What is vulnerability?
I think it means something different to everyone. For some, it is crying. It is intense emotion expressed in an outward, tangible way. It is on display for all to see. It is putting every last ounce of self out upon the table.
That’s not how I do vulnerability.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this the past few days. While I freely confess that it is difficult for me to open up to others, I don’t avoid it altogether. For me, it is a process. Take, for example, one of the women with whom I am closest. I have known her for 11 years. Our bond has shifted, changed, grown, strained, developed. It took a large portion of that time for us both to reach a place of comfort and safety with each other. Now, of course, not all of my relationships look like that. One in particular has reached a deeper state in a much shorter amount of time. The point is that there is a certain way in which I engage.
I am analytical. I am inwardly intense and sometimes withdrawn. I rarely speak without thinking about exactly what I plan on saying – even if it’s something unkind, which I am not proud of in any sense. I am methodical. Social settings drain me quickly and I find myself having to parcel out my time. If I am going to see people on a Friday, I likely won’t choose to see anyone on a Saturday so I can gear up for church on Sunday. This is how I am wired.
That doesn’t mean I am not vulnerable, though. My language, what I consider to be putting myself out there, is simply different, I think.
I am currently leading a women’s Bible study on Wednesday nights at my church. Our topic is Heaven, and many varied conversations have come out of our study. On numerous occasions, I have very consciously elected to say, “I struggle with remembering to pray.” Or, “I want to punch my coworker in the teeth.” Or, “I don’t understand what this means.” So on and so forth. No display of emotion. Possibly said with a chuckle. But this is my version of putting myself out there.
So, perhaps it is not vulnerability. Perhaps it is depth. I tend to be very careful about how much I will say around certain people. I cannot remember a point in my life in which it has not taken me a great deal of time to really drop all of my defenses. I am not being a braggart when I say I carefully watch what people do with the confidences that they are entrusted with by others. It may well be that I am willing to judge too harshly too quickly, but I simply don’t want my life to become a living hell when someone I have made the decision to trust gets angry with me. I’ve seen it happen to others too many times.
I have had it happen to me twice, to devastating results.
You see, being so inwardly intense and analytical also means that I am highly sensitive. You may not think so to look at me, because I don’t reveal the state of my emotions to the general populace. But every criticism, every irritated glance, every disappointed sigh strikes at my heart and cuts deeply. Usually, I am able to sort through what may be dismissed and what should be integrated and dealt with, but this involves an extensive process.
This may be the difference. I am not prone to an immediate reaction. At least, I am not prone to an immediate reaction that I am going to share with anyone. Everything must be filtered, looked over, thought about and sorted through. That is the structure of my mind. I don’t want to go off on something or someone that isn’t worth the extreme emotional effort on my part.
More than once lately I have been told that I need to be more vulnerable. I think perhaps part of the problem is that people are too busy being vulnerable with me. Don’t get me wrong – I genuinely do want to be a good friend. One of my highest goals is to be known as an encourager like Barnabas, and God knows that I pray for His wisdom on an almost-daily basis. But that seems to be all that people want from me – encouragement and wisdom. I can’t be vulnerable in the ways that others are seeking if I am never afforded the opportunity.
This sounds like I’m pointing fingers at everyone, but that’s not my goal. I realize that nobody can read my mind and that I need to take the time to explain how I sort through and “do” life. I also realize that I have a lot of my own hurts and issues which contribute to frustration in relationships. Honestly, it’s a nasty cycle, one that I am doing my best to discover how to break.
I care deeply about others, despite the fact that I most often operate from my head and not my heart. It’s how I’ve learned to survive in this world. I expect something of me and others expect something from me and each thing feeds off the other until I am trapped in a whirlwind. I don’t even feel particularly emotional about it all right now. Just tense and tired and trying to keep myself afloat.
Yes, that about sums up much of my life experience: tense, tired and trying.
Perhaps if we all (myself included) spent just a little more time crying out to Jesus and a little less time trying get other human beings to fix us…
Behold, I will bring…health and healing. I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth. – Jeremiah 33:6 (NKJV)