One of my closest friends is a recovering superwoman. You know the type; supermom, super-wife, super-something. Recently I got a frantic message from her. ‘I’m so bloody fed up. I can’t do this anymore’. She broke. She had reached the point where she could no longer keep acting and living like every single aspect of her life was well orchestrated, perfectly aligned. She had a meltdown and was reduced to a crying, quivering puddle.
Coming from her it was surprising. She’s the woman a lot of women aspire to be. And she took great pride and pains to maintain the facade of perfection, stoicism, and having it all together. But she broke that Sunday. And she broke with me. She let her guard and walls down and she did it with me.
It took bravery and the willingness to be vulnerable to tell her story. We live in an age where we don’t want others to see us struggling. We don’t want to hear ‘thank God it’s not worse. You’re not the only one with problems’ or ‘quit the pity party and just get your shit together.’ And why should we when weakness, inadequacy and shame are often attached to these? We don’t like shame because shame says we are bad, we have failed or we aren’t good enough. So being open and coming clean about our problems, fears and shortcomings is often rare and refreshing.
Brene Brown, shame researcher, storyteller and social worker said the following in her book The Gifts of Imperfection:
When we are looking for compassion, we need someone who embraces us for our strengths and struggles. We need to honor our struggles by sharing it with someone who has earned the right to hear it. When we’re looking for compassion, it’s about connecting with the right person at the right time about the right issue.
Brene Brown (page 11.)
I could not agree with Brene more. Knowing and understanding this would have spared me from a series of pain, heartbreak, betrayal and confusion that resulted from sharing my stories with people who had not earned the right to hear them. It’s more than the fear of them betraying trust by repeating my story to others. It also has to do with putting yourself out there, sharing things you’d generally keep to yourself and being responded to in a less than empathetic, compassionate and understanding way.
I think we’ve all experienced this at some time. We let vulnerability reign and share our story with someone we believe in and heard if from someone else. Or we muster the courage to share our story only to hear ‘ Damn, I remember that time when I too was’ ……blah blah blah. Congrats! Your story has been hijacked by the listener and you probably won’t get a chance to finish it. Of course, there’s also the chance that you tell your story expecting an understanding smile, a hug and a cup of coffee but you instead get blaming, indifference, and no empathy.
We need to honor the vulnerability of the teller and respect the honor of being the listener. Because baring our souls to someone else is not always easy. Be mindful of that the next time a friend steels her nerves to share with you. And don’t try to fix her or the situation, either. Just listen. Listen intently, wholeheartedly and listen without trying to come up with the right answers or comebacks. Listen without interrupting. Listen in the spirit of compassion. And when she’s let it all out and you feel it could help, feel free to share your own vulnerabilities in the vein of what she may have shared. It can deepen the connection and the moment. And show empathy. It could be simple as saying ‘gosh, that must have hurt’ or ‘oh my, that must have been hard’.
When you’re braving yourself to tell your story keep in mind that it may not be well received. Choose well who you share it with. Their response can help or hurt you. When I decided to share my domestic violence story, I’d already weighed the pros and cons and on the surface the cons did outweigh. But I understood that my story was bigger than me. I wanted to raise awareness on domestic violence and put a face to it. I did not fit the ideal of a battered woman so I knew that would create a stir, get people talking and raise consciousness, if only for a time. You will decide what stories to tell and whom to share them. Carefully consider who you share your story with. And if you’re honored enough to hear someone’s story, be respectful about it.
For some of the women I work with their journals are the hearers of their story. Many of them are not brave enough or feel inclined to share with others. And that’s quite fine. The important thing is to get your story out. Trusted friend or paper, you will decide. But recognize the power that comes when we tell our stories, emptying the things we often carry within.