The Rewards of Vulnerability

“If we want the rewards of being loved we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.”

Tim Kreider wrote an article for the New York Times in 2013 that discusses some (mild) judgement he received over purchasing a herd of goats. Which, to me personally, seems like a phenomenal purchase that should have received zero judgement. He concludes the article with the above quote, and it’s something I reflect on frequently.

Hypocritically, I both crave and fear vulnerability. Everyone wants to feel a connection to other people, intimacy is a basic human need. But to achieve the end result of genuine human connection, you must first go through the process of actually allowing yourself to be known by others.

Emotional vulnerability is like the moment where you allow someone access to your “finsta,” instead of just your main Instagram account. You go from the archive of moments that are not only okay for everyone to see, but what you actively choose to project to the world to a revealing look at the moments that are more “hot mess” than “hot.” We follow that same principle in life; there are the moments that we choose to share with people at surface level, the character traits and thoughts that are easy to share because we think they’re the easiest for other people to like. These are the glamour shots on profiles that we’re sure will rake in the likes. Moments of vulnerability are when we share things that we’re unsure of how another person will respond, whether or not they can accept these things. Moments of vulnerability are more like a photo of you yacking and pissing at the same time after a rough night at the bar; it isn’t something you want everyone to see, but something that a select few can appreciate and still give you the “like.”

I used to keep everything contained. I wanted so desperately to be someone other than who I was and to feel things other than what I did. I thought that if I just didn’t share the uncomfortable aspects of my identity, maybe they wouldn’t really exist. I buried all my negative emotions, and other than some dramatic journal entries, I never acknowledged internal pain. In hindsight, it’s easy to tell that that strategy was optimistic at best, and delusional at worst.

The only result of hiding those parts of me was a desperate sense of loneliness. I felt misunderstood by everyone, and that’s because I wasn’t giving anyone the opportunity to understand me. It didn’t matter if I was in a room full of friends, because were they really friends with me or just some happy fraud that I was pretending to be? I don’t think I even did a good job of being a fraud - my performance as a bubbly girl without a care in the world was inconsistent and probably aggravating. Very few people like a person who desperately wants to be liked.

And eventually, I couldn’t keep up any form of that persona. I buried so much pain that kept accumulating and growing, never being processed or healed, and eventually that pain flooded to the surface. I no longer cared if people thought that I was damaged, because pain and trauma felt like my entire identity. My wounds were raw, infected, uncared for and visible for everyone to see. If I was vulnerable to everyone, then I was actually vulnerable to no one, and then no one could hurt me. That was another unadvisable coping strategy. Thinking about that period of my life causes my soul to invert and cringe heavily, because similar to how not everyone should be allowed to follow your “finsta” account, not everyone needs to be aware of your baggage. 

But that over-exposed time in my life also gave me the opportunity to heal. By acknowledging the parts of myself that I didn’t like, it opened the door to changing them. The truth is that we shouldn’t love everything about ourselves, but we should love ourselves as a whole. To accept our imperfections and not feel victimized by them, but to view them as an opportunity for growth. Who we are is not a stable construct, it is dynamic and responsive.

I’m still an open person, but not to everyone. It’s a healthy process of forming relationships, and slowly “finsta” moments trickle out. It’s scary to open yourself up to people, to wonder if they will really like you as you are. But it’s also the only way to know that they really do like you, and not just who you wish you were. Other people are capable of having the same complex relationship with you, as you should have with yourself. It isn’t about adoring every single element, it’s about enjoying the sum of all your parts. By opening myself up to the mortifying ordeal of being known, I have reaped the rewards of truly being loved, and I promise you that it’s worth it.