VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – II

Who is this guy, Shekhar Chandra?” 

What look is he talking about?

I look different! When have I met him earlier?” 

He is from Lojigarh. That’s what Arvind has said“, said Shaloween aloud. 

Shaloween jogged her memory really hard to childhood days, neighborhood, school friends, college friends, tuition friends, friends of friends, siblings of friends – but this name Shekhar Chandra was just not ringing any bells. 

She hopped into the bean bag in her balcony with a mug of cold coffee still staring at the message from him.

She dialed her mom’s number. After a little bit of chit chat with her mom, she asked her mom if she knew anybody by the name of Shekhar Chandra. Her mom thought for a while but replied in negative. 

No, I don’t think so. But you know when you were in Class XII and we stayed in that rented house in Shastri Nagar for a while, there were a lot of families that we never interacted with. Never got a chance, we were so busy building our own home and you obviously had your board papers. What a bookworm you were, always so sincere. I hope you don’t work through day and night now at least. These are the days to have fun and you know what all I used to do….

Ok mom. I really need to hang up now. Have to eat my dinner” said Shaloween in a hurry. 

Oh, it is already 10:30 pm. When will you eat? You need to take care of yourself naa. Ok, go eat quickly”, said mom in her typical motherly style. 

Shaloween hung up. Hunger was really far from her and so was sleep. She had to find out the next day who this guy is and why would he send such a mysterious message that makes absolutely no sense. 

Maybe she would call up her brother too tomorrow. Now, it would be too late in the night for him. 

Her brother was in South Korea since last couple of years, working for a Korean phone company. He was minting really good money but had somehow lost touch with her. She had a very deep connection with her brother – Mohit. But since he got married and moved to Korea, it has been really difficult to keep up that connection. Although she knows that whenever he would visit her, they would still talk about things through the night. That sibling connection is never really lost. 

Sleep still far from her, she thought of hunting this guy on social media. She searched Facebook and Instagram, found his profile. But there was hardly any info about him. Just a few pictures with some random cars, none with the family. She had to admit that he was indeed a very handsome guy and he looked quite well to do in his lifestyle. She had no mutual friends with him. It looked like he hardly used social media platforms. 

She downloaded Shekhar’s profile picture and sent it to her brother with caption – “Do you know this guy by any chance? He is Shekhar Chandra from Lojigarh

Finally, her eyes started to get heavy and she decided to end the day. Tomorrow she would observe Shekhar for any other weird behaviors and if required would confront him directly. This hide and seek game is not her cup of tea, she would rather have direct answers to her countless questions. 

VULNERABILITY GONE WRONG – I

It was one of the usual days at work for 33-year old Shaloween. A dedicated workaholic, she was engrossed in scrutinizing the pile of files before her on yet another hot May day. With not many performance parameters in public workspaces, she always felt her work to be less challenging. She was a go-getter and an eager learner with a hunger for achieving a lot. But, she had adapted to the work culture and had decided to give her best even if her work went unnoticed and unacknowledged.

A knock at the door made her look up from the files. The door opened. It was Rama, the office peon.

“Madam . . . Sir wants you in his chamber. Some higher officials have come to supervise the earthquake restoration works. Sir wants you there”, said Rama.

“I’m coming”, said Shaloween. She put her pen down, closed the files after carefully marking them with post-its and got up from her seat.

“Come Shalu”, said her superior officer Arvind Sikdar as she entered his chamber. How she hated it when someone shortened her name! But, by now everyone in the office referred to her as ‘Shalu Madam’. So, she had stopped correcting them.

Shaloween greeted the three men in the room and seated herself in a chair to which her superior gestured. She presumed from the appearance of the two other men in the room that they were probably the higher officials that Rama had referred to. They seemed to be in their mid-fifties. No introductions were made by anyone. Either it was assumed that each one in the room would be knowing the other’s rank and position, or it didn’t matter much to anyone. She set to work as Arvind Sikdar kept directing her, with the other men interjecting in between with their suggestions and proposals.

“So, Shalu where are you from?”, asked one of the officers after almost two hours had passed away. “Sir, Shalu is from Lojigarh – the same city as you belong to”, replied Arvind to Shekhar Chandra before Shaloween could answer. Shaloween nodded with a smile.

It was busy day with not much conversation beyond work in Arvind Sikdar’s chamber. Shekhar Chandra had given a few assignments for Shaloween to work on. The other officer, Ankur Mahem was passively present all through. Work dragged on till late evening, when all four of them got up to call it a day.

Exhausted from the day’s work, Shaloween skipped dinner that night and just threw herself on the bed and drifted off to sleep as soon as she had freshened up. She woke up around 3:30 A.M. and was unable to go back to sleep again.

“I might as well have an early start today. There’s anyway much to do at work. Boss should get a good name before the visiting officers. I need to perform well. They have entrusted so much responsibility on my shoulders. Probably, these senior officers would recognize my work too!”, thought Shaloween to herself as she sat up on her bed in the wee hours of the morning.

She reached office before anyone else did and started off where she had left the previous day. She called for some of her subordinates after a while and delegated certain tasks to them. After an hour, Shekhar Chandra and Ankur Mahem reached and assessed the work that they had assigned the day before. Shekhar seemed pleased with Shaloween’s work, much to her delight.

“Mr. Arvind, I am a good observer. In these two days, I have noticed that of all your staff here, Shalu is extremely sincere. As you know, a dedicated worker is often entrusted with more responsibilities. You could make use of officer Shalu’s dedication for many more works”, said Shekhar Chandra in the midst of all the work. It was a light moment, as both Shaloween and Arvind Sikdar smiled in acknowledgement.

Lunch break was just a formality. With a mountain load of work in front of her and a desire to make a mark with her competence, Shaloween took just fifteen minutes off to quickly gobble up some food and stretch her arms and legs a bit. She was back to her working desk in Arvind Sikdar’s chamber before the others could come in.

“We need the report on the number of casualties in an hour, Shalu. Start working on it immediately. Gather all the information and compile it”, said Arvind Sikdar as he entered the room after a while.

“Sir, I have been collecting information on this and we don’t have any casualties in our region as of now. I am yet to get information from three other sources, after which we can compile the data”, replied Shaloween. By then, Shekhar Chandra and Ankur Mahem had come in and gave Shaloween some indices to work on.

Soon it was evening and Shaloween excused herself out of Arvind Sikdar’s chamber to supervise the tasks that she had entrusted to some of her subordinates. After a while, her mobile beeped and she found a message from Shekhar Chandra –

“You look so different in office . . . for a moment I thought it is someone else.”

She was taken aback! Momentarily distracted, she was unable to comprehend what to reply.

WHY DO WE BOTTLE UP?

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.

PERFECTION + UNPREDICTABILITY = MAYHEM

** Names are hidden for confidentiality purpose.

As I am writing this my mind is clouded by many doubts and questions to which my heart is seeking an answer. Can self deemed perfection and unpredictability of a person’s nature restrain another person and force to go into a shell?

Its a story of a couple whom I know closely, husband and wife to be precise. Let’s name them X (husband) and Y (wife). X deemed himself to be too perfect. He plans his day meticulously. His life follows a set pattern like that of a flow chart in his office presentations. On the other hand Y was messy and easy going. Going with the flow was her mantra. She tripped, doing mistakes here and there but she never hesitated to reveal herself before him. She tried day in and day out to have a faultless day but never tried to hide her mistakes – trivial or otherwise but unintended ones nevertheless. And everytime she opened up herself he would go haywire, hurled abuses in the fit of rage, sometimes apologized yet some remain unaddressed. “It was a mistake, I will set it right, it’s not as serious as you made it out to be” none of those words would pacify his angst in those moments of swirling emotions leaving her tensed and questioning herself “should I stop confessing anything to him”

If this self proclaimed perfection isn’t enough to spoil the atmosphere the unpredictability of his nature that induced more shocks than surprises for her now started to scare her. One day he would surprise her with a beautiful dress and the other day all hell will break loose as she bought a ketchup bottle that she forgot to include in the weekly grocery list and that costed few cents extra than the regular one. And here goes again a big lecture on how he is toiling day and night to accumulate enough for the family and she will be in her mind “dude how much fortune you will make with 50p?”. Sometimes he would get along well and sometimes he would barely apply any common sense to assess the simplest words said and riding high on his egos would unnecessarily complicate the entire episode to sulk for an entire weekend.

She dared to confront him about his unusual behaviour and flaring rage. In his defence he said ” my only flaw is an uncontrollable anger and my idea of love is to provide a secured life to you”. She as it is imbedded in her nature took the defense in a positive stride but is being practical means being insensitive ? Does providing only suffice for a healthy relationship? And don’t the urge of being accepted the way one is necessarily give rise to the duty of doing the same? These questions always hover around in her mind.

She was always proud of herself that she seldom lied but years of taunts and unexpected bouts of extreme reactions over silly things like food served late by five minutes made her either remain silent or say a convenient lie just to scoot away the tense situation at home. And slowly she grew indifferent to his affection and raised walls of secrecy around her. Her feelings rarely finding an outlet – happiness and especially sorrow. She made sure he is aloof from what’s going on in her mind and heart. Be it a physical pain or emotional turmoil, she was slowly drawing herself in a castle which guarded her vulnerabilities from him.

Today I am not writing to offer any advice. Rather I have a questions that needs an answers:

  • They say communicate to solve the issues but what if speaking only getting difficult where every word is misunderstood?
  • Is pursuit of perfection a flaw in itself as it makes the person in question rigid?
  • How to ascertain the flow of tide when the person is unpredictable?
  • Is the other person wrong in suppressing his or her vulnerabilities in such a entangled scenario?
  • If yes then what’s the way out?

Please do care to answer, someone needs a solution to their ongoing agony.

WHEN THE RISK TAKES THE VULNERABLE ON RIDE

Every time I think to show up my vulnerability, I get confused about finding the right person to open up to. If I am allowed to draw the picture it would be,

Walking in my dark dingy tunnel, I screamed for a help

but in the profound silence of the tunnel

all I could hear my own scream screaming me back.

In order to get rid of the pain, as I kept walking ahead

I saw a light shining at the end of the tunnel

asking me to keep walking since there is someone out there

to hold my hands and lead to my unknown.”

The honesty of vulnerability is showing interest to seek help from outside. In my vulnerability I always look up for help from 4 kind of people –

  1. A CONFIDANTE: Venting out your inner aches is always referred to as the initial pipeline for healing. Someone primarily shows up his/her vulnerability to a person with whom one shares a secret or private matter, trusting them not to repeat it to others. It helps the vulnerable to find the relaxation of his inner wounds.
  2. AN EMPATHIZER: The prime reason a victim always finds himself in loneliness is that there is none to relate to his pain. The touch of someone who can understand or be sensitive to another’s feelings or ideas makes the vulnerable feel safe and important.
  3. A PROPONENT: Vulnerable is often lonely, victimized, and morally low they open up their vulnerability so that there would be a voice among many to advocate their case. Make them guilt-free and rescue their selfhood.
  4. A PATHFINDER: The vulnerable’ whereabouts is always at stake. They are confused about where to go from there. For a person to tread to a better version of life is always necessary. Their vulnerability tells they ask the person of experiential relevance to hold their hand and lead them ahead.  

BUT ALAS…

In my search of them, a voice from my past experience had always instructed – it is wise enough to get a background check of the person to whom I will show my vulnerability. Well, if I am asked to give a reason for my behavior. Honestly, it would be “the risk factor that is involved”. The risk of

  1. Being EXPOSED: How can a man measure the intent of another man? While outsourcing our project we are always concerned about the secrecy of our project information. Often, we sarcastically quote some of our outsourcing partner office’ as “Public Square”, we share them some information and the other day it becomes the talk of the town. That’s why the Bible warns, “A gossip goes around telling secrets, so don’t hang around with chatterers”
  2. Being RIDICULED: It won’t be wrong to say, we live in the most technologically connected age yet we always feel disconnected. Research says, “On social media, people mostly feel more disconnected even though they have hundreds of friends and followers on their channel.” It happens because “a 6 always looks like a 9 from the opposite end and a 9 always looks like a 6 from the opposite end”. This means we often connect with the vulnerable with a personal perception in mind. To become a perfect empathizer the Bible recommends, “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other. For encouraging and building each other is Godly work.”
  3. Being CRITICISED: Criticism always seems negative because of its use on the fallacy of context. Often, the talk is not WHO RAPED HER but WHY THAT PARTICULAR GIRL IS WAS RAPED, definitely, she wears shorts and has allured the man. The fear of being outcasted, criticized, and becoming a public disgrace has always squared the vulnerable exactly when he decides to open up his vulnerability to someone. Whereas the Bible teaches, “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
  4. Being TAKEN FOR A RIDE: Human heart is extremely deceitful and is beyond measure. Probably, that’s why his world is framed with I, ME, & MINE. He gave him the power of attorney to lead the organization in his absence but when the owner return, he found the servant has built his own organization. The risk of being taken for a ride has always pulled me back from being vulnerable. The Bible counsels, “Take the pain to do what is right both in the eyes of the LORD and in the eyes of man.”     

Time and again when these risks involved in being vulnerable takes me on a ride, with sorrow I warn myself the quote of the Australian Singer Nicholas Edward Cave –

“If you’re gonna dine with them, cannibals,

Sooner or later, darling, you’re gonna get eaten…”

WHAT STOPS ME FROM BEING VULNERABLE?

What stops me from being vulnerable?

Lots of things stop me from being open enough to somebody that I am vulnerable to. I am a very open person, quite an extrovert but when it comes to sharing my sorrows or my deepest regrets in life – I really choose people. That way my inner circle of people that I really am myself is quite limited. Not everybody in my inner circle will know all about my life. If there is something hurting me about one of my friends, I would probably open up about it to one of the common friends (in my inner circle) instead of my husband or my sisters. So, of course, situations are different and so are people who I can trust at a particular point of my life. 

There are times when I stop myself from sharing even if I am getting bitten inside. And mostly the reasons are – 

  • Fear of judgment – Even though people in my inner circle mean my good, they can tend to judge me or my situation differently. Sometimes all I want is for somebody to listen. Sometimes the feeling of guilt, regret is so strong that I feel like talking to a stranger – pour my heart out because even if that person judges me, it won’t impact me because s/he is a stranger. 
  • Getting advise – This is usually from older people who really care for me. Whatever situation I am in, they would want to advise me about it. The reason that I share might not be to get a solution, mostly I just want a listening ear who acknowledges what I am feeling is not wrong. And if I would need a solution, I would ask for it.
  • Invalidating my feelings – Invariably there are quite a few people who would respond by saying “Oh, you shouldn’t be feeling upset about this.” This is not right. Nobody’s experience can be wrong. If I feel upset, I feel upset. There is nothing right or wrong about it. It is just a feeling that I am acknowledging and wanting closure for. 
  • Getting worried about me – This is one of the reasons that parents are usually the last people to know about their own kids vulnerabilities. Parents are always the worried lot, the moment you get a baby in your uterus or your partner’s uterus, the journey of being worried takes off. Parents need to accept that their child is going to be a human being with his/her own set of failures and if you get too worried about him/her. S/he would end up closing down on you. 

I have faced each of the situations above. I would have loved to share those but that would bring out my vulnerabilities on the open platform. 

Though I would like to share a situation from a book that I recently read – “Maybe You should talk to someone”. It is a story of a therapist who is herself going through a difficult situation in her life. And while she tries to find answers to life through her own therapy and the therapy of her clients, the stories unfold beautifully. Each story with its own lesson about life. 

One of this therapist’s client (Julie) is a terminally ill cancer patient and she is trying to come to terms with her limited time left on this planet (which is hardly a few months). Julie’s organs are failing her and she is constantly in pain. She says that she hates it when people know about her cancer and make a comment that’s artificial – Be strong, don’t lose hope, we are there with you, don’t be scared etc. 

What she was going through cannot be understood by anybody else who is blessed with good health. She told her therapist that she just wants people to be honest about their feelings. To say something cliché like this only makes it look more and more artificial. When somebody genuinely looks into her eyes with fear and loss, she knows that they are true. When somebody just hugs her tight without saying a word, she knows that they are really going to miss her. When somebody just whispers – “Oh Julie, I don’t want to say”, she knows that they really don’t have words to say to her. 

This is true for all of our lives too. When somebody is vulnerable to you, just be genuine. If you do not what would be the right thing to say – just accept how you feel and tell them you do not know how to react. Don’t makeup things because you want to sound right. When a person shares something deep with you, s/he is quite sensitive to your reaction. If you make up things, the person would know for sure. 

Be genuine. Be honest. And be nice.

MY VULNERABILITIES ARE MY STEPPING STONES

Do you remember when you were a kid and your parents/elders forced you to dance or sing or do mimicry when there were guests at home? Yeah, our parents have a habit of bragging about their children and what they can do. And as always you were unwilling to display your talents in front of outsiders. But as soon as they leave, you start singing or dancing. “Yeah yeah, when you are asked you don’t show anything but now you show it“, that’s the usual dialogue we used to hear from our elders/parents, taunting us. This is a generic event which must have happened in everyone’s life, I guess. It had happened in my life too!

It is the fear of being judged or being shamed or laughed at that often make us unwilling to perform what we are good at. I have seen someone who sings so well and can sing in front of a big congregation but unwilling to sing in a close gathering. The reason is same.

The feeling of being shamed or judged have always dragged us back and have become the biggest blockages to our vulnerability. Our vulnerability is not our weakness but it is our way of exposing ourselves to others even when we are uncertain of their reactions.

When I was looking into my life and was assessing how I have been carrying myself through till now, I found, I dealt with my vulnerabilities so poorly in the first phase of my life. But in the later part of my life, till now, I used my vulnerabilities as my stepping stones to climb up. The feeling of shame and being laughed at, had jeopardized my mental health when I was young. I lacked confidence. But when I came to Kolkata, I learned how to be vulnerable and accept the reactions of people. Now, when I see or hear the reactions of people, I don’t feel anything, in fact, I can easily predict who and how someone can react in a certain way when I am exposed. I enjoy it now, unlike the way I felt in the past.

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

Brené Brown

I loved the second part of the quote where Brown states, “Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” I practically lived with all my vulnerabilities and now I see a quote from a psychologist confirming that what I did was right.

HOW DID I MANAGE TO LIFT UP THE BARRIERS OF SHAME OR BEING LAUGHED AT?

I recall, due to my physical inability I was merely a kind of spectator all through the years till I came to Kolkata. I never found a platform to get exposed. But once I sat in front of a screen and saw the humongous web world, I realised this is where I would love to be exposed. And it became easier for me to open up and talk about my vulnerability. And once I presented my case, voiced out who I am, handled my vulnerabilities with boldness, the feeling of being laughed at and shamed were wiped away from my heart and mind.

You know what? When I came out of the virtual world to the real or physical world, I looked and felt stronger than before. I was more confident.

When Aparna met me face to face for the first time, she made a statement which confirmed what I said above. She said, “Dad, you seem more stronger like this than on virtual platform“. That statement was such a mental booster that I can’t explain in words.

On Television, I have seen how a counselling care group functions. The counselor doesn’t sit separately or in a different chair but he or she sits alongside the people who usually come for counseling. And the counselor invites all to open up and share their hearts without compelling them even a single time. The counselor himself/herself starts with her/his life and then the most confident among all starts afterwards. Some people don’t speak at all for days but when they feel confident and comfortable they open their mouths. This is a western scenario, I wish or hope we have such facilities in India too.

Friends, are you worried about those many obstacles that make it hard for you to be vulnerable? Is it the feeling of shame or the uncertain reactions of people or the fear of being an odd man out or the gendered expectations or being considered weak that stop you to open up and be vulnerable? Use them as your stepping stones as I did. Prayerfully, try to understand yourself first. Secondly, identify the barriers to your vulnerabilities. Thirdly, try to figure out the easiest ways to tackle these barriers. Soon, you will find yourself at the point of being vulnerable easily in your daily life.

Stay Blessed!