Category Archives: self-love

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

Thoughts on anger

I read a line in one of my self-prescribed self-help/do-good books this weekend that made me pause. For the most part, I loved the book because it was about embracing your messy, fucked-up life but there was one chapter in particular that talked about forgiveness, saying we must always forgive because “Forgiveness helps quiet the anger.”

What gave me pause wasn’t that we should aim for forgiveness so much as it was the idea we should quiet any negative emotions we feel for fear of how others will perceive us. Anger is not meant to be quieted, it is meant to be expressed in whatever safe and healthy medium that we identify with. For me, I choose to express my anger through writing and running because both activities leave me feeling empty of hate instead of consumed by it. For others, anger is expressed through painting or even smashing plates on the sidewalk (Liz can attest to how much fun this actually is). Whatever medium you identify with, expressing your anger is far better than stifling it.

I think back to the day I found myself curled up in a ball on the hardwood floor of my parent’s bedroom sobbing and gasping for air. I kept telling myself the best thing to do was to forgive and let go. The reason I didn’t – couldn’t – do that is because I was not capable of forgiveness at that point in time. As much as I would have liked to say I forgive you and I wish you happiness and love because I have loved you so much, I just couldn’t. I still can’t. Why? Because that’s not actually how I feel. In fact, at the risk of sounding maniacal, this is what I really feel: I hope he loses all his money because he prizes stance and stature more than anyone else I know. I hope he gets divorced as quickly as he got engaged and married. I hope his new wife cheats on him and gets pregnant by someone else (because he did that to me twice and I would really love for him to know how that feels). I also really hope he ends up unhappy and alone and the sooner that happens, the better. I am not ashamed to say I feel any of this because this is HONESTLY where I’m at.

The point of sharing this is to illustrate that we can only hope to reach forgiveness by going through all of the other emotions we feel, not around them. Whether its depression, anger, hate and bitterness or just plain hurt feelings, we are so often taught to quickly release those emotions as soon as we feel them because they’re exhausting and they consume our energy. Yes, they are all of these things, but I can honestly say that quieting those emotions and jumping to forgiveness before you are ready to do so does not get you past the visceral pain you feel right now – it only prolongs it. To forgive someone before you actually feel it in your bones is not forgiveness. It is something else entirely. We must endure the ugly side of hurt even if it brings out the most un-redeeming qualities.

I believe the idea that we must always forgive (and well before we are ready to) creates an undue pressure and hardship on our hearts. I also believe it is not necessary to forgive in order to let go. It is only necessary that you first be kind to yourself and second that you love yourself more than anybody else could. The only way to do both is to honor what you feel by going through your journey, not around it. To promise to show up every single day and embrace the ugly side of hurt. To express the emotions that rise up because otherwise (like me) you spend years forcing yourself not to feel. You really only need reach acceptance in order to let go. Quieting the anger is not an option but releasing it is.

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Filed under advice, books, depression, forgiveness, insight, love, self-introspection, self-love, truth

Double-dip feelings

My sudden awareness of being emotionally abused has triggered double-dip feelings: anger and sympathy. Although I know the experience of conflicting emotions is common it doesn’t negate the fact it can be uncomfortable and exasperating. Sure, I imagine this person’s face when I hit the bags at the gym, but the part of me that has an open, bleeding heart wonders what he went through growing up to drive him to treat people the way he does. Recognizing this has beckoned some level of sympathy inside me because, well…it is sad.

When I brought this up to my counselor she indicated that feeling sympathy towards an abuser isn’t uncommon. In fact, it’s perfectly normal and okay. However, there is a fine line between feeling bad for someone and being overly compassionate towards them. My overly compassionate side is what kept me in an otherwise unhealthy relationship for years. Thankfully, that part of me has taken a back seat.

In the last few months it has been easier to digest the trauma of what I’ve gone through by focusing on me (because that’s something I can control) but now that the rose-colored glasses have been thrown to the wayside, I accurately see who this other person is. The urge to rush to forgiveness is no longer there. Instead, I only seek acceptance. In direct contradiction to my open, bleeding heart, I accept the fact that not everyone is good and that some people are just cruel.

Being comfortable with this idea (while simultaneously believing everyone has the capacity to be good) has been difficult and liberating. Difficult because compassion comes naturally, especially towards him; liberating because it holds him accountable. It is the first time I do not accept blame for his actions. It is the first time I choose not to forgive him, ever. It is the first time I realize not forgiving him does not make me a bad person.

Unbeknownst to him (and perhaps even to myself), there is a warrior inside of me fighting like mad towards the light. My anger has been a powerful tool for transformation and self-introspection. It’s allowed me to dig myself out of the deepest, darkest hole I’ve ever known. And although I found sympathy to be a frustrating emotion at first, I welcome it with open arms now because it affirms I am not blinded by rage. It reminds me that my heart is well-intentioned and good.

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Filed under counseling, depression, happiness, insight, love, self-introspection, self-love

It’s okay to not be okay

To say I have been unlucky in love would be the understatement of the century.

While I’ve certainly had some amazing moments over the years I’ve always managed to choose partners who are damaged, emotionally unavailable, and/or fit the “bad-boy” type. In fact, if you are any one of these (or better yet, all three) I will smell you from a mile away and immediately claim you as mine. “Hello, my name is Lindsay and I’m here to save you.”

You know what happens? I end up falling head over heels in love for someone who ultimately does not feel what I feel and does not want what I want. Every. Single. Time. In my desperation for love all I ever find are black holes and beautiful disasters. This should be my clue to run like hell but stubborn is my middle name and I never do. As if to prove a point, my two legs stand firmly planted where they are despite being painfully aware of how unhappy I am. This is the curse of being a people pleaser. You end up sacrificing your own happiness for what you think could be happiness. The classic line of, “If only…”

Recently, I’ve had to sit with this and try to figure out the parts of me that continue to engage in such masochistic behavior. It isn’t healthy. I’m fully aware of that. Yet, I still do it. The only explanation I can come up with is that even though it’s painful at least it’s pain I know. At the root of it, though, I know there are deeper issues I don’t yet really understand. There are these inner demons taunting me on an almost daily basis. I usually tell them to fuck off and sometimes they actually do, but other times they win out.

I wrestle with this because of the fact that I’ve lived a blessed childhood and had the best examples of loving relationships. I don’t know why I push people away when things are good or where this lack of self-esteem decided to take root and grow at alarming speeds.

I sometimes wonder if I’m just meant to always fall for people I can never have. There is a quote that says something like, “..there could be a bunch of people out there just waiting for me to find them and every single time I will repeat the same mistakes all over again.” That is really depressing to me. So I started seeing someone who could help me work through the very issues I mentioned above.

While some of you are aware of the events that transpired in my life almost three months ago, many of you only know the aftermath (i.e. my depression). I think we all seek happiness and balance and harmony in our lives. Hell, I had an entire blog dedicated to just that. But I’m coming to realize those states of being are temporary and fleeting. Just as we go through times where we feel happy, we will also go through times where we don’t feel happy.

I suppose the best advice I’ve received so far is that it’s okay to not be okay. If you are reading this and also struggling please know that you can cry and write and be open and vulnerable about your depression without being ashamed. In moments of severe hurt, you have every right to feel it deeply and you have every right to not have your shit together every second of the day. But please don’t let it debilitate you either. LG inspired me to embark on my own psychological self-examination. And even though the journey isn’t all roses and champagne, it’s the greatest gift you can give yourself.

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Filed under advice, depression, love, self-introspection, self-love