I was recently inspired by two different TED talks that speak to the importance and power of vulnerability and “coming out of our closets.” It is a staple of my practice to help individuals deal with difficult aspects of their lives, their relationships, and who they want to be. So often, we think we can control our anxiety by controlling the truth and the information we allow others to know about ourselves. However, if you take a moment to really ask yourself how well this has worked, you might find that the illusion of control over your anxiety is really just that, and in fact, the anxiety – through your attempted avoidance of allowing other people to know the real you – actually has control over you. As Ash Beckham eloquently states in her lecture, “closets are no place for a human to live.” It may seem more comfortable to avoid letting people know who you are, and avoid the risk of rejection or humiliation. However, over time, this way of being in the world will only keep you further from having the meaningful relationships most people are seeking. Not to mention, your anxiety will not go away.
So am I supposed to just come out and say how I really feel and let people know the real me? In a word, yes. That’s all there is to it. And, even though you think you might be jeopardizing your existing relationships or your ability to form new ones because, deep down, you “know” that you are too weird for anyone to actually appreciate, I would contend that the only relationships worth having are the ones where you get to be you. If you’re not being yourself, then who exactly is in this “relationship?” You, or some fake representation of someone that you think you are supposed to be? And furthermore, it might be interesting to ask yourself where you got the idea that you needed to be different from or hide some aspect of who you are in the first place.
I know this isn’t easy, but who said it’s supposed to be? Anything that matters to us is always going to have some anxiety associated with it because we care about it. In this case, anxiety isn’t some evil monster in your head, but rather it’s just a friendly reminder that you care about something – specifically, your integrity and your relationships. So go ahead and give it a shot. What’s the worst that can happen? You might lose someone who you thought really cared about you, which, I agree, would be very hurtful and painful. However, if the alternative is living in a closet and walking on eggshells, is that really any better? What if what’s actually keeping people from getting close to you is that they don’t feel like they know the real you? So your attempts at solving your vulnerability problem and keeping yourself safe are actually what’s maintaining the problem! Sound familiar? Don’t worry, it is perfectly human to engage in and experience all of these things including escape, avoidance, panic, worry, hurt, and loss. However, if you want the really good stuff that life has to offer – closeness, honesty, love, genuine appreciation, acceptance – they’re all right at your fingertips. You just have to be willing to take a leap and go for it!