I complain about lots of things – my work, my relatives, the weather, my Senator – and I’m gonna stop right there so we don’t get into a nasty political argument. You get the idea.
- The truth is, I think most of us complain about a lot. All in all, we are a discontented lot, quick to judge, quick to point out flaws.
But there are some flaws we hesitate to mention to others, or maybe even acknowledge to ourselves . . . those that belong to us:
- our confusion and indecision
- our crippling self-doubt
- our profound moments of despair and hopelessness
In short, our own brokenness.
Although we all, at some point, run into these obstacles (at least I hope I’m not the only one), the face we usually present to the world is one of contentment and self-confidence, as evidenced by this typical exchange between friends:
“Hey, how ya doin’?”
“I’m great! How are you?”
Okay then . . .
Why is this? Why don’t we talk openly about these less-than-perfect sides of ourselves?
Although this issue might be a little more complicated than this, I think there are two main things driving our silence: the fear that others might find out that we don’t have it all together, and our reticence to admit this same thing to ourselves.
Let’s face it. We’re a species that is largely looking for approval, and we’re often willing to sacrifice a lot – authenticity, true connection, intimacy, even the possibility of support – in order to get it.
We’re even willing to sacrifice our own connection with reality if we can maintain the illusion that we’re just fine, thank you very much. Because our culture, with its emphasis on “not enough” and “more, more, more,” isn’t too accepting or nurturing of brokenness and less than.
Here’s how this works in my life. Most of the time, I hesitate to reveal anything about myself that will make me look bad. And if, on a rare occasion, I do dare to suggest that I might be just the teensiest bit flawed or confused, I speak about my upset in a way that makes light of my experience, or in a jaunty, pithy way that makes people laugh.
Rarely do I hang out my dirty laundry with any kind of seriousness. Rarely do I offer a true, “no filter” picture of my life.
I say “rarely” because there are a few special people who, because of their history of honesty, empathy and validation over time, have earned the right to hear the full truth about me. To these people I will risk being authentic.
And what happens next . . . well, it’s miraculous.
What happens next is that they usually say something to the effect of . . . “Me too.”
Me. Too. And then, relieved, we connect around our brokenness and vulnerability, and we both feel a lot better. And our confusion, our struggle, our self-doubt – none of that seems quite as bad as it did at first. It just seems . . . we just seem . . . normal.
What’s more (although we might not notice this part right then), we actually change the world a bit in that moment.
Because think about it. If we all keep towing the line, if we all keep adding our voices to the chorus of those that claim “all is well,” and “there’s nothing to see here,” we contribute to the collusion that encouraged our silence in the first place, and thereby also discourage others from being authentic.
But when we share our flaws and our struggles, when we allow ourselves to experience vulnerability in front of another person, we form a different chorus, one whose voices are unified in empathy and understanding for what it means to be human. And one that creates space for others to do the same.
Take a deep breath. Be brave. Tell the truth about yourself to a trusted friend, a close family member or your partner. Sit up a little straighter in your chair and risk looking, and feeling, imperfect and vulnerable.
And see what happens next.
What about you? Have you had moments of true vulnerability that have made an impression on you? Have you had moments in which you know you’re not sharing your authentic self? Would you consider sharing your story in a comment below?