Thin Line

I am a very big believer in shared vulnerability being the key to strong relationships. I like being vulnerable because it inspires vulnerability in others and that’s where the real connections can be made. I talked often about my miscarriages back in the Trying To Conceive days because other women would open up to me about their struggles and there would be wisdom and comfort in the bonds created from those moments. I don’t even mean that you have to be vulnerable to build lifelong best friends, I mean I like being vulnerable to the WORLD because the small connections it allows me to make throughout my life are worth the rawness of the vulnerable moments.

ALL OF THAT SAID…I have been thinking a lot lately about that line between “opening up to create moments of bonding and connection” and “protecting my heart from damage and pain that goes deep into my heart and soul.”

I have found that I have more empathy for murderer in prison than I have had for various people that have come through my life who I might have worked with, or be related to, or might have lived next door to my whole life. There are relationships we all have had – out of convenience…or practical connection…or marriage or blood – that we would not have without those practical connections. Sometimes it’s simply because you have nothing in common with the person: I never spoke to my first boss out of college after I left that job because – other than work – we had ZERO common connections outside of work.

Those “Nothing In Common” relationships are not the ones I’m talking about.

I’m talking about relationships with people who have hurt you before, but being stuck in the same office or family or neighborhood means you have to continue having at least a functional relationship. I used to work with a person who entertained herself by making fun of me. When I find myself in these kind of situations, connections with people who have or can hurt me, I put up a wall to protect myself from constant hurt. That girl I worked with had several miscarriages too, but I never spoke with her about those because to pull down my wall and bond about miscarriage would open me up for the the hurt she could dish out when she would mock me for using the wrong word in a sentence.

That’s what I mean by more empathy for someone on death row. I found myself with little empathy for that coworker, even thinking kind of nasty thoughts being glad she left when she was eventually cut. Whereas I heard a story about a murderer who was stuck in an unforgiving system since birth and I my heart broke for him and the pain he has suffered.

Because I didn’t need to build a wall between me and him. His power to hurt me was non-existent.

This is what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, as I tread through life with several of those “practical” connections with people who have incredible power to hurt me. How I lack empathy and I don’t allow myself to be vulnerable in those situations. I have these walls built up and I find it sometimes makes me mean because I’m protecting myself so much I seem to lose the ability to even offer a modicum of kindness. So I step back, I try to take down a little bit of the wall to open up a connection to allow for some empathy and shared vulnerability and…

Can you guess what happens?

I GET SHAT UPON.

So I’m spending a lot of time thinking about that. Am I being hypocritical by preaching vulnerability and empathy when I have several connections in my life that I allow for almost zero vulnerability or empathy as a form of protection? Or is this okay? Is this something we all have to do in some capacity? Especially in some ways when there are things like addictions at play…it’s hard to not have a wall built up to protect yourself from someone who is at the mercy of something like an addiction.

But then I wonder…what if I’m missing out? Yes…I’ve been hurt before and sometimes in ways that make me need lots of therapy…but what if this one time is the moment where a connection changes BOTH of our lives. Isn’t that what the best movies are about? How the right vulnerability can actually change a person?

Or is life too short to open yourself up to pain you know is coming? Is once chance enough?

Honestly? It’s always a gift when practical connections are severed, when people leave jobs or move and then the decision is no longer yours. But for now, I’m trying to find that line between the power of shared vulnerability and protection of my already scarred heart.

7 Comments

  • Gingermog

    Your braver than I am as you make yourself vulnerable over and over sharing yourself on your blog. Deep, meaningful topics which sear deeply into what it is, which makes us humans beings.

    Ok, I’m a bit of a sunshine Sue, sometimes my heart hurts with the love I feel for humans beings and I smile goofily at the people in line at the coffee shop. Other days the news hurts me so much I want to crawl into a ball.

    So, I don’t watch the news on TV. limit myself to just enough information on recognised newspaper websites . Don’t do twitter. Weekly visit , FB just to see what old classmates and colleagues are up to. Copiously look at Instagram several times a day (bad habit), but ooo pretty pictures, inspiration. Sometimes I feel I’m not a good enough artist, when i compare other peoples posts, but baby steps eh.

    Took me many sessions at my women’s group to make me realise I needed to cut some people who were poisonous in my life, or had the ability to hurt me. Heck, I’ve been through too much to, spent many hours in therapy and rebuilt my life to let history repeat itself. I can cut someone out my life, but still hold the in the light and wish them well. There are a few people I cannot use for the fourth step of my Love and kindness meditation, where you are meant to send “love and joy etc ” to your enemies, which shows me I still have work to do.

    There is a poem about Maya Angelou ( I think) which I will paraphrase: it’s about not falling down the same hole, but walking around it.

    Peace out

  • Colleen

    I think that you are not being hypocritical. I think most people have someone in their lives who they need to protect themselves from. I don’t think it is useful to keep trying after some point in a toxic relationship. Luckily some of the worst in my life have been practical, work relationships that have ended for me as people move on or retire. But I do realize that these same people have damaged my ability to be vulnerable, out of fear that others will do the same to me, especially if something in the new person’s behavior reminds me of the past. It is those new people who have done nothing who I am willing to take a chance with. I don’t always succeed but I try to make the effort

  • Karen

    Forgive me if I have mentioned this book before, but I think you would REALLY like it. It’s called “Real Love” by Greg Baer. Essentially, he talks a lot about how unconditional love is given freely and without expectations and explains how most of the things we do to each other that are unloving aren’t necessarily because we are mean, but because we are hurting. We do things in order to get something (praise, appreciation, power…) or protect ourselves from being hurt (I think the examples you’re talking about fall in this category). As we surround ourselves with people who love us unconditionally, it helps us be able to love unconditionally as well,… even people who don’t love us back. And the stuff that they do that once hurt us seems just a minor scratch rather than a gaping wound, once we are full of love from others. I can’t recommend his stuff enough!

    BTW, I totally relate to those bitter feelings. There have been folks in my life that I just could not muster up an ounce of empathy or sympathy for… or happiness, for that matter.

    • Zoot

      OH, goodness. I think it some wounds may be too much to fill even with all of the love. I feel like I’ve done a good job of surrounding myself with love but maybe not, maybe I need more love instead of giving up all together 🙂 I just worry that some wounds go too deep, you know?

      (BY THE WAY – I lOVE YOUR BOOKS SUGGESTIONS! KEEP THEM COMING!)

  • Cheryl

    There are people I am related to by blood, that if we didn’t share that bond, we would never spend time together. It’s not that they’re bad people, or I’m a bad person, it’s just that we have very little in common except a shared surname, red hair and freckles. If we were at a packed party in the superdome, and I could socialize with anybody in there, I would never choose these people simply because we don’t share common hobbies, or work experiences or have much of anything to talk about and that’s okay. As my mama says, “I’m not telling you to be friendly, I’m telling you to be civil.” We share our family events, we speak on a completely superficial level, and then we all go home.

    I have a family I have chosen, mainly because my birth family is riddled with addiction and untreated mental illness and I choose to value myself more than that. It doesn’t mean it’s a permanent situation, as I ask my brother every time I see him, “are you on your meds again?” he inevitably says no, and I reply, “well it’s good seeing you” and walk away. My grandmother used to say, “life is a series of choices. Some easy, some hard, but ALL are choices”. I love him dearly, and if he CHOSE to treat his mental illness I would CHOOSE to resume a relationship. Until then, I choose my mental health, and my chosen family.

  • Lucy McConville

    I really have nothing to add, except to say I SO get this!! At this age, I think I have probably decided it is not worth it. I have tried to just seek stronger connections with the people I know I CAN trust not to hurt me.

  • Beth Edwards

    I totally get this and its normal. I have stronger feelings for people I know, I know their circumstances. , and they are interacting with me and treating me in ways I think are wrong. With a person you don’t know, its easy to be empathetic, you don’t interact with them. I have a brother that I don’t talk to , except in a situation that I cant avoid. He is outnumbered 4 to 1 by the rest of us.
    In another situation, it was the ravages of alcohol that cost me a friend. She now lives out of town , and is being super friendly on a limited basis. I consider her kids my grandkids, and used to sit on her porch and talk to her everyday. Once her best friend came in a can or bottle, she was very eratic. I got cut off from all contact with her kids 3 times over the course of 5 years. However those relationships are intact. As far as she is concerned, it easier having her a few hours away. She is definitely a person that I wouldn’t have known had she not been across the street. I really wouldnt have known any of my neighbors, but we are all friendly, but not on each others porches. Its better that way