Learning to be vulnerable in writing and life

“Do you ever have dark thoughts?”

My best friend from high school looked at me, paused, and then said, “Yes.”

I nodded. That’s all I needed to know.

One of the reasons why I was so enamored with standup comedians as a child was they were vulnerable in front of hundreds, often thousands of people. They were self-depreciating, gritty, absurd, and best of all, they made me laugh over things that I felt secretly ashamed or confused about.

We live in a society where we don’t “talk about that” or we don’t discuss certain things, but if you can find that book, film, or listen to that comedian turn your perception about x, y, and z around, I feel like you’ve got yourself something better than therapy.

Writing, when I discovered it – the diary – was my best friend and psychologist. I wrote “Dear Pillow” because my pillow was what absorbed my tears at night, and who I held when I needed a hug. That’s right, I said “who”.

But there came a point when I realized that keeping a diary was another way to air out grievances, and that’s not the direction I necessarily wanted to go. Sure, sometimes you need that, but I don’t like to waste my time complaining. Although, I think the reason why being vulnerable comes easy to me is because I’ve been practicing it on paper for decades.

The body is connected to your story. Writing heals the body. – James Altucher

That being said, part of my original fear of blogging and putting myself out there was making friends with the realization that I would have to be vulnerable. I would have to be okay with being misunderstood. I might even feel defensive or feel shut down.

But negative comments weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be. I mean, when the person on the missing teacher blog said, “I understand now why you were fired” (ouch), I just thought that’s a nasty thing to say. Like I can recognize that and somehow it doesn’t penetrate me because it reveals so much more about the person taking the time to make that comment.

And I believe the benefits of connecting with others outweigh the drawbacks of negative commenters. Without writing and uploading my work, I wouldn’t have heard feedback such as “you have something different to say” and “you have a strong voice”. I wouldn’t have realized my strengths because sometimes I believe it is hard to judge your own work. And let’s face it, to say nice things about yourself is looked down upon.

Don’t get me wrong though, being vulnerable all the time is no way to live or survive.

When I was a Waldorf teacher there was this great demand from the parent and faculty body to have transparency in my classroom. And even though I invited the parents in for a morning lesson to see how things flowed and what we did, I was still considered “hard to read” and basically a crappy teacher.

So I felt vulnerable all the time. I felt attacked and judged almost at every minute of the school day. And when I was fired, I suddenly let that all go. I understood that the “worst” had been done, and then I felt free. I no longer felt like I had to be this person they wanted me to be. And interestingly, that is when folks started to see me differently and question their decision.

Sometimes, I feel we get vulnerability wrong. Here are some quick thoughts on it:

  • it’s not navel-gazing
  • it’s not self-pity
  • we’ve all been hurt before, but that doesn’t mean you can avoid it
  • it’s often a healing balm
  • it’s probably harder for men than women to be open, remember that
  • maybe start with, “I’m afraid…” or “My fears are…”
  • being vulnerable and risk taking are closely related
  • would you want someone to be open with you?

I get disappointed when friends don’t open up to me. I sense the opportunity to talk, or should I say, listen to them, and when they are afraid for whatever reason I know that another deeper level of friendship has been closed. I get it though, fear is a powerful emotion. It’s a drug that keeps us cut off from friends and family, making connections, and growing new roots.

In the past, I would mistake my vulnerability or my feeling of helplessness as a sign of weakness. I wanted to be strong, always strong. I admired qualities of independence and capability.  I can be moved to tears quite easily and I saw that as a weakness, too. It’s not fun to feel like a weak person. In fact, I’d go as far as to say, you feel like something is wrong with you.

Part of this has to do with being a sensitive person, but the other part definitely is a false shield. When I’ve put the shield down, I’m more likely to be greeted with compassion. Sure, sometimes folks don’t have the energy to give or don’t want to meet you halfway. People are disappointing! But I’m willing to take the risk.

A writer should concern himself with whatever absorbs his fancy, stirs his heart, and unlimbers his typewriter. I feel no obligation to deal with politics. I do feel a responsibility to society because of going into print: a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life. – E.B. White

I think one of the reasons why I write memoir and why I write a personal blog is because I trust other people. I trust readers to enter our relationship with an open mind, and if that’s too much to ask, then I’m okay with extending my hand out first. I like making friends. I enjoy making folks laugh, ponder, self-reflect, and vice versa.

Learning to be vulnerable has probably been one of my greatest unconscious and un-celebrated challenges.

 

What about you? Can you be vulnerable in writing or in person?

 

31 thoughts on “Learning to be vulnerable in writing and life

  1. Have you heard of a storytelling podcast called Risk? It’s all about people telling vulnerable stories in front of a live audience. I think you’d love it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have never heard of it before! OMG. I listened to one of the stories just now and it was hilarious! Thank you so much. Yes, this is totally up my alley. xxoo

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Writing a memoir and writing a blog like you do does make you feel vulnerable – you’re putting yourself out there for all to judge. It’s that exact reason why I struggle with what I write, and I do hold a lot back about my personal life. Like you, I like interaction and so many different ideas to bounce off. There are some days where I rather not put my stuff out there…trust takes so long to build up and so easy to lose forever that sometimes I’d rather put up a mask the whole time, in person and in terms of art.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, this is where we differ and I’m not sure why. I’ve done some horribly embarrassing stuff, forgotten my lines on stage, and have made a fool of myself plenty of times. I think because I like to make people laugh I’m willing to look stupid. And even when it was not intentional at all, I’ve lived through it. I mean, I’m a teacher, so, yeah, I’ve been plenty embarrassed.

      I’m also very trusting. I was worse when I was younger. I’m better now. In fact, when that devastating turnaround did happen, my stepfather was like, “we were wondering when that would happen…” kind of thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I grew up confiding in my diary all the time. It was, to me, the ultimate safe zone to write anything I wanted any way I wanted. I found a similar outlet in blogging, except what I was writing was actually being read by other people. It both satisfied me to have an audience of people who could understand my feelings or take away something from what I chose to share. The more I blogged, the more I sometimes wondered if what I wrote was a bit much. At times I write things and leave them as unpublished drafts, unsure of the reception I will get if I stray to a specific topic. Some posts I haven’t held back while with others I choose my words carefully and don’t always give detailed explanations of things.

    More than the words I’ve written, the most vulnerable I have felt is allowing my real face to be seen on my blog. I don’t regularly offer up photos of myself frequently but it’s something that is there if people dig back enough in my posts. To me, being seen on a physical level is scarier than people reading about my pain and insecurities because a real face makes my emotions all the more real because I’m no longer just some faceless person behind the computer screen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmmmm. Interesting point there. Yes, sometimes it might seem “easier” online, behind a blog, but I do know bloggers who write under a pen name.

      One of the gals revealed her real first name after a while, and then she said she was lying and then told us her real full name. I guess she needed to do it in stages. I don’t know.

      I get scared to share things on FB, to be honest, because that’s where my childhood friends, family and real life folks from my life congregate. And it’s not like you’re not real, but we haven’t met – so then isn’t that interesting? To reveal ourselves in front of strangers rather than our friends.

      But – my blogging friends, I feel know me better in a lot of ways, too. It’s so weird, right?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree with the Facebook thing. The casualness of people being social media friends just by sheer association or being mutual acquaintances is not one I partake in anymore because of how uncomfortable it makes me for people I don’t consider actual friends who can see what I post. I’ve deleted a lot of people from my friends list who fit this category, including old friends or people I no longer talk to. For those I can’t delete without stirring the pot, I opt to alter the privacy settings of individual posts so certain people can’t see them. I mean, let’s be real, there’s some things I post on Facebook which I don’t need my own parents “liking” or commenting on. It’s awkward and unnecessary.

        It is easier to reveal myself to strangers than friends. Perhaps it’s because in real life, I can only really count about 3 or 4 people who I trust and who I would be completely fine with them reading my blog (if they knew about it).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, FB. I have a love hate relationship with it for sure. If I wasn’t living overseas, I think it would be much more easier for me to delete my acct. I’ve written a blog post about my relationship with social media, but I haven’t posted it yet…such a hard thing to tackle!

        Usually though I get positive feedback when I share on FB. But! There’s this one family member who “challenges” me in an aggressive way. This person, actually, has prevented me from sharing as much as I’d like for fear of this person’s public reaction.

        But I have to get over it. At this point, it’s my problem, and possibly a very good measure of future attacks or criticisms. And as writers and bloggers, we have to be aware of this.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. That sounds troubling that your family member challenges you publicly on Facebook. I have mixed feelings about whether FB is a good platform for having healthy, respectful discussions.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Yes, I don’t think it’s really possible. I mean, it’s challenging to do so. Much is left to the imagination like tone of voice, body language, and intention. I’ve seen so many debates and arguments on FB that have degraded into a hot mess. But in “real life” we’ve probably wouldn’t resort to name calling, etc.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Writing really does heal. I remember when I began writing more on my blog, I was going through periods of tough times, but it was a way to either distract or let go of certain things. I am a sensitive soul, and I do agree that vulnerability can be misconceived at times, and that as a society there is still a norm to shield oneself and put a happy face.There are certain things on my blog I openly share, but there’s far more that I keep private. I think that there are many things people can relate with. I remember receiving emails saying a long the lines of “How do you start a blog?” and “How do you get more followers” and I always feel bit disappointed at the second question. But, I always say that the best thing is to write about what matters to you, be true to yourself and be honest. Writing allows us to share stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the sharing stories aspect of it. I enjoy connecting with others. It all feels like a great therapy session if we allow ourselves to go there. Or, if that’s too heavy, it feels like organic conversation, as odd as that might sound.

      I definitely don’t reveal all on the blog. I can’t. I actually wish I could – but I do feel a sense of responsibility to the people I work with and who ends up reading this. Plus, because of where I live, I can’t be too open about censorship or criticism about the gov’t. It just wouldn’t be wise.

      But sometimes have “restrictions” is a good thing. It can allow us to think about it for a later time, and often it doesn’t seems so important any more. Or it forces us to be more creative.

      Like

  5. I really love that you’re able to be so vulnerable in writing your blog and memoir – and hope you continue to be, even when it’s tough! Please continue to do so – it is so powerful, and I truly believe empathy can arise if we are vulnerable and open with each other more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just loved Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability. It felt so important! I hope I can do so, too, because I think it can really create meaningful connections 🙂 Thank you Tara!

      Like

  6. Being vulnerable in writing is so much easier than doing it in person. To be honest, I feel like no one really wants to hear what I have to say–and I honestly think that’s true. All of my friends and family will be there for me when I’m truly having a shit day or am down, but most of the time they’re just too busy to hear it. That’s when I need my journal.

    But I think for cathartic purposes, it’s very healthy to let out your feelings in some way or form. Sometimes I even record myself talking about deeper, inner-most thoughts because it just feels good to let it out and have it exist somewhere. Feelings can be organized and recognized when they’re in some kind of medium.

    The greatest writers are those who are always the most vulnerable, honest and raw. I think that includes you 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really truly love writing. I don’t know how other people do it. Hahahaha. They must drive their friends and family crazy. Or themselves. I say this because I don’t like thoughts running around in my head.

      Is it weird that I just said that? Yeah, I don’t like thinking. Hahahahhaa.

      But! Writing. That feels productive and structured, even though it is not always – it can be very meandering and pointless.

      Journals can be great though to “talk it out” and “look at” when you don’t feel like anyone else is around or when you don’t want to be a bother. I’m glad that you do it.

      Let me say in Thai-lish – “It good for your healthy!” 😀

      Hey, you’re too kind, but thank you. You’re a pretty good writer yourself!

      Like

  7. i really enjoy reading your thoughts Lani. thanks for being honest, open, and vulnerable, even though it’s not easy. it’s not easy for me too. when i read your writing, i am a better person for it- i see things with a different perspective through your experiences, and it helps educate me in the many ways that i lack.

    i think i have a hard time being vulnerable. i’m generally a pretty private person so being vulnerable automatically allows someone else to enter into my world. with my blog and my writing i tend to be much more vulnerable, and i have received some comments from friends in the form of sarcasm, which kinda hurt. but the majority have given positive feedback, and i guess i should consider that motivation to keep on blogging (but i’m so lazy!). =)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s interesting to hear from folks who find being vulnerable challenging. I wish I knew the secret recipe. And I find it interesting coming from you! I LOVE your stories. I wish you’d come baaaacckkk! Haha. But I know, you are busy being a mamma bear 🙂

      I guess the more I think about, with all this feedback, is I’m usually more open in writing. This isn’t to say that I can’t or won’t in person, but it takes time, usually. Part of the problem is I like to listen too and talking about yourself in person can feel strange. It takes getting used to.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t know. You ask such hard questions, Lani. On my blog, I do write lots of impersonal things. Mainly I look for topics that I think might be interesting to someone. And I’m pretty ordinary. Maybe I’m afraid to reveal myself. Who knows? Some personal things I struggle with and think about a lot: I’m always a little bit overweight, and I have a hard time resisting sweets. But that’s such a common problem. When I was a kid, a had a diary, but I never had much to say. The big secret of my diary was that I kept track of every time I saw the boy I liked. Much later, when I started keeping a journal, I did write complaints, “I can’t write anything today.” “I’m tired of living in the Philippines.” But mostly I used the journal to record what I saw and heard. I guess I’m just not a memoir writer. On the other hand, writing fiction, I feel as though I reveal a lot about myself. It’s embarrassing. I suppose that’s a good thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think a lot of magic can be found in the mundane. I actually like to look for it. In your book you made very “everyday” things come alive.

      OH, we all complain. I certainly can really get going. I just don’t like it when I see myself doing it too much. I’m actually actively trying to be really mindful about it right now because I saw how much I was doing it “unchecked”.

      But complaining in diaries is funny when you go back and read them. It’s like – is that what was bothering me? Why didn’t I …?

      Ordinary or afraid to reveal yourself? I can’t answer that question. Only you can. 🙂 Homework?

      Liked by 1 person

  9. There’s a lot I can relate to in here. Being vulnerable is part of being genuine, and there are few things I value more than that. But then again, I AM a therapist, so that’s probably in my DNA somehow. I always love reading your posts!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. It’s difficult to reveal one’s vulnerability, since the world doesn’t take to this easily. I agree, once that happens, beautiful connections can be made, but the hardest part is always being willing to take that risk and accept the consequences of rejection by people one cares about.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, very true. I’m grappling with that. The rejection, the feeling of being misunderstood, and so on. There’s a bit of being considerate of others and also being true to yourself. It’s a wrestling match when it doesn’t necessarily need to be – but as I’ve learned the hard way, again and again, you can’t control others, so don’t them control you.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Only be vulnerable up to certain point. I don’t feel like revealing significant personal problems that involve loved ones..it’s not where I wish my problems to be solved…out on the Internet with strangers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I made sure to mention that. I do feel, however, that for certain people who feel alone that the internet is where they can find solutions and friends because they don’t feel like they can be vulnerable or honest in their immediate surroundings.

      It’s definitely tricky. One doesn’t want to feel ready for attacks or open to negative behavior.

      Liked by 1 person

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