Category Archives: compassion

How to be more vulnerable in relationships

Warning: this post is really long.

Whew! It’s been a few weeks since writing in here but I’ve been knee-deep in finishing the last school paper I will ever write. Because guess what? I’m graduating with my Masters degree in THREE WEEKS (can I get a whoop whoop?!?). Obviously, words cannot describe how excited I am because it has been  such a struggle working full-time, attending school part-time, and dealing with the tumultuous and traumatizing events over the last year (well, really the past three years).

Having spent weeks in economics theory and how it can be applied to environmental science policy I definitely needed a reprieve because if I had to write one more thing about particulate matter emissions I was going to explode. So I took a break from all that and started working on something far more interesting to me. And that’s where the rest of this post comes in!

As some of you may know, a few months ago I was approached by Ambiance Matchmaking (based out of Chicago) to be a contributing writer on their blog on all things dating/relationships. I was pleasantly surprised because I hardly feel like an expert on the subject. I mean, I am the girl who is queen of first date fuck-ups. The worst being that I set up two first dates in one day (don’t do that). I got drunk on the first one and by the second one I was puking. You wouldn’t think I’d be asked out on a second date, but I was. So somehow my winning personality must have beat out the most embarrassing moment of my life. Or maybe they just pitied me. But I digress.

Last month my editor asked me to write an article on how to be vulnerable since many of her clients have mentioned they struggle with vulnerability in their relationships. It took me a month to write this because every time I sat down to do it my mind was blank. I’ve certainly taken a lot of opportunities to be vulnerable in the last couple of months but I’m definitely no Brene Brown. I struggle with being vulnerable so who am I to offer advice on the subject? Well, it turns out I actually did have something to say. After nearly a month it’s finally finished and will be posted to Ambiance Matchmaking’s dating blog (check it out!) sometime this week. Here’s a peek! 

In the exciting but sometimes disastrous world of dating I often ask myself why it’s so hard for me to be vulnerable in a relationship. I imagine most of you have asked yourself this same question too.

Sharing our vulnerabilities isn’t always easy to do, especially at the point when you and your partner decide to take casual dating to the next level. This stems largely out of fear. Fear that if we share the most authentic versions of ourselves – those things we keep hidden like our insecurities or the guilt, denial, and shame we may hold about what we’ve done to someone or what they did to us – then we will be rejected, judged, labeled, even misunderstood.

Out of this fear we tend to portray only the perfect parts of ourselves – the parts that make us fun, lively, and enjoyable to be around. But to truly be vulnerable means to reveal those parts of ourselves we keep hidden. Why don’t we do that?

Well, I imagine all of us can think back to a time in our past relationships when we bared our soul to someone we thought would protect our vulnerabilities and they didn’t. When we love with reckless abandon and fall into those kinds of people quickly and relentlessly they mess with those vulnerabilities. They find ways to abuse them and sometimes they abuse them in the most cruel of ways. We realize that rabid dogs can take human form.

In order to protect our hearts from future hurt we build walls so high that they are impenetrable. We wear a suit of armor as if our lives depended on it. We suppress the scary, beautiful, tender side of our love because the idea of letting someone else in – even for the right sort of person – seems impossible.

But despite how scary it is to open ourselves up to someone we still yearn for connection and intimacy. Intuitively, I think we all know that true emotional intimacy requires vulnerability and that to be vulnerable requires strength and courage and authenticity. It requires us to be brave. It requires us to stop suppressing our deepest vulnerabilities because without letting your guard down it’s very likely your relationship will fizzle out.

In reality sharing our deepest vulnerabilities is easier said than done. After all, our first instincts when we feel shame, hurt, indignation, or disappointment towards ourselves or our partner is to mask those feelings, likely because we fear that expressing any sort of negative emotion makes us weak.

We may even fear how our partners will react. Maybe they’ll think I’m needy. Maybe they won’t want to date me anymore. And if they don’t want to date me because of these vulnerabilities then who will?

In all honesty (and for the sake of being vulnerable with my audience) I will tell you these things may very well happen.

Being vulnerable in a relationship will not always mean your significant other will share the same sentiments. If you open your heart to them and they view it as a weakness or they belittle your feelings or they refuse to show you their heart in return, you are with the wrong person.

In fact, run. Because despite our fantasies of being the rescuer – the one that finally changes them – they will not change. Even knowing this we may very well find ourselves staying, which probably stems from our fears. In return we become trapped in emotional turmoil. We become the source of destructive habits. Our happiness wanes and we unnecessarily suffer.

The truth is that the only people we can truly change is ourselves. We can choose to be someone who expresses their love. We can choose not to close ourselves off. We can choose to love ourselves despite our faults. We can choose to walk away from someone who abuses our vulnerabilities.

In that same regard, be kind and walk away if your partner shares their heart with you and exposes their deepest vulnerabilities yet you deny them the same sort of consideration. Do not exploit their vulnerabilities or make them feel small or judge them for sharing who they truly are. Because if you do, then you are not the right person for them.

Despite the rationality of this advice, I will admit that I am no expert in actually being vulnerable. In fact, I am more likely to sabotage a relationship than I am to be the one that puts myself out there. Certainly this stems from three years of emotional abuse from someone I loved – someone who I desperately wanted to love me back. It also stems from my fear of rejection and the stigma I hold about having a mental illness (although I hate admitting that because I am also an advocate for mental health). Yet in the last year I have been determined to practice being vulnerable despite how damaged I feel. And I’ve found endless opportunities to do so.

The obvious question then is if you see an opportunity to be vulnerable, how do you do it? Although I admitted to not being an expert, I will share what I’ve learned and what has worked for me since taking those opportunities. I hope these tips will help you too.

 

Love all of you
I am very open to sharing my personal journey of dealing with bipolar disorder to strangers, friends, and family, although I sometimes find myself attempting to hide that part of my life to someone I like or want to date. Inevitably, though, it is a part of who I am and until I was diagnosed, educated myself about bipolar disorder, and started attending support groups, I didn’t understand why I acted the way I did. I couldn’t help but be angry and irritable a lot of the time. I spent more time depressed and crying than I did being happy. There were moments when I was reckless and did things that were destructive to my life.

It was difficult to accept my illness at first and I drowned myself in denial, guilt, and shame, but when I resolved to sharing my story it helped me realize I was not alone – that many people had similar experiences and what I felt wasn’t abnormal.

After publishing my stories, many people reached out to me sharing their own. They talked about how sharing mine inspired them to be open about their own struggles. They realized they too could be a vehicle for change, fighting the stigma associated with having a mental illness.

Despite how absolutely terrifying it was to be brutally honest about my breakdown and the time I spent in a psychiatric ward, I am stronger because of it. Seeing these strangers and my family and friends love me unconditionally and offer up compassion allowed me to begin creating a space where I accepted that part of me. I am actually grateful to have gone through such tumultuous and traumatizing events leading up to my diagnosis because those experiences finally revealed my true self. And I love my true self.

By creating space for self-love in my life it meant there was less space for fear. When we stand in that space of love we reach self-acceptance. This is where the true power of vulnerability lies because when we accept ourselves – faults and all – we pave a path to finding true happiness.

 

Be willing to try, even if you fail
Those suits of armor we wear are hard to take off. While there is no magical pill for the hurt and pain we – or others – may feel or have felt, we inevitably survive it. Our lives do go on. By practicing vulnerability, we open ourselves up to finding the right sort of person (even if you come across rabid dogs along the way).

Although we may ultimately fail in our attempt at being vulnerable we can recognize where we were successful and where we made mistakes. We can carry those lessons with us into future relationships and ultimately become better versions of ourselves. Really, the only important thing is that you try because that in and of itself is the very definition of being vulnerable. Maybe you didn’t shred your suit of armor to pieces but I bet that just trying resulted in a helmet or glove coming off. Baby steps, my friends.

 

Vulnerability isn’t just about you
When we suffer we turn to those we care about seeking comfort and understanding. We expect them to be there for us. But ask yourself this: are you willing to be with someone who is suffering? Are you willing to be compassionate and kind and understanding towards them despite how uncomfortable it may make you feel? When someone exposes their vulnerabilities to you, you can practice being vulnerable just by sharing their emotional space. You can listen to them, feel their emotions without judgement, and offer up compassion whether you can relate to the situation or not. By doing all that you help them create their own space for love and self-acceptance. It is humbling and inspiring to witness that kind of transformation.

 

Say what you really feel
In my last relationship I learned quickly not to share any of my feelings because what came afterwards was blame, yelling, and the threat of “well maybe we shouldn’t be together.” I became afraid of speaking my mind because I was afraid I would say the wrong thing. I valued how he felt and what his needs were so much that I stopped considering my own.

I imagine many of us have, at some point in our lives, fallen into this trap and that we’ve let it impact how we communicate in the relationships that followed. When hiding what you really feel becomes a habit it can be difficult to break. But being vulnerable means being truthful. It means honoring what you feel, what the other person feels, and being brave enough to address those circumstances together. If you’re scared, say so. If you’re hurt or angry because you felt they were inconsiderate, say so. Don’t hide your emotions. You have every right to feel what you are feeling.

I myself have struggled with doing this and I’ve ruined some relationships along the way, which I deeply regret. But I’ve made significant strides and now I’m so much more open about how I feel that people probably want me to stop sharing. Don’t stop sharing.

Vulnerability has so much to offer and although it opens us up to rejection and pain and hurt it will be worth it (maybe not right away, but eventually) because without vulnerability we cannot distinguish the wrong person from the right person, just like we would never know good until we’ve known bad.

I don’t believe there is any right way to be vulnerable and what works for me may not work for you. But I do have faith you will succeed in however you approach your journey and I wish you all the joy and happiness that comes with taking such a giant leap of faith because you definitely deserve it.

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Filed under advice, Ambiance Matchmaking, authenticity, bipolar II, compassion, fear, lessons learned, love, relationships, self-love, vulnerability

Finding grace in tragedy

Elite Daily posts trending topics every day and emails them to contributing writers. One of the topics for today was about spiritual awareness month (something I didn’t even know existed!). I submitted this piece to my editor earlier this morning considering it’s a topic I’ve been obsessed with over the last few months. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been wrestling with how to find grace in all of the difficulties I’ve faced within the last year. Here is what I’ve come to learn so far:

A fundamental question we as humans have been trying to answer for centuries is if a God or Allah or Buddha (or whatever else you believe in) exists, then why do bad things happen? Why does suffering exist?

We cannot possibly imagine a reason for the Sandy Hook or Columbine shootings. The destruction of an entire city which left hundreds of people homeless after the Joplin tornado. The beheadings of innocent civilians by ISIS. Or the emotional and physical abuse we suffer at the hands of another.

Our first reaction to tragedies like this are shock, followed by horror that such inhumanity exists in the world. Then comes sadness and compassion for ourselves and for those whose lives are fundamentally altered, and not always for the better. But in all of these difficult situations our hearts open up wide and our desire to help grows.

We join hands with strangers to pray and hold candlelight vigils. We donate our time and energy into building houses for those who have no place to call home. We protect and harbor those who are escaping a horrible evil. But perhaps the evil that exists in this world is meant to remind us of the grace that can come from tragedy.

Difficult circumstances are the very things that shape us and teach us hope, endurance, and strength. They encourage us to stop being consumed by our own selfishness and become people who offer up compassion and love and understanding for strangers, for the world, for our family and friends, and for ourselves. Even if it is difficult to see, there are quiet moments of joy to be found. I am always in awe of our ability to join hands in the face of struggle.

It is true that the world and the people in it will find so many ways to break our hearts. At times, we will even break our own hearts. The disasters of the world, our failures, our grief, and our self-doubt – they are our worst enemies. They are the malignant tumors that eat away at our minds, our work, our creativity, and our desire to find meaning and purpose in the world.

But despite being awful and so unfair, these are the experiences that offer up a window into our souls. And the only way we can find peace and comfort is to not rush through the emotions those experiences bring us. We have to feel the hurt, the grief, the anger and despair. We find that the way of becoming closer to a higher power and of strengthening our spirituality is not to go around our journey but to endure it.

Our difficulties is what forces us to be the most honest, raw, and vulnerable versions of ourselves. Going around the grief, despair, anger, and hurt those experiences provoke inside of us is unfair to our very existence.

In moments of severe hurt, you have every right to feel it deeply and you have every right to not have your sh*t together every second of the day. But despite how unreasonable the injustices of this world are, we must embrace them. The disasters. The mistakes we make. The addictions we struggle with overcoming. The emotionally devastating heartbreaks we go through. The jobs we lose. The death of our children. It seems so difficult, especially in the moment, but it is possible.

This isn’t to suggest we should quickly release any negative emotions we feel in light of difficult circumstances. On the contrary, we should slow down a bit and be present during the process of healing. Quieting your emotions and jumping to forgiveness before you feel it in your bones will not get you past the visceral pain you feel right now – it only prolongs it. We can only hope to become closer to God – to reach clarity and meaning and purpose – by going through these emotions, not around them.

Sure, harboring such negative emotions is exhausting, but it can also be what drives us. Many people preach that to be a better Christian we must forgive but I believe that forgiveness is not always required to move forward. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason for the bad things that happen in the world or to us. We can find comfort in the Tao Te Ching which tells us that for every 10,000 sorrows there are 10,000 joys. Perhaps what the higher powers are trying to tell us is to find the courage to accept what has happened, to let go and to continue seeing the good that exists in spite of the bad.

However difficult it may seem, we must endure the ugly side of tragedy even if it brings out the most unredeeming qualities. Although we are quick to blame God or Allah or Buddha or whatever you believe in, they are always there to show us our true destiny. Our experiences may even redefine what is important to us and teach us more about what we value and what we find worth standing up for.

In all of the difficult moments we face there is always some sort of grace that can be found. We just have to look deep enough. We have to search for the light and cling to it like a totem pole so we can make our way out of the dark. Reveling in this process, despite it’s horror, will transform us and we will always come out stronger – as a community and as individuals.

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Filed under buddhism, compassion, faith, forgiveness, grace, healing, life lessons, sorrow, tragedy

Finding faith in recovery

Throughout my healing process I have been drawn to the Buddhist religion, finding comfort in Buddha’s teachings on sorrow and how to live a life full of gratitude, compassion, and love. I was in awe of one of my friends who has a strong, unwavering faith in God. I asked him, “Why is it in our deepest sorrows we seek comfort in a higher power and when everything is joyous we shy away from it? Does my sudden interest in faith make me a hypocrite? Am I unworthy of holiness after such a long absence?” He reminded me that spiritual strength grows over time and that it often rears its beautiful head during difficult times because it is a complement to our healing process. Whoever or whatever you believe in, you will be guided.

I have been particularly drawn to the Tae Te Ching which says that for every 10,000 joys there are 10,000 sorrows. In this teaching Buddha defines compassion as “the enduring emotion of pathos” or enduring the emotions of life, whether it’s from joy or sorrow. He teaches that when we embrace the joy and sorrow of living it becomes our greatest strength because it is the “surest way to divine Oneness and to healing.”

I find solace in these teachings because it provides meaning and purpose to the difficulties we face. Buddha didn’t deny that there is happiness in life, but he pointed out it does not last forever. Eventually everyone meets with some kind of suffering.

There is happiness in life,
happiness in friendship,
happiness of a family,
happiness in a healthy body and mind,
…but when one loses them, there is suffering.

I have found that the greatest challenge in practicing my faith is being able to find gratitude in the difficult things – my diagnosis, a friend’s hurtful comments, a devastating heartbreak – but somehow making an intentional effort to practice gratitude towards those situations has brought a kind of grace and love to my life. For every difficult situation you face it will inevitably teach you something about yourself. Now, even if I’m not feeling particularly grateful, I will offer up thanks.

For example, the other day I was irritable and angry with a friend for the insensitive, hurtful comments he made about my diagnosis. I stewed on it all day only making myself more angry. On the quiet drive home, I reminded myself of Buddha’s teachings on cultivating compassion and gratitude. So I said out loud, “[name of friend], I am grateful to you for being a jackass because I have learned I cannot give more than I can sanely give right now.” Obviously, my use of the word jackass and the need to repeatedly say those words shows my practice needs some work, but the very act of offering up gratitude instantly brought a sense of calm to my demeanor. I felt my heart opening up with compassion. We both deserved to heal and recover without bringing the other into our own pit of darkness. The kindest thing to do for both of us was to part ways. I understood what my limitations were. I understood what his were. In that moment I learned in every situation there is the potential to meet Buddha or God or whoever/whatever you believe in. You only have to open your heart to the possibility.

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Filed under buddha, buddhism, compassion, faith, healing, mental health, recovery, sorrow