“Give up being perfect, for being authentic. Don’t be perfectionist, because authenticity is possible. Accept yourself as you are. Be who you are. Others will too.” ~Hal Elrod
I’m not perfect. This should not surprise anyone who is familiar with me. But, sometimes I feel like I’m being pushed to portray myself as somebody who can do it all. Because of my role as coach and facilitator, I feel this way a lot. How about you? Do you ever feel like you’re putting on a show for others?
As I attempt to portray a well-dressed person, I become less confident in my own self. It’s a big part of what took me off social media a few years ago.
I don’t like that social media has the ability to mold what you think about yourself by way of comparison and encourage posturing. It’s a slippery slope, as we’re hardwired to yearn for love and connection as part of our survival. For me, it didn’t feel like the kinda place I wanted my love and connection to come from.
Having the ability to talk about our flaws, what’s going wrong in our lives and where we’re getting stuck, is a huge part of human evolution that we often forget about. If we don’t have an environment to talk about our vulnerabilities, the wounds never get a chance to heal.
Before getting into therapy, my life was a bloody mess because I pretended like these wounds didn’t exist.
I don’t remember a period in my life without depression. As a teenager, it was always there.
My belief was that the world would be a better place without me. I felt worthless—like I shouldn’t even have a seat at the table with other humans. It was wrong for me to be in an alley, eating food scraps with the sewer rats. The shadow ridiculed me for dreaming about a better tomorrow, no matter how much I tried. I was unable to deal with these thoughts and the disease spread to every area of my life.
My childhood was in the nineties when mental health wasn’t discussed. Your struggle was silent.
High school was a battleground for me. After finishing eleventh grade, I was done. I couldn’t stand the thought of spending another day being somewhere that made my life hell—but really, hell was inside me.
My head was a constant roaring place. Each day, it felt like the Vikings invaded my mind and tried to end my existence. If you could see, those thoughts left scars similar to battle wounds from lobbed-off arms.
A voice in my head reminded me of the fact that I would not do anything to make my parents proud. Because I was not expected to do anything, it was much easier to just be me. I didn’t feel stupid if I didn’t try, so it made my reality an easier pill to swallow.
My life changed dramatically after I finished high school. My love for being black-out drunk on Sailor Jerry rum became the perfect way to cope with a chaotic mind I didn’t understand.
It all comes down to the fact that open wounds should not be treated. Everything that I refused to accept continues.
I had next to no insight into what I was going through because I wasn’t willing to share that I was struggling.
At the time, my problems took on the weight of the world because I didn’t let people stand by my side to support me. My relationships burned like a fire. Because I was so far from being in a real relationship, I didn’t know how to have an open and mutually beneficial relationship.
After therapy made my wounds more visible, the infection was stopped from affecting my ability to function and think. My life was saved by vulnerability. I have no doubt that if I didn’t get that support, I would not be here today.
Our survival is dependent on our vulnerability. Brad Stulberg discusses these issues in his book. Groundedness: The Practice. He writes, “Our ancestors who survived weren’t those who were the strongest by traditional measures, but those who were most effectively able to share their weaknesses with one another and work together to overcome them.”
If I didn’t share what I’ve been through, would you still be reading this? It is unlikely. That would only be another fluff article about accepting vulnerability.
There is no connection or love without openness.
Without openness, you and I wouldn’t be sharing this moment.
Without openness, you and I can’t heal and grow together.
The idea of being vulnerable scares the sh*t out of most of us. We don’t want to be seen as weak, or have to admit our flaws. We’re afraid that the lions of the world will sense our weaknesses and pick us off one by one.
Except I’ve never actually been mauled by a wild animal when I’ve asked for help, or taken responsibility for a mistake. It’s actually had the opposite effect. Through my writing and vulnerability, I’ve connected with people on every continent of earth.
It becomes impossible for me to pretend my vulnerabilities are mine alone if people from all over the world have said I’ve captured what they’re struggling with.
Stulberg cites research from The University of Mannheim in Germany to support this idea.
He writes, “They repeatedly found that the individual doing the sharing felt that their vulnerability would be perceived as weak, as a negative. However, the person listening to the conversation felt exactly the opposite. The more vulnerable the speaker was, they saw him or her as more courageous. The listener viewed vulnerability as an unambiguously positive trait.”
Many of us still feel trapped, I believe. We’re so damn wrapped up in worrying about what others will think of us when we open up that we miss the chance to connect.
When we feel we need to be perfect, it becomes impossible to grow because we’re not being honest with ourselves about how we’re struggling and what would help. My life couldn’t move forward if I refused to see the reality that partying, substance abuse, and pleasure chasing was an attempt to escape depression.
When you choose the illusion of perfection over vulnerability, you become a stunted version of who you’re capable of becoming.
The first place you get to take the armor off is when you’re staring at the reflection you see in the mirror.
Is it possible to share your vulnerability with someone staring at you?
Do you feel comfortable letting the truth be known that things are not as you expected?
Will you be willing to forgive yourself and let others judge you in order to get the help that you need?
All of us want to see changes. But are we ready to take the steps that will bring about those changes?
These questions have the potential to shake the core of your foundation free from all the bullsh*t that accumulates over the years. It’s bloody liberating to let go of stories that no longer serve you—stories about who you need to be and what you need to Do or have in order to be happy and loved.
I didn’t need to achieve a promotion or drive a sports car to receive love from my parents. I didn’t have to do To show the world I care, anything is possible. To be my true self, I had to accept myself as imperfect and vulnerable.
Pretending to be somebody you’re not is exhausting work. It does exactly the opposite of what it is supposed to. The opposite of vulnerability is true. It gives you the ability to lead, connect and grow. A lack of vulnerability means you end up feeling disconnected, a fraud, forever stuck with a fragile version of what you’re capable of because your ego is afraid of getting hurt.
Putting a name to what you’re facing puts the power back in your hands. So recognize that you too may be pretending to be perfect to avoid admitting you’re struggling and feeling vulnerable. The single choice you make to admit your vulnerability can be the greatest decision of all. It could give you the courage to face any challenge and overcome it.
Chris Wilson is bipolar and creative, with an eye for personal improvement. His passions include minimalism and productivity. Simplify your Why is where he shares his experiences with type II bipolar disorder, depression and entrepreneurship. A free course was created by him for those who want to live a simpler, happier and more productive life with less stress. You can access it by clicking here
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