open up, dear heart: on being vulnerable, the fears and joys
One night, less than a year and a half ago, I laid in bed on the phone to a friend, trying to balance my side of the conversation while resisting the pull of sleep. We’d had many calls like this, hours lasting beyond midnight. Our conversations flowed, naturally switching between topics with ease. I remember telling him that one night: ‘I’ve never really liked opening up completely. It makes me feel so.. naked.’
I have always been a rather private person, preferring to hold my feelings close than baring them all. Don’t share too much, don’t let anyone too close. My girl group in high school was led by a very toxic individual. I cannot deny that she wasn’t without her own insecurities but she preyed on ours, manipulated us at will, treated us as if we were disposable. At the time, it sadly became my ‘normal.’ I never truly realised the full extent of her parasitic influence until I was able to completely extricate myself from her. But looking back, deep down, some part of me wanted to protect myself.
I had no problem when it came to discussing my thoughts and opinions on certain topics. However, when it came to personal things, I was guarded. Then I started university and met two wonderful people who would become close friends. Kind, genuine characters. With the first, we clicked right away with our sarcasm and easy banter. We got to know each other and something inside me changed, opened up a little. I will always cherish the memory of us trekking up Calton Hill at night, sitting side by side on the National Monument, talking about anything with the city lit up before us.
And with the second friend, it took us about a year before we became remotely close. That’s when the real change happened as I offered up more trust little by little. Small steps, maybe, but larger steps than I’d ever taken before. I had never met someone quite like this, who I felt so finely in tune with. This level of connection I never even knew I yearned for so hungrily. And I felt so completely comfortable, not only free to be myself, but unafraid. It was oddly liberating. I always thought that revealing my inner world, in turn making me vulnerable, would be the scariest thing I could put myself through. But when I built that trust with this friend, when my heart told me to take a leap of faith, it felt like the right thing to do. And it was. Remember the friend I mentioned at the start? This is him. We’ve been together for over 15 months now.
That was only the beginning. Gradually, I reached out to a couple of other friends, those who I realised I could trust. And I opened up, tentative at first, starting with what I felt comfortable with and then pushing this ever so slightly. I never rushed, only sharing as much as I wanted, always at my own pace. Was it scary? Yes, of course, putting yourself out there – feelings and all – it’s not easy. At least not for me. But what I hadn’t realised before, what I failed to see because I was so afraid of being hurt, was that I would get so, so much out of it. It brought me closer to the people around me, deepened our understanding of each other and blossomed our relationships.
It even helped when I finally saw a counsellor. Before then, I always thought counselling wouldn’t help, that a stranger couldn’t possibly understand anything about me. But when things came to a head and I couldn’t put it off any longer, I applied for counselling and promised myself I would be as honest as possible. I needed to tell her everything in order to heal. And I did, I poured my heart out in our first session together. It was overwhelmingly relieving, so much so that I ended up crying. Scary? Yes. But rewarding all the same.
Building trust and opening up isn’t a process that happens overnight. It takes time and is different for everyone. It could be weeks, months or even years and that’s okay. We do what we feel is best for us. I used to bottle everything up inside me, tight to my chest, and I didn’t make words of them and bring them out of me. The right people hadn’t come along yet but once I found them, they also made me realise that maybe I already had other people around me who I could trust too. I suppose what I’m getting at is that in the past, some people may have hurt me and made me feel invalid but that doesn’t mean everyone will, nor should I close my doors to all. Taking that risk, that leap of faith – I don’t regret it at all and I am certainly a happier person because of it, with meaningful connections I so hope will continue to grow and grow.
And you, dear reader, please do share your thoughts on opening up if you are comfortable doing so. How does it make you feel?