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.