“We are hard-wired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.” ~Brené Brown
In relationships, I have always felt more comfortable being on the sidelines rather than center stage. I liked playing the supporting role to many people’s leading roles. I am good at it; it’s the career I chose for myself as a life coach. However, personally, constantly staying in the role of supporter created resentment.
I felt unseen and unheard, and many of my relationships began to feel one-sided—with me listening and holding space for them and then feeling there was no room for me to have a turn. It felt like I could not connect with others, and that left me feeling deeply alone.
At first, I believed that others were to blame. If they didn’t take up so much space and time, it would be easier for me to open up. As time passed, I realized this was an excuse. It was an excuse that gave me permission to stay quiet. Because staying quiet was easier than sharing whatever was heavy on my heart.
It was painful to constantly stay silent or to question if I should share or not. It felt like I had created brick walls to protect myself, and it began to feel impossible to start sharing more of my personal experiences, thoughts, and realizations.
I would think, “They won’t get it anyway. What’s the point?” Or “What they’re experiencing is so much harder.” Or “I will just end up hurt by sharing more.”
At times when I felt the loneliest, I began to wonder, what was I protecting myself from, and why had it gotten so difficult to speak to my closest and trusted people? I felt like I was walking around like a knight covered in steel armor, but there was no one shooting arrows at me; and on the inside, I felt like a volcano was slowly brewing.
I knew where parts of these habits stemmed from. I am highly sensitive and guard my heart because I feel things so deeply. In the past, there were times when I shared and people either didn’t listen because they weren’t fully present or they didn’t understand where I was coming from, and this hurt.
Also, I knew that I was a people-pleaser and wanted others to feel good and happy even if it meant that I didn’t. And I’m naturally an observer and introvert, so it came easily to stay quiet.
Part of my healing came from this basic knowledge. This is the unique way that I am built, and it is not bad or wrong. However, I had to address the brewing storm inside, and that meant having the courage to share and to cry and to be angry—to be seen in front of people I love and trust.
A friend of mine has consistently modeled what it means to open up by communicating her thoughts, fears, and feelings with me, even if they are vulnerable. Over time she became someone with whom I felt comfortable testing the waters of sharing my own pain.
I felt a huge sense of relief when I opened my heart to her and shared that I was struggling to feel good enough in my relationships and roles—and I was met with the simple yet powerful impact of thoughtful listening. Not only did she accept me with my messy emotions, I felt more safe, authentic, and comfortable being me.
Opening up to others is still a practice for me, but each time I do it I find that others are more loving and capable than I imagined, and that my taking a step toward vulnerability leads to the connection I deeply desire.
I have realized that opening up has less to do with others accepting or understanding me and more to do with me accepting the vulnerable parts of myself.
I know now that I deserve to be listened to and supported, even if it is messy and more emotional than logical. The only way to do that is to communicate and share what’s going on in my heart with a reliable or committed partner/friend.
I believe most of us avoid opening up at all costs because we’re afraid of being judged and rejected.
In any relationship there is a chance that you are going to get hurt. Whether it is intentional or unintentional, whether you guard your heart or not, the possibility is there. The question is, is the sense of connection worth it for you? This is a question that requires discernment.
Not all relationships require equal sharing. This is the part that you get to choose. Who do you want to talk to and who is able to hold space for you? What parts are you willing to vulnerably share and, as Brené Brown asks, “who has earned a seat at your table?”
If, like me, you tend to be guarded and not trust the people you are closest to, take a moment to slow down and acknowledge the part of you that wants to be seen and heard.
Let yourself know that, though safety and security cannot be promised from another, you can promise them to yourself. You can assure yourself that whether other people understand and support you or not, you will maintain a safe space within yourself by validating your own thoughts and feelings.
Also, remind yourself that even if sharing was painful for you in the past—if people didn’t offer you their full attention, empathy, or understanding—the future can be different. All people are different, and there are many who care and want to be there. You just have to give them a chance.
Having the courage to be seen in a vulnerable place isn’t easy; however, it is necessary if you long for connection and authenticity.