Whew, let’s talk about vulnerability and healing grief.
Several years ago I was part of a business networking group that met regularly. I enjoyed it tremendously and looked forward to these gatherings as they were productive and the people there genuinely cared about one another.
After my son Mike died, something changed. It seemed to me that I had become invisible. I felt raw, abandoned, and vulnerable. If someone asked a question pertaining to a service I offered, it seemed that someone else would respond. Not always the same person, but it was as if I wasn’t there at all.
This happened a few times and I really didn’t know what was happening. I only knew that I was confused and hurt. I spent only a very short time feeling hurt, and that emotion very quickly morphed into anger. In fact, I built up a pretty good steam of irritation and finally asked someone in the group who was also a longtime friend if we could talk.
When I explained what I was feeling she understood as she was entirely aware of the situation. It turns out she was much more aware than I was.
She quite patiently explained to me that she had noticed whenever someone would generally ask how I was, I would change the subject, turning the question right around and making it about the other person. The more specific any concern about my emotional well-being became, the more certain I was to shut it down, redirect or downplay my grief. The result was that these people I cared about and who I knew cared about me, learned not to engage me. I was pushing them away – with both hands.
As she gently shared these experiences with me, reminding me of specific conversations, I had to acknowledge that she was entirely correct. By deflecting or avoiding I was not in any way softening or healing my own pain. In fact, I was actually adding to my own suffering and hurting others at the same time. This was of course, unacceptable.
I had to really think about this and if I wanted to change things, it was entirely up to me. And fortunately, I had this brave, honest friend by my side. I’ve always had a very difficult time allowing others to see my hurts. Irritation or anger was much easier for me to acknowledge and process, but hurt? Oh my, the vulnerability that brought with it.
Here’s the thing, when I lost my son to suicide, I didn’t have a choice. The pain was deeper than anything I had ever experienced. In order to receive the support that I so desperately yearned for, in fact, needed, I had to allow myself to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge that pain. Not just to myself, but to others. I had to learn to trust people I cared about to see me when I was not stoic.
Deep breath time. If I wanted to keep the people I cared about in my life, I needed to allow them to care about me in return. Whew!
I realized in a whole new way what incredible strength it takes to allow others to see your vulnerability. To trust that they will be gentle with a broken, grieving heart. That they will see tears as shining symbols of love rather than weakness and they would honor that love.
To trust that they wouldn’t turn away from me (as I feared waaaaaay deep inside) but would instead turn in for a hug, offer a hand in support or simply be there. Just be there.
For me, trusting others to be supportive and loving and accepting that true caring was much more difficult than offering compassion and support to others.
It’s perfectly alright to be discerning about selecting what you are ready to share and with whom. Monitor those healthy boundaries and trust your intuition. It’s not healthy to share with everyone, but it’s also not helpful or healthy to hold everything inside. Pain needs to be expressed in safe, healthy ways in order to subside.
By the way, I am and always will be, deeply grateful to my gentle friend. She was entirely right and knowing this allowed me to make some changes. No, I didn’t begin to pour my heart out to everyone, but I realized I was not without power in these situations. Deciding how I would respond helped me tremendously and I was able to rebuild relationships.
I have the greatest respect for those who bravely share their heart, whether it is filled with joy or pain. They are the Way-showers.