isNOT good" and therefore "oh no help where is my beacon of stability beezselzak ahhhhhhh" (we cannot have a crisis at the same time because I must be there to attend to their crisis whenever it happens. Part of the job) And also it would upset my narcissistic tendency toward being perfect always.

Even when I'm with my friends, who I can be at least moderately normal around, I still find it very difficult to begin talking about anything that is rather Serious because it is much more pleasant to just talk about enjoyable things, and though I see these people on a regular basis, it is not ever for very much time, so I don't want to waste it. I would feel very awkward bringing up serious mental health problems at dinner. And also even though we're close friends there is still a little bit of an expectation to have your life under control? you know how it is. I have 2-3 people who are sort of individual confidants (about specific things), and there are occasions where we can have very insightful conversations. But it's hard because the covid makes getting together unrealistic and I find it very challenging to initiate Serious Conversations over the telephone. And even in person, I still think I have some barriers yet to break with them.

The end result here is that I am kinda just walkin around every day with a lot of issues and nowhere to exactly put them, and everyone thinks it's all sunshine and roses and I really feed into that perception because it makes me feel good short-term (even though it makes me feel worse long-term). I have a therapist, but you know how that goes. It's not the same as talking to a peer, which is really where I'm stuck. So this is my question to the wise and learned gentlefolk of Tildes:

How do I shed this annoying habit of trying to be perfect even when it's really not necessary and really not helpful? I know that there's a problem, I just can't give up my leadership positions (at least for now) and am having a hard time giving up my narcissism.

and yes yes I do therapy and journaling and the mindful meditation and whatever, I am not interested in generic self-help advice. I'm more curious about your rituals, or forms of understanding that are personal to your struggles in regard to being vulnerable with friends, your SO, and people who look up to you. I'd like to learn more about how any of this might resonate with you, and then how you have dealt/would deal with it yourself. Because I am Young And Naive I think I lack most of the experiential knowledge about like, "how to exist," and I want to be able to take your ideas into account. Things that matter, things that really just don't matter, ways to conceptualize the self versus the great vast universe of possibility and collective individuality to ultimately be less concerned with perfection and the like. etc. Also I ought to teach some of these people how to be better at being independent functional humans and that is a little tricky when I am not one myself.

xoxoxo
beezselzak

10 comments

  1. [2]
    thetastelessturtle
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    Feeling like I had to be strong for other people was a result of little traumas in my upbringing, which unfortunately compounded as I grew older. Trying to be a hero exposed me to a lot of abuse....

    Feeling like I had to be strong for other people was a result of little traumas in my upbringing, which unfortunately compounded as I grew older. Trying to be a hero exposed me to a lot of abuse. Those negative abuse experiences made me want to change. So I worked through my hero complex in therapy, and also deliberately taught myself a social script of asserting healthy boundaries from books so I wouldn't be (bad) vulnerable again. The idea I finally internalized that really made it click for me was: I'm not special. I'm just a person. I can't save anyone except myself. But that's okay, that's what being human is. I have limits, and I need to respect them to keep myself strong.

    I still struggle with being vulnerable. I'm not over-vulnerable like I used to be, but now I don't trust people until they've really been a good friend for a long time. I'm working on it. I can see it's a reaction to some of the abuse, but I haven't figured out how to work through it yet. I have had some limited success with opening up in very small segments with people who are definitely safe, and then continuing again later if they respond well.

    I have a therapist, but you know how that goes. It's not the same as talking to a peer, which is really where I'm stuck.

    Reading this surprised me. This is the exact type of problem that a therapist should theoretically be able to help someone work through.

    12 votes
    1. tempestoftruth
      Link Parent
      Not OP but this was very helpful for me to read right now, thank you.

      The idea I finally internalized that really made it click for me was: I'm not special. I'm just a person. I can't save anyone except myself. But that's okay, that's what being human is. I have limits, and I need to respect them to keep myself strong.

      Not OP but this was very helpful for me to read right now, thank you.

      8 votes
  2. googs
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    Thanks for posting this. I don't have any silver bullets, but know that you aren't alone in feeling this way. A lot of my friends have had trouble finding jobs during the pandemic, so I find it...

    Thanks for posting this. I don't have any silver bullets, but know that you aren't alone in feeling this way. A lot of my friends have had trouble finding jobs during the pandemic, so I find it really hard to talk about issues at work when the default response is "At least you have a job" or "You're in a very lucky position". That sort of extends into other aspects of my life as well; I definitely feel I put on the guise of the stoic, collected person when I'm around other people, but feel very differently when I'm alone.

    A few things that have helped me open up to people a little bit:

    • Hanging out and talking to friends one-on-one - I find it much easier to talk about personal problems when I'm talking to a single person. I always find it hard to open up to a group and even when I do, it's easy to get sidetracked with so many different inputs from different people.

    • Finding the right people to talk to - For a long time I had some friends that I never really talked to or reached out to. These are the sort of friends that I'd only spend time with if another friend of mine was present. Becoming closer to some of these people and spending time with them one-on-one has been really helpful I think. Sometimes I think certain issues are just missing the right perspective and finding a person that has that experience can be not only validating, but helpful in terms of solving the issue in the long run.

    • Finding times to specifically talk about personal stuff - It can be really difficult to broach personal subjects when most of the time you spend with friends is on "fun" activities. I find planning to have a sort of "vent session" with a friend or two can be really helpful; time taken specifically to just talk about personal issues with your friends. Planning for this sort of thing can take a lot of the akwardness out of bringing up personal problems. If you have trouble planning something this rigid (I know I do), try to plan for social situations that at least lend themselves to opening up about feelings. A great time I find to open up to a person is after watching a movie with them, not exactly sure why, I think it's just time that lends itself well to discussion and self reflection.

    • Taking things one step at time - Telling somebody all of your problems all at once I think is probably impossible. It was much easier for me to start by talking about small things with people before diving into bigger issues.

    (note: I am not a therapist or any kind of medical professional, everything above should be taken with a grain of salt. Everyone has different ways of handling things.)

    7 votes
  3. MonkeyPants
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    What a charming salutation. It's normal to have self doubts. It's OK for others to assume you do not have self doubts. Especially when you project confidence. You know those exuberantly happy,...

    What a charming salutation.

    It's normal to have self doubts. It's OK for others to assume you do not have self doubts. Especially when you project confidence.

    You know those exuberantly happy, constantly cheerful people? Occasionally you will catch them on a bad day. On a really bad day. It doesn't make them less happy or cheerful.

    Also, you can have two opposing qualities at the same time. You can maintain an attitude of perfect confidence, and also be vulnerable at the same time.

    You can plan for contingencies while remaining confident it will be all right on the night.

    Also, as @Gaywallet mentioned, vulnerability is just so aww shucks likeable.

    So think of it this way, showing vulnerability is a sign of true confidence. Maybe start by asking others what they think, or how they think your presentation went, then truly listen.

    6 votes
  4. tempestoftruth
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    Based on some of the stuff you're mentioning (class, leadership positions) I assume we're both probably around university-age, I mention this just to say that I am struggling with being vulnerable...

    Based on some of the stuff you're mentioning (class, leadership positions) I assume we're both probably around university-age, I mention this just to say that I am struggling with being vulnerable as much as you are right now, I don't have any answers drawn from deep learned experience, just guesses.

    When I think about the most memorable times that I've connected with people, or was given the opportunity to connect with people, through being vulnerable, usually the other person just initiated the conversation about the Serious Topic without getting caught up in the other stuff (e.g. do we know each other well enough, is it okay to have this over Zoom or the phone, is it weird since I'm in a leadership position). I had a friend who was having a rough time with her relationship and with her parents, but we only really had had the surface level conversations about schoolwork, we organized our hangouts around shared class schedules and homework assignments, etc. She just straight up asked me, after only a few weeks of knowing one another, "How's your relationship with your mother?" and I responded honestly because I trusted her and we ended up having a good conversation about those dynamics. Other times, though, I've tried to be straightforward with people and they don't really feel like engaging. I won't say whether you should be gung-ho about it or not, but one of the nice things about being really up-front like that is, if the other person isn't interested in this level of dialogue or relationship with you, it will become very clear very quickly and you can jump ship if it seems like it isn't going the way you wanted it to. Pretend it never happened and you can continue your casual relationship with that person. If that doesn't happen, though, and the other person is willing to do that deep dive with you into serious feelings, then you get a really great opportunity to connect with your peers, which sounds like what you're looking for.

    5 votes
  5. mrbig
    (edited )
    Link
    Sorry for the dark turn, but I never expressed vulnerability until I tried to kill myself. Knowing how to ask for help was one of the most important lessons I learned. Those who love you are...

    Sorry for the dark turn, but I never expressed vulnerability until I tried to kill myself. Knowing how to ask for help was one of the most important lessons I learned.

    Those who love you are already motivated to help you no matter what. They will enjoy feeling useful and seeing you do well as a consequence of their involvement in your life. But they cannot help you if you don't tell them what you need. It really is that simple. Ask for help every time you actually need it.

    In many of my bouts of depression, my best friend took me for long car rides across town. He knows I love car rides. Something so simple, and it really made a difference. Let others make a difference for you too.

    You made a post to ask for help. That is a good start in my book.

    5 votes
  6. Gaywallet
    Link
    Recognition is the first step. Now that you know what you want to work on, the key is to set a plan that lets you work on it. Perhaps you could start by writing down the things you'd like to be...

    Its like I keep my little shield up the whole time and don't allow myself to be vulnerable.

    Recognition is the first step. Now that you know what you want to work on, the key is to set a plan that lets you work on it. Perhaps you could start by writing down the things you'd like to be vulnerable about, and rank them along an axis of least to most vulnerable - that way you can start with the easy things and work your way up to the more difficult issues.

    it is much more pleasant to just talk about enjoyable things, and though I see these people on a regular basis, it is not ever for very much time, so I don't want to waste it.

    Do you not find it enjoyable in the long term to get to know your friends and family and participate in the parts of their lives that are hard? Nothing feels more satisfying to me than helping someone else out emotionally or offering advice which benefits them. As you mentioned I think set and setting are important here and you shouldn't dump all your problems as soon as you sit down with someone, but I would imagine you can have some of these conversations and still have it be enjoyable. Perhaps you are putting too much weight on whether this is a burden and not offering your friends and family a chance to weigh in on whether they feel like it is a burden to them.

    Perhaps having a meta-discussion around what you'd like to discuss with them and whether they are comfortable with that level of engagement is a good first step? Like let them know that you're feeling bad about x or struggling with y and curious whether it would be okay to have that discussion with them. This would allow them to weigh in without directly addressing the concern right away.

    sooo the leadership thing is unfortunate because it means that kind ofa lot of people look up to me as a beacon of stability and idealness.

    I do not expect humans to be perfectly infallible. In fact, if someone puts off a demeanor of always okay, I assume there's a lot more lurking behind the scenes and they are, in fact, not okay at all.

    I don't know about you, but when someone I look up to reveals to me what they struggle with, it only makes me respect them even more. Perhaps it's because I'm given a glimpse into what makes them human - what keeps them sleepless at night, what struggles they go through with their family and friends, what happened in their past that has shaped the way they view the world, etc. Perhaps its because a nearly flawless individual makes me appreciate their inconsistencies even more because of the contrast. Maybe it's because I get to see how they've tackled and overcome their obstacles, and it gives me drive and determination to tackle my own. I can't say for certain what is behind it (probably all of the above) but the idea that you need to be perfect for them to be a bastion of stability is a misplaced idea. I would argue you would do more good for them by exposing your vulnerabilities.

    because doing so would signify "everything isNOT good"

    People aren't stupid. Look at the world in 2020 and 2021. Everything is NOT good and pretending it is, is a lie. With that said, many things are better than they used to be and it's absolutely possible to acknowledge both realities. We learn from what we do right and we identify opportunities from that which we could do better.

    I'm more curious about your rituals, or forms of understanding that are personal to your struggles in regard to being vulnerable with friends, your SO, and people who look up to you.

    I do a lot of socializing. I talk with people to find out where they are and what they want our relationship to be. Because of this, I have a good idea of who I can talk about what with, and a good idea of what their strengths and weaknesses are. So when I have a problem in a specific area, I know precisely who I can reach out to and how I should reach out to them.

    I don't know if you've ever read the book how to win friends and influence people but there's a section on vulnerability. When utilized effectively it builds emotional bonds with people, and as humans, we are emotional. The idea that vulnerability is a bad thing, or that you need to be a rock for others by never showing any vulnerability is toxic and incorrect - it is one of the fastest ways to build relationships and being vulnerable is being human.

    As someone who has a storied past which involved shutting pretty much everyone out of my life and not being vulnerable to anyone, I feel like I may understand a lot of what you're getting at and why you're finding it tough to be vulnerable. If there's one piece of advice I can give you, its to start thinking about vulnerability in a different way altogether. Being vulnerable to those who you trust is a conscious act which displays your trust. Not only are you showing that you trust them, but you are showing that you value their opinion more than others - you are trusting them with that which you would not trust a stranger. These are powerful tools and should be celebrated as such.

    4 votes
  7. post_below
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    Lowering the volume of the "prove you're good so that the tribe will value you and not kick you out into the darkness where you will be consumed by sabre toothed tigers" voice is one of those...

    How do I shed this annoying habit of trying to be perfect even when it's really not necessary and really not helpful?

    Lowering the volume of the "prove you're good so that the tribe will value you and not kick you out into the darkness where you will be consumed by sabre toothed tigers" voice is one of those lifelong progressions.

    It's an ancient drive that we start building strategies around in childhood (read pre rational). Which means the patterns are deep and semi-immune to forebrain intervention.

    Since "being good" for others is based in the bottom levels of Maslow's hierarchy, sometimes it helps to start there: safety. Find ways to feel safe. Eventually your nervous system will get the message, which makes negotiating with your amygdala much easier :)

    4 votes
  8. knocklessmonster
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    I get told I look like I know what I'm doing/have it all together all the time. I'm pretty good at this act of looking like I've got it together, and will have people think I'm capable of much...

    I get told I look like I know what I'm doing/have it all together all the time. I'm pretty good at this act of looking like I've got it together, and will have people think I'm capable of much more than I actually am because of this appearance. Most of the time I'm shaking with fear inside. This isn't a poor self-evaluation, I had to stop training to be a server at work after I collapsed from severe anxiety and broke down crying in the kitchen. I took the last day off, regrouped over the weekend, and when people asked, I was straight with them and said I couldn't hack it and why (without going into gory details), and they all could relate, either with a story about a day they almost didn't make it through, a time they've had to hide and cry, or the nightmares they have (I work in a resort restaurant). I felt fantastic about myself, if a little disappointed I couldn't finish.

    At least for those I'm friendly with, I'm quick to be open and let them know how I'm actually feeling if they think I have it together. They think I have it together because I'm always focusing on the next task and know my stuff.

    Think of your emotions like... I don't know... Fermenting beer. If you slap a air-tight lid on the bucket, you're going to be cleaning malt off the ceiling when it explodes. If you leave the top off, it rots instead. The thing I've found, even with my general emotional self-sufficiency paired with a couple major issues, is that at the very least you've got to let it out a little bit at a time, like your burping your brew. It doesn't have to be a lot at once, and it only takes a little empathy to make a connection.

    An example exchange:

    Them: "It's the big day, but you look fine!"

    Me: "Really, I'm terrified."

    You don't have to unload, but just letting somebody know what's going on inside lets them know that you're not some legendary rock. If they give something back, you've got an anchor.

    Something I've put together is people who "have their shit together" generally occupy one of two camps: Those who legitimately have few/no problems, which are exceptionally rare, and those who manage their problems and issues, hopefully in a healthy way. I don't mean this in a way where you hide them, or bottle them up, but by dealing with them as far as you are able to in a healthy manner.

    How do I shed this annoying habit of trying to be perfect even when it's really not necessary and really not helpful?

    A little bit at a time. Like my example exchange. It looks like a joke, but it can be a real, small moment. You and the people you don't need a rock exactly, just anchors to keep you/them from drifting away. As a leader, you've got a lot of potential anchors, assuming it's not a hard-line, super formal manager/subordinate relationship. It may lead to plenty of awkward moments, I know it did for me when I started breaking out of my own shell (I'm 30 and still mostly walled up tight despite my best efforts). You've got the awareness of your issue, which is the first major step.

    4 votes
  9. Adys
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    Christ this post hits hard. I can't give a proper reply to this right now because I'm about to fall asleep but, DM me.

    Christ this post hits hard.

    I can't give a proper reply to this right now because I'm about to fall asleep but, DM me.

    3 votes