When 12-year old Srestha* walked into my Counselling room, she had a stubborn demeanor. She refused to open up. She had been referred by her teacher for a few Counselling sessions owing to certain behavior issues. However, the girl’s deliberate attempt to bottle herself up, made things difficult for me. It was only when I told her in straight words, that her deliberate decision to remain obstinate wasn’t helping either of us, that she revealed her mother having told her not to cooperate with the Counsellor. Reason – ‘I don’t have any mental disorders!’ The girl continued to be referred for Counselling sessions for the next five years. Though I did succeed to get a breakthrough, it was a bit late, I would say. Erroneous preconceived notions are big barriers to vulnerability in professional set-ups.
‘Females won’t understand the stress we men undergo each day. The only thing they do is whine and crib about a whole lot of things all the time.’ This statement came from 38-year old Sunil*, a father of three boys. His long absences for supposed business trips were impacting the mental health of his wife and sons. Yet this man was under the impression that as long as he was providing for his family, they need not complain. He refused to open up and sort things out. Much later, my co-counsellor (being a male), succeeded getting through to him. Gender is often a barrier to vulnerability.
Vivek* is a 47-year old man with Mood disorders. Though he has made a mess out of his family life, he refuses to admit that there is anything wrong with him. Consequently, he and his family continue to struggle. Denial is an obstacle to vulnerability.
Ritu* turned up late to work every day. Her boss often reprimanded her as being lazy. Her colleagues knew that she wasn’t lazy. In fact, she was quite hard working. But, they were unable to know why she turned up late to work. She refused to open up. She was reluctant to make herself the topic of grapevine gossip.
23-year old Seema* kept her story of child abuse hidden deep down her heart for ten years, before opening up. Possibility of social stigma kept her from being vulnerable.
When 39-year old Susi* shared her ordeal about her husband seldom giving her a hearing ear about herself, I asked her if she has tried talking to her mother-in-law about it (some sons listen better to their mommies, even after marriage). She had. Only to be told by her mother-in-law that she has to learn to adjust and that that’s what good wives do. As a result, Susi* shut herself up. Role stereotypes are often obstacles to showing up.
25-year old Romil* had been battling with depression for long. He didn’t speak much with others. Fear of being judged and labeled was of course there, but he also didn’t want to be a mere storyteller entertaining others. He wanted workable solutions. Till he was sure that a person would really help him without simply being amused by his battles, he closed himself in a box. Lack of perceived genuineness is a barrier to vulnerability.
There are enough reasons why we all bottle up. The list above is an addition from my experience to all that has been written through the week.
At times, it is simply because a person is an introvert by nature, that s/he chooses not to show up. We may face such barriers that stifle our vulnerability. Yet, let us not be hindrances for others to open up and be themselves!
*Names are changed to preserve anonymity.