Tag Archives: relationships

The Drama Triangle

Do you ever meet someone and feel it in your bones they will play a profound role in your life? You don’t know how or why but you know this fact to be true and you find yourself stubbornly devoted to making all those fantasies you dreamed up a reality.

With time you realize his/her presence in your life did, in fact, fundamentally alter your soul in a way very few people in this world do. But for many of us, the role we envisioned that person playing in our lives doesn’t pan out in the way we initially dreamed. This realization provides opportunity for self-reflection and self-introspection. What was their purpose in my life? What did I learn about myself?

And this is what I want to write about today. I’ve tried talking to the one friend I feel would get me on this subject but they always seem too busy so today, dear ones, I am going to talk to you because when I look back at two important people in my life – one from my past and one from my present – I see something in myself that I don’t particularly like.

For nearly four years I was trapped in a state of emotional confusion with a man I thought I would marry but as much as I was a victim of his emotional and mental abuse I begrudgingly admit I emotionally and mentally abused him as well. This realization doesn’t paint me in a particularly good light but that is how it was between us. I would become entangled in the role of Victim while he took on the role of Persecutor. Then we would trade positions. We were constantly fluctuating between acting helpless and lashing out at one another. It was as if we had a vested interest in keeping the dysfunctional game going because if we really did end it and truly allowed our souls to heal then who else would we play with?

I once again find myself trapped in another state of emotional confusion with a good friend but not in the same emotionally volatile and violent way I felt trapped before. The first time I met this person I felt immediately comfortable in his presence, like I did not have to hide behind this facade I had built up. I could be honest, even about the fucked up, dark, and scary things inside me and there was no fear, no judgment, no misunderstanding. Only compassion and kindness and big ears to go along with his big head. But timing is everything and as it turns out the fairy tale ending I dreamed up is not my reality. Respecting and nurturing our friendship is made more complicated by a deeper emotional and physical connection and I find myself floating between the roles of Victim and Rescuer while he floats between Victim and Persecutor (at least from my standpoint).

I described these sorts of habitual, emotionally dysfunctional relationships in a previous post but given the circumstances of my life at that moment in time my comprehension and interpretation of the concept (known as the Drama Triangle) was rather one-sided. So I’ll try again.

You can gather from above that the three roles in the Drama Triangle are: Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer. The Victim is the person who is always suffering; the Persecutor is the person who is inflicting the suffering on the Victim; and the Rescuer is the one who tries to step in and save the day.

We all fall into one of these roles (Hello, everyone! My name is Lindsay and I’m a professional Victim) but inevitably we end up switching roles with the people who are trapped in the Drama Triangle with us. The Victim builds resentment at having been mistreated so they lash out and become the Persecutor and the Rescuer becomes the Victim when they feel victimized or, if they feel manipulated by the person they are trying to rescue, they become the Persecutor. So basically the Drama Triangle sucks.

Being enmeshed in this never-ending cycle of doom is evidence of my obsession with misery and torment. My participation in these dysfunctional relationships is an act of self-violence that I have mistaken for heroism and martyrdom. But where is the heroism in abdicating responsibility for my own happiness and misery? Where is the heroism in giving myself over and over until I feel so completely drained that I have nothing left to give? Where is the heroism in the depression and the grief and the emptiness I seem to burrow inside? And where is the heroism in my willingness to burn at the stake time and time again out of an absurd sense of loyalty.

There is none.

Because I crave love and affection so intensely, I continually seek out these moments of pain and suffering and more often than not they are self-inflicted. I think I even like playing the role of Victim, which is REALLY hard to admit because that definitely doesn’t paint me in a pretty light. It’s sick and twisted, I know. But as some people are held prisoner to their addiction to drugs and alcohol, I seem to be held prisoner to my own suffering. This is how addiction works. And that is the part of me I do not like.

Two important people in my life have awakened my soul. This is the role they have played and will continue to play in my life. It didn’t pan out in the way I had hoped but they brought me closer to myself.

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Mutual respect or shared values?

I just spent a week and a half in Ireland (I promise a post is forthcoming) and it reminded me that what I love most about traveling is the people I meet along the way and the conversations we have. One conversation in particular has stuck with me since returning home, when on a bus traveling north to the Antrim Coast I sat next to a 24 year-old Romanian. We talked about family, why we were traveling, how hilarious it was to watch Trump in the GOP debates, and inevitably our conversations turned to relationships (just like they always do no matter where you go).

What I particularly loved about this part of our conversation is that his questions were thought provoking. Usually I just get the “Do you have a boyfriend?” to which I respond “No” followed by “Well, why not?” and “How old are you again?” I remind them I am 27 and they balk “Better get a move on it, honey.” I hate these conversations. So, much to my chagrin, I was relieved when he asked me, “Which is more important – mutual respect for your partner or having shared values?”

To be sure I understood what he meant I asked him what his definition of mutual respect and values were. They matched my own; mutual respect being that we appreciate how our values, beliefs, and the way we live our lives may differ from someone we care about and want to be with. We don’t try to change our partners because we love them perfectly as they are no matter how different they may be from us.

Values, on the other hand, are the fundamental beliefs we hold about life and the world. They guide the choices we make in our life, from what we do in our free time to the career we choose to the religion we practice (or choose not to practice) to sex and everything in between.

So which is more important to me? Well, I suppose if I had to choose one or the other it would be shared values. Why? The simple answer is because shared values can coexist with mutual respect while mutual respect will unlikely lead to shared values.

We form our beliefs at a young age and they rarely change over time. Or, if they do, they don’t change all that much. That isn’t to say there can’t be differences in interests or the way we perceive the world, but at the end of the day, if you and your partner don’t share similar values it’s unlikely the relationship will be successful in the long-term.

When I reflect on my past relationships I see how differences in our core values were often the root cause of some of the ongoing frustrations I had with my significant other. I respected and appreciated our differences because it meant we were both being authentic to our wants, desires, and expectations in life and the world. However, in my experiences, the core values which guided those differences were so disparaging it was a constant struggle to find common ground.

Take my last relationship, for instance. Something just didn’t feel ‘right’ in my gut. It was an inner feeling I had almost from the beginning of our nearly 4 year relationship, yet I went along with it anyways. We had similar interests, of course, but I observed over time the fundamental differences in our values. For example, because he had two children, I was able to see how he parented and though he was an exceptional Dad, I often disagreed with his choices. Not to say he was wrong in how he chose to raise his kids, just that it was different from how I would raise mine, which surely would be a point of contention if we were to get married and have kids of our own.

When it came to religion, he was a devout Catholic. His relationship with God was a priority in his life and though I also grew up Catholic and frequently attended church with him, I knew my relationship with Him would never quite measure up to his own. Moreover, I didn’t want to send my kids to Catholic school and that, absolutely, was where his kids would go, no question.

When it came to our careers, I worked to live. He lived to work. It was an ongoing argument between the two of us because I wanted to spend quality time together and for our relationship to be a priority in his life. Of course, there were more differences than just those I listed here (like the fact I’m a Libertarian and he is extremely Conservative), but the point is that because of the fundamental differences in our values, I was always uncomfortable and unhappy.

When I was recently asked what the longest amount of time I spent in a depressive episode was, I thought back to this period of my life and, sadly, I believe it was the 4 years I spent with him. In hindsight, I see how I tried to change my values to align with his and along the way I lost who I was. This is the stage I am at in life right now. Wondering how much of who I am is because of him and how much is authentically me. The silver lining is that I gained a deeper understanding of myself, although that didn’t necessarily happen until after the break up.

I certainly don’t believe my values have to perfectly align with my partner’s. I just believe that the most important ones should. The longevity of a relationship is tested during those big life-altering decisions we have to make and if compatibility doesn’t extend beyond shared interests, mutual respect, and passion, we will never be in tune with one another.

I’m curious what other people think. Do you agree? Disagree?

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Filed under dating, insight, relationships, self-introspection, travel, values

The absurdity of friends with benefits

B is a good friend and co-worker of mine. We walk every day during our work breaks and more often than not we spend our 15 minutes making obscene jokes and coming up with absurd “life is like” metaphors. For example, “Life is like a bump in the road. Everything is going fine and then BAM! And you’re freaking the fuck out, but really it’s nothing.” On a rare occasion, though, we actually have insightful and thought-provoking conversations and today was one of those days when I read an article about how awesome friends with benefits relationships are and it pissed me the fuck off. So thank you, B, for listening to my rant this morning and for challenging me to examine my own beliefs about the subject. Here it is, folks.

Friends with benefits – aka FWB – is not black and white. It occupies a gray area that extends beyond casual sex, yet lacks the explicit commitment of monogamy in a long-term, serious relationship.

A common misconception about FWB relationships is that it is usually with someone you barely know. In reality, though, the likelihood that this person is someone we know fairly well and with whom we share some level of emotional intimacy is high. It is not impossible to find success in a FWB relationship but it does require a separation between love and sex, which for many of us can be hard to sustain.

I don’t know what it is about us as a species that sharing our bodies with another person evokes a sense of ownership over them but undoubtedly most of us will experience a sense of jealousy when we see our FWB flirting and talking with other people or if we see someone else pursuing them. Yet, we also don’t feel like we have the “right” to be jealous given the sense of casualness and detachment a FWB relationship implies.

When we fully realize the other person isn’t bothered by us being with someone else and in fact may even encourage it, we can’t help but feel like they don’t care. Though s/he may try to convince you it doesn’t change the way they feel towards you or that you share something special together, their lackadaisical attitude makes us question if we are just a muse – a “placeholder” until something better comes along.

What is even more aggravating is the set of rules we must abide by. Do not fall in love. Do not introduce them to your friends or family. Be sure to go out with other people. Do not get jealous. Do not cuddle.

This is the absurdity of friends with benefits. We are human beings. We are not devoid of emotional attachments. Part of our attraction to someone is not just their appearance but their brains and their heart and their soul. They hold some sort of significance in our lives. It is foolish to think otherwise.

We can argue that any amount of genuine feelings for another human being is worth any future pain and disappointment we may feel but the only thing I see at the end of a friends with benefits relationship is hurt and the fact that I would inevitably resent and possibly even hate the other person.

Plus, that sort of arrangement – when one person starts to develop deeper feelings for the other – only serves to fuel our sense of inadequacy. What is it about me that makes me not good enough? Why doesn’t the person I am falling for find it worthy of their time to actually be with me? Am I that unlovable?

You are good enough. You are worthy. You are lovable. But if there is one absolute when it comes to relationships, it’s that no one will ever love you because you demand it. It must be given of their own free will.

We can justify sacrificing our desire for something more for the fun we are having now, but ask yourself if that fun is worth the emotional fallout in the end. If you have been in a friends with benefits relationship and found it unfulfilling after a certain period of time, did you not know in your gut that continuing that arrangement was the wrong thing to do?

I’ve asked myself if it is possible for the friendship to still be in tact even after the “benefits” are over. Depending on who you ask, some may say yes and others will say it is unrealistic. I don’t think either answer is wrong and I myself am not entirely sure where I stand on the subject. But I do know that we all deserve love and if the person you are falling for tells you they cannot – or do not want to – offer you what you ultimately desire, believe them. But do not fault them for that either.

From personal experience, I know it is difficult to change the circumstances of a friends with benefits relationship in order to preserve the actual friendship but be brave enough to do it anyways. In the end, really good friends who have sex – while it sounds ideal – is a lonely place to be.

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Filed under dating, friends, insight, love, relationships, sex

Too damaged to love?

It is difficult to look at someone who seemingly has it all on the outside and imagine they are damaged and broken on the inside. These are the people who expertly hide their realities; the ones who quietly suffer from life experiences of abandonment and disappointment from the most important relationships in their lives.

I find myself seeking these people out. I suppose it is because I find an odd beauty in something that seems so wrecked. Perhaps that is because I see a mirror image of myself in them.

I know that I am screwed up and that I am damaged and broken from past relationships. Someone shattered my heart to pieces. My spirit was destroyed. There was a fundamental shift in my soul. After that experience I never thought I could open my heart to another. I was perfectly content to walk this earth alone. So when I met someone I found myself sharing a deep connection with it completely caught me off guard.

Sometimes, the emotions are so intense I feel the internal struggle of wanting to build an impenetrable wall and surrendering myself to genuine love. It is difficult to ask myself to be open to the possibility of loving someone again. It is even more difficult to ask another individual who is equally (or perhaps more so) damaged and broken to let themselves love me.

When we reach that point in a relationship, there are a myriad of thoughts running through our minds. If I couldn’t make it with the last person I dated, then who can I make it with? Am I the right person for them? Am I the right person for anyone? I know I will never be able to give them what they want and I never want to be the cause of hurt or disappointment in their lives.

It is unfortunate that we let our past experiences dictate the value we believe we can bring to a relationship. We do not desire to hurt someone else or disappoint them but that is an impossible expectation. No matter how hard we try to be the perfect version of ourselves we are bound to disappoint. Will we fail in our attempts at love? It’s possible, sure. Even likely. But if you continue to doubt your ability to be in a successful relationship and to give it your best effort you will never succeed.

I believe people come in and out of our lives at the right times. Whether it is to teach us something about ourselves or for us to help them heal. We cannot predict how it will turn out in the end. I know for me, though, that the relationship I am building now is exactly what I need at this moment in time, even if it is just to show me that I am capable of loving again.

The lesson I have learned in all this is that we are all damaged. There is not a human on this earth who has not hurt or has not felt pain. We don’t hurt in the same way, of course. I look at myself and the people I have met in my life. Some of the traumas they have experienced in their lives are hard to fathom. It is understandable why they feel broken. Why they feel like their presence in someone else’s life can only bring sorrow and disappointment. The danger, though, is in letting it dictate our future and in letting it close ourselves off to the possibility of finding a forever with someone. The only thing it really does is give us the permission we need to stay single.

We are given one life to live and if we can experience a minute of genuine, pure love – the kind of love without any expectation of something in return – then it is worth any amount of pain we may feel in the future.

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Filed under lessons learned, love, relationships, vulnerability

Dating organically

Have you ever found it challenging to let relationships evolve organically? It’s something I’ve struggled with recently and I think that is perhaps because of my prior relationship experience – when I spent nearly four years with someone only to never have them fully commit to me. Moving forward with my life, I’ve found that is something I’m not willing to compromise on. For anyone I date, my expectation is that both of us communicate what we want and are respectful of each other’s feelings. Somehow, though, I’ve come to equate feeling safe and secure in a relationship with a requirement that the other person profess a level of commitment to me early on instead of letting the relationship progress naturally. But I ask myself this: what is wrong with reveling in the status of your relationship exactly as it is? What is wrong with taking things slow? What is wrong with nurturing the connection you feel to this other person? Nothing Lindsay. Nothing at all. And perhaps that is exactly what you need to be focusing on right now – bonding, understanding each other (particularly your differences), and learning to communicate openly and without judgement. Aren’t these necessary qualities for any relationship to be successful in the long run?

I think this is a concept everyone, at some point, has probably struggled with. Particularly people in my generation because of the pervasive “hook up” culture we operate in, which gives us the permission to not commit and easily walk away. To combat that, we push and push and we try to force a pledge to one another before either of us, truthfully, are ready to take that next step. Men do this but I think women do it more.

If anything, I’m learning that letting love flow naturally is not the same thing as being passive. It doesn’t mean compromising your wants, values, and expectations/intentions. In fact, it requires reflection and self-awareness. In those moments of reflection, especially in recent weeks, I’ve realized how I react and the things I do have contributed to my disappointments and kept me from the love I desired.

In particular, I’m talking about assumptions and control. When the person you are dating says or does something to cause you to doubt or question the status of your relationship, it is easy to add your own meaning to his/her words and actions. You interpret those situations as what you think is going on instead of what is actually happening. I know for me this is likely due to all those fears I hold, of being vulnerable and open about my feelings.

And, when it comes to control, when we are uncertain about the future and what it holds we try to force things to happen in the manner in which we hope it will turn out in the end. But the more we try to force something and the more we try to control what is happening, the more things don’t work out exactly as we planned. I think this urge to control is often because of a lack of trust, even when that person has given us no reason not to trust them. For most of us, this is probably shaped by negative or traumatic experiences we’ve had in the past. But remember that who you are dating now is not the same person you used to date. You have to stop assuming (there’s that word again) they are. People do terrible, awful things all the time. And yes, there are bad people out there. But there are also a lot of good people. Nothing will happen if you don’t give the other person a chance to show you that.

In the end, falling in love will happen organically. It arises out of friendship. So be present and enjoy each other’s company. Everything will turn out exactly as it is supposed to.

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Filed under dating, expectations, love, relationships, self-awareness

Dating with a mental illness

I’ve always reveled in the euphoria and excitement that comes with dating someone new but since stepping back into the dating world after my mental breakdown, that excitement feels short-lived. Instead, I find myself worrying. When is the right time to tell someone I have bipolar II disorder? How will they react? What if they don’t want anything to do with me anymore?

When I share these worries with friends and family most will say that when it comes to timing I’ll just know and that I shouldn’t put any pressure on myself to share that part of my life with someone I’ve just met. I think the trouble for me, though, is that because I publicly write about mental health and what I’ve been through, it’s a topic of conversation that has to come up a lot sooner than it would if I didn’t write about it or if I wasn’t actively involved in Madison’s NAMI community. If I’m developing feelings for someone and can clearly see they are developing feelings for me, I would rather them hear about my experience from my own word of mouth than to read about it in an article or on one of my social media sites.

For the most part, I haven’t had to think too much about this mainly because the series of first dates I’ve been on haven’t piqued my interest enough to want to go on a second one. Though I always give honest answers when asked about my life, what I’m passionate about, and what I do in my spare time, my answers are succinct and fairly vague. So when my third date with a guy I recently met turned into a fourth and a fifth, I started freaking out. Shit started getting real!

With him, I’ve put forth a lot of effort into hiding the more public aspect of my life (I won’t even be Facebook friends with him!) in large part because of my fear of rejection. It hasn’t even been a year since my diagnosis and though writing about it is a means of me processing my experiences and fighting the stigma that comes with having a mental illness, I still carry with me a lot of insecurities and self-doubt. Getting back into the dating world almost seems to exacerbate that as I constantly worry about being judged and question who would want to take on some of the darker parts of me.

I had just reached the conclusion there was no good time to tell this guy about my mental health diagnosis when I found out that my proposal to implement a pilot program (a writing workshop for youth at juvenile institutions who have mental health issues) was approved. The day I found out happened to be a day we were having lunch. Joy was beaming out of every crevice of my body and talking about my project with him opened the door for a deeper conversation about mental health issues and why I’m so passionate about the subject.

As my family and friends predicted, you do know when the right time to tell someone is and I had reached that particular moment with him. With a wavering voice and shaky hands, I embraced vulnerability and told him I had bipolar II disorder. I also told him why I had been scared to tell him. I waited for the raised eyebrow, awkward silence, and ‘check please’ reaction but instead I got a, “That wouldn’t keep me away from you in a million years.” Those words almost brought me to tears because they erased every ounce of fear and worry I had been carrying on my shoulders.

Though dating in general is hard it can be even trickier for those living with a mental illness. The things I question and worry about now are immensely different from what I used to think about before being diagnosed. I have spent so much time building this moment up in my head, only ever envisioning a doomsday scenario. In reality, I found the big “reveal” wasn’t as scary as I made it out to be. I credit that to the type of person this guy is – kind, compassionate and understanding, to say the least. I know that not everyone I meet or date in the future will measure up to those standards but I am thankful to at least had a good first experience.

For those of you out there who are also juggling dating with a mental illness – what have your experiences been like?

 

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Filed under bipolar II, dating, mental illness, rejection, relationships, vulnerability

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