Though we share so many secrets, there are some we never tell — Billy Joel, The Stranger.
As a friend, neighbor and holistic health consultant in an expat environment, I have been privy to the daily strains and stresses of hundreds of brokenhearted souls. I have spoken with a wide range of outwardly successful people — worldly, ambitious and intelligent — that are isolated from their most-trusted support network as they deal with critical health issues, marriage breakups, financial ruin or self-destructive children.
I have greeted every one of them at the door; well-presented, well-mannered, smiling, exchanging polite conversation. I have listened compassionately as they have their time of private vulnerability. I have felt their raw emotion as they talk; the pain, anger, loneliness, anguish, fear and confusion they have finally allowed to bubble to the surface of their awareness.
And then, as they have said their farewells, I have watched nearly every single one of them gather up their emotions, lock away their vulnerability and mold their faces into masks of socially-acceptable pleasantness. Within moments, these lonely and wounded individuals have headed out into the world, with their secret unhappiness safely stowed away from public eyes.
Lest someone see their pain.
“Successful people are expected to be happy, well-rounded and in control of their personal lives”
I am not sure why we have adopted the notion that authenticity equals weakness — that is a question for sociologists — but I do know that it is a falsehood that is perpetuated in the media and in our personal judgments of others.
Last year, Adele, an incredible woman and artiste, was lauded for her “bravery” and “courage” for appearing on a Rolling Stone cover without heavy makeup. Of course, on the surface, this message appears to be inspiring. “Wow, not wearing makeup is ok on magazine covers now.” But the sinister, underlying message is actually “Gee, you have to be brave to open yourself up to judgement like that. You have to be courageous to be vulnerable”.
How many of us, in our darkest hours, feel particularly brave or courageous? How many of us, when we are dealing with incomparable pain, feel strong enough to uncover our true selves to the world?
If we are to be honest and peel back the facade of social expectation, we can see that successful people are expected to be happy, well-rounded and in control of their personal lives. Somehow, having personal challenges and painful experiences is regarded by society as a form of failure. Because of this, many, many people hide their pain and anguish away from public eyes. Afraid of the judgement of others, they suffer in silence and try to bear the unbearable (depression, bankruptcy, marriage breakdowns, abuse …) without the support they so desperately need.
I wonder, how much damage we are doing to ourselves, and to others, because we have come to allow sadness, pain and trauma to be regarded as shameful or sinful?
“It’s ok to not know, to make mistakes, to lose control, to not fit in, to choose unwisely and to be different from the norm”
As with so many of our inherited social conditioning, embracing vulnerability as a way of life will not come easily nor quickly. It may take generations to heal this social wound. But I do see simple ways that we, as individuals, can gently steer our world toward one of more authenticity and vulnerability. We can each take steps within ourselves to:
How many judgments do you make of yourself and others based on an unconscious and inherited ideal of perfection? In some instances we have learned to recognize this ridiculous notion of a perfect life — it was parodied in the quirky television series Desperate Housewives and it is ridiculed in the comedic Modern Family. But, if we are to be honest with ourselves, we can see that most of us still embrace and perpetuate this expectation. Most of us still struggle with the idea of “appearances” and “getting things right”. What would be healthier and more helpful is to accept and understand that we are born fallible; it’s ok to not know, to make mistakes, to lose control, to not fit in, to choose unwisely and to be different from the norm. And it is ok to fail. In fact, it is perfect.
I often say, we are never in control of our lives but we are always in charge. In most situations, we can choose actions that will lead us away from ongoing struggle and pain. In all situations, we can choose grace, acceptance and forgiveness. If we can remove the yoke of unobtainable perfection, it is easier (although, still not always easy) to be completely honest with ourselves about who we are, and the choices we are making in our lives. By accepting and forgiving the parts of ourselves that lead us into painful situations (callousness, naivety, fear, need etc) we can take responsibility for our lives. We can make wiser decisions and consciously choose a healthier path.
If we are ever to create a world that welcomes authentic expression — one where we can openly share our genuine pain and fear — it must be balanced with an equal dose of self-responsibility. I believe that society will not ever welcome open expression if it leads to repetitive complaints about self-inflicted grievances.
Be a safe place
Vulnerability cannot thrive where judgement abides. One of the most profound changes we can make as individuals is to recognize vulnerability in others and take conscious steps to help them express themselves authentically. This means, not judging. Passing judgement on their situation, condition, decisions or state of mind is not helpful nor healthy. It also means, not rescuing — personal responsibility, remember? And it means not gossiping. Just be kind, open and understanding; be a safe place to fall.
Maybe if we can learn to be kinder to ourselves and to each other, we can create a world where we each, in our time of need, don’t feel that we have to hide. Instead, we will be like Mary Lambert and sing with courage and defiance. “I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are.”
“And right now, I am not OK.”
Kim Forrester is an award-winning author, educator and intuitive consultant with over 15 years’ experience as a professional intuitive and spiritual teacher. She combines cutting edge science with traditional spirituality to offer the latest understandings of psi, consciousness and holistic wellbeing. Find out more at www.kimforrester.net
Originally published at medium.com