These days, so many people struggle with developing solid, close relationships—even with their spouses. Everyone is depressed, or drinks too much, or hates their lives. Divorces are commonplace.
Yet we go through our lives pretending none of this is true, and not talking about it because that would be to vulnerable. Or that’s it’s okay because everyone else is really unhappy with their jobs, lives, or marriages, too.
As a romance author from a very dysfunctional family and former marketing consultant, I’ve spent a lifetime studying human behavior. I’ve also gone from being diagnosed manic/depressive in my teens to creating a very happy life, with solid friends and a twenty-year marriage to a hubby I adore.
Needless to say, I’ve given some thought to how I got here and why others don’t. What I’ve realized is, the key to finding happiness in yourself, and in your relationships, is vulnerability. It’s recognizing you’re less than perfect, and loving yourself despite or because of your imperfections and quirks—or changing what you don’t love—and believing you deserve love and respect from others.
Partly, it’s fear of rejection. Partly, it’s because we’re trained that way from a young age. I know I was.
If I cried, I was “weak or manipulative”. If I got angry, I was “out of line”. If I was depressed, and I was, something was “wrong with me.” If I was vulnerable in any way, and expressed my feelings, I was nothing but a problem and a burden. Or my feelings were “wrong”.
So, I stopped letting anyone know how I felt. Or what I truly thought. And what I truly thought was that I was screwed up and not deserving of love. I believed if anyone saw “the real me” they’d run screaming. I know I wanted to.
Instead I decided that I needed to figure out what aspects of me I didn’t like and change them. I worked to become someone I love and respect. Which meant other people’s judgements no longer mattered. If they didn’t like me for who I was, fuck ‘em.
Even before the advent of social media, with all its perfectly filtered selfies and perfectly curated lives on display, society told us to “never let ‘em see you sweat’. Whatever you do, do not, under any circumstances, let anyone know you’re “going through something.” Never show you’re different, or hurt, or hurting. Ever.
If you ask for help, you are weak. If you cry, you are most definitely weak, and you should apologize for doing so. Nobody will like you if you’re weak and emotional.
Be strong, they say. Try to fit in. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, put on a brave face, and quit crying or complaining. Whether the issues are personal, professional, or societal in scope we should be quiet. And be grateful for what we have because someone, somewhere, has it worse.
Men in particular can’t be vulnerable because any emotions other than anger are for sissies. If men show their humanity, they’re weak. And vulnerable. Men are supposed to be strong and powerful and vulnerability inherently implies a person is weak and can be hurt.
If you can’t admit your own issues to yourself, or you see yourself as weak and worthless and unworthy, you’ll never by truly happy.
If you don’t show people who you really are or what you’re going through—or have gone through in the past—they can never get to know or love you for you. Which means you can never have truly supportive and fulfilling relationships.
The truth is, in vulnerability is great strength. It’s when you open yourself up and show your ask for help, or show that you’re sad or hurting or weird, that you connect with other people on a deeper level.
It’s only by being vulnerable that you can find true happiness. And it’s the only way you can find connection, real acceptance, and love.
What are your thoughts on the impact of vulnerability on your relationships with yourself and others? Please leave a comment below and let me know.