In all of this hue and cry for authenticity, it’s fair to question who we should tell what and how often. Vulnerability is one thing; martyrdom another altogether.
I’ve been thinking a bit about it though, and have some thoughts about this very human tendency to hide bits of ourselves from the world.
What I’ve discovered in my recent vulnerability experiments, in which I reveal more than I usually do and wait for the other shoe to drop – very scientific, is that an interesting thing happens when I let more of me up to the surface.
Aside from the obvious win that I don’t get pointed out and laughed at like some recurring nightmare about a high school play gone wrong (is it just me?), when I bring more of me to the surface, barriers lift. I don’t really understand why it works, but I’ve come to think of it like this. When I hide parts of myself, to protect me OR to protect the other person, what I really do is create a wall. I’m only hiding the details. That person likely knows I’m not all in – if we’re not close they just think I’m reserved (if I’m lucky) or maybe even snobby. If we ARE close, that person knows I’m keeping something from them. They may not know exactly what it is, but they know I’m holding back. They know I am not fully engaged. They may even know what some of those thoughts and feelings are by virtue of knowing me so well, but when I hide them I shut those folks out. I am not protecting them from anything. I am letting them know that I don’t trust them with me. I am not just keeping something private; I am limiting engagement.
So what’s the thrust here, tell everything to everybody? No. Clearly not, unless that’s who you are. First tell yourself. Tell yourself what you’ve got hidden away. Unpack those boxes and bags and filing cabinets. Be honest with yourself about what you’ve put in the attic. Some of it may not really even be worth hiding anymore, kind of like old Aunt Gertrude’s ashtray. Some of it may have been hidden so long that you forgot it was up there; some of that might be things you really could use now, like a small box of keepsakes from your mother-in-law who has since passed away. What do you have in perpetual secret storage?
After an initial inventory, you might find it interesting to pull some of those things out and take them for a test drive. Gently share some piece of yourself with someone you love. Try on an old hobby or pastime. Find those pieces you’ve kept hidden and see what you can do with them in the light of now.
And as you do, notice what happens to your sense of connection. Notice how you feel being around other people. Notice what it’s like to be in a room without quite so much to hide. Notice what it’s like to have a conversation without checking yourself every 5 minutes to be sure you haven’t revealed yourself. Notice how problems become problems you can tackle with others and grace becomes a divine gift to be shared and enjoyed rather than just a moment of isolated forgiveness.
It is true that not everyone deserves your story. I believe that. I also know that keeping too much of that story inside is like keeping yourself locked in a tower. Are you sure you don’t want the key?