Vulnerability, Seattle Freeze, and How to get a Turtle out of a Blackberry Patch

Hey.  Are we almost friends?  Do you enjoy my company and sometimes think we should be better friends, but feel we don’t quite connect?  We probably would connect if I showed myself to you and paid more attention to who you are.  We probably would hang out if I allowed myself time.

This isn’t the Seattle Freeze, this is my struggle with vulnerability and self acceptance.

This is my armor, my turtle shell: I people please and show you who I think you want instead of who I am.  I use my empathy to anticipate your needs and keep you comfortable and attend to you instead of listening to how you feel and who you are.

You tell me you’re hungry?  I feed you wonderbread all night and say, ‘Aren’t I a good friend for feeding them’.  But there’s no nutritional value.  I didn’t ask why you were hungry, or how that need felt to you, or if you even wanted to eat something, or what you might want.  I didn’t relate to you a time when I was hungry and let you know I understood how you felt.  I hit the accelerator and tried to be the hero.  I frequently miss the chance to create a connection and dive into the deep end of placation like there was a hundred dollar bill at the bottom.

I didn’t mean to breezed past you and miss something pivotal.  Maybe you have felt I’m aloof or oblivious or uninterested.  Maybe you’ve even thought I didn’t like you, that I thought I was better than you.  It would hurt me if you’d thought that, when really I was concerned about how you felt about me.

I people-please and keep myself overly busy because I struggle with accepting that I have value on my own.

I always believed that having free time was shameful; I should always be working, practicing, doing.  More with less.  Efficency, productivity, success.  I leave myself in an empathy deficit.  If it feels like I don’t have energy for you, it’s because I don’t even have energy for me.  Because I don’t think I’m allow to give myself down time – I’m only as good as my added value.

America doesn’t make that tendency easier – where more with less is our unofficial motto.  We get less paid time off, fewer vacation days, fewer sick days, less maternity and more stress than any other developed nation.

My gender doesn’t make it easier either – I know many women who complain of trouble finding authentic female friends.  I think the struggle to be authentic is difficult for both genders, but for different reasons.

I know that I started to people-please more in puberty when suddenly my favorite activities (climbing trees, collecting frog eggs, and building forts) became unseemly, too loud, and unattractive.  When I realized it was not okay to be myself, something changed. The world was suddenly a blackberry patch, and I added more armor to my arsenal.  I suppressed my vulnerability, emotions, feminine intuition as weaknesses.

My need for outside approval out-paced my need for self approval.  I began to lose my ability to get lost for hours alone in the woods with myself – completely and blissfully unconcerned with anything else.

While I am a product of my environment and past, vulnerability is a muscle that I need to strengthen if I want to push past that barrier into deeper, authentic friendships and I deeper, more authentic relationship with myself.

A wise woman once told me, “A friend felt she needed her armor like a turtle in a blackberry patch.  I asked her, ‘What are you doing in a blackberry patch?‘”.

My blackberry patch is partly of my own creation.  I can learn to slow down and allow myself time to reconnect with myself.  I can remove toxic individuals and situations from my life as I am able.  I can restructure my attitudes and thought patterns.

I’m working on meeting every moment with true authenticity and openness.  I want to start presenting myself and what I believe with intention and time.  If I can just show up and be me truly, rejection will feel like disappointment and not like shame.  If I can really hear someone and give them empathy, a lack of connection will feel like a truth and not a failure.  If I can accept and understand who I am, I won’t need to prove my value to you – I’ll just need to show it.

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I’m waking up.  If we’re almost friends I’m about to allow myself the opportunity to be real friends with you.

Hi.  I’m Alissa.  How are you?  Really?

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