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!

WHY DID THE VULNERABLE CHOOSE YOU?

According to the Clinical Social Worker and American Researcher Dr. Casandra Brene Brown,

What we know matters BUT WHO WE ARE matters more.”

Being a people person naturally many people get the ease to open up themselves and have shown their vulnerability. All most all the time, those sensitive conversations opening line is, “I TRUST YOU”, at times they say verbally and at the other time, I found it in their hypersensitive tones. Well, does it make me feel encouraged? Yes, but alongside I always felt more responsible and had always uttered a silent prayer – “God, help me not to break this man’s trust?

At the end of every conversation, their thank you note starts with the line “thank you very much for listening to my story” or some of them say, “sorry, I took so much of your time”. Does it mean did I favour them? No, rather giving all ear to their stories has always made me feel favoured by them since there might many like me yet they chose to tap me.    

A vulnerable person always shows their love in their vulnerability

Primarily, it is the honesty that we look in love. Vulnerability also looks for honesty. Years back, I was invited to speak at a three days conference and I was accommodated at my ushering family’s place. One evening one of the daughters-in-law of the family opened up and shared with me her story of being abused by her husband. Even she requested me to counsel her husband. But I denied her with reason.I was worried if I counsel her husband, there might be a chaotic situation happening after my leaving, even to the greater and possible extent her husband might doubt her character since she disclosed her marital relationship secrets to a completely new person to him. And lo, in her response to the reason for my denial, she confirmed my fear. She said, “Brother, you are right! Exactly this happened a couple of years back. I asked one mentor person to counsel my husband and it turned worse experience. Since the person was new to my husband, it hurt the sentiments of my husband and after the mentor person leaving, I was verbally abused and was thrashed by my husband.”

As they have shown their love in their vulnerability,

you show them honesty and wisdom in your whereof.  

Are you worried I left her to suffer? Sadly, and practically, yes to the near future because since then she didn’t have any human to whom her husband can listen and repent. I have certain limits to help her. But to her goodness, I did refer her a greater Guiding Light, who is Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omnipresent – God. Out of many of my personal experiences, I suggested her for endurance instead of giving up her marital vow and take things into prayer, seeking God to intervene in her situation because somewhat that she was lacking in her life. From an Atheist point of view, I might sound like a slacker. But being a theist, undoubtedly that is the greatest possible reference where a vulnerable can take refuge and strength. Since Jesus promised,

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

UNDERSTANDING VULNERABILITY

If you’ve ever played the game ‘TRUTH or DARE’, you can well imagine how caught up it feels to be between the devil and the deep blue sea! Those less daring ones who choose TRUTH are often tested with questions that make them vulnerable. That momentary jostle within – to speak up the truth or settle for a half-truth or lie altogether – can be quite unsettling for some people.

In this blog post, I won’t go into the reasons why people hesitate to be vulnerable. Rather, I’ll talk about when and why do people make themselves vulnerable and how their vulnerability needs to be handled.

WHEN AND WHY DO PEOPLE MAKE THEMSELVES VULNERABLE?

Vulnerability is the pathway to intimacy. When we share our hearts out with someone, there develops a sense of bonding with that person. However, this heart-connection cultivates when one is naturally vulnerable. Making oneself vulnerable is a conscious decision. Forced/ simulated vulnerability create insecurity and discomfort. That is why most of the Truth-tellers in the game TRUTH or DARE report discomfiture.

THE WHENS

  1. People make themselves vulnerable when they trust. The trust might have been developed over the years (i.e., a familiar person) or might be instant (i.e., a stranger). A husband is vulnerable before his wife when he opens up about his infidelity. A passenger on a railway platform on a dark night might be vulnerable when s/he asks a stranger for a lift home.
  2. People make themselves vulnerable when they face crises. Making oneself vulnerable is one of the survival mechanisms of the human brain. No matter how introverted a person may be, crises are natural forces to make him/ her open up and seek help.
  3. People make themselves vulnerable when they are happy. A person winning a hefty sum in a lottery makes himself vulnerable when he shares his happiness with his family, friends, neighbours and acquaintances.
  4. People make themselves vulnerable when they are in dilemma. To do or not to do, this way or that – when the mind gets clouded with such thoughts, one makes the self vulnerable.
  5. People make themselves vulnerable when they feel to. Natural vulnerability is largely intentional. And so, there are certain people who make themselves vulnerable at all times irrespective of circumstances.
  6. People make themselves vulnerable in love. A person’s best guarded secrets are often with the people s/he loves. It may be a parent, a friend, a sibling, a spouse, a child or a romantic interest.  

THE WHYS

  1. Genetic predisposition – There are some people who are prone to making themselves more vulnerable than others by virtue of their genetic endowment.
  2. Venting pent up emotions – Unspoken words stifle the mind. Making oneself vulnerable helps unclutter the mind. A victim of abuse makes himself/ herself vulnerable by sharing his/ her emotions to a friend or Counsellor or social activist.
  3. Seeking suggestions/ advice – Often making oneself vulnerable is all about seeking suggestions/ advice. For instance, a lone explorer in a foreign land makes himself/ herself vulnerable by sharing with the localites that s/he is a lone explorer from another land while seeking directions to tourist spots, currency exchange counters or hotels.
  4. Socialization – Being vulnerable comes easily to gregarious people. They do not build walls around them and are adept at handling the consequences of their vulnerability.

Vulnerability researcher Brene Brown says, “Vulnerability is about having the courage to show up and be seen.”

HANDLING VULNERABILITY

When someone makes himself or herself vulnerable before us, how do we handle it?

  1. Keep the trust – Most people make themselves vulnerable before those whom they trust. Hence, confidentiality is an unspoken clause that accompanies vulnerability. Gossip and spreading tales leads to breach of trust and might compel the vulnerable person never to express vulnerability before others.
  2. No blackmailing – Taking advantage of vulnerable persons victimizes them. Just because a person expresses his/ her vulnerability gives no right to the confidant to intimidate, threaten or victimize the vulnerable person for emotional or financial gains.
  3. Respect personal space – Though respecting personal space applies to all relationships, it is crucial when a personal is vulnerable before you. A foot in the door need not mean forceful entry indoors.
  4. No scathing criticisms – Criticisms taken and given in the right spirit build up the self-esteem and shape the personality of people. When a person makes himself or herself vulnerable, the least that is expected is scathing criticism to be heaped upon him or her. Vulnerability gives no license to criticism.
  5. Don’t judge – Judging vulnerable people often does more harm than help. It makes a gregarious person recoil, a happy person question happiness and a victim question self.
  6. Help or connect to a helper – Be a keen observer to notice if the vulnerable person needs help beyond being just vulnerable. Act smart and connect to professional helpers.  
  7. Don’t feel jealous – A person who is being vulnerable before you might also make himself or herself vulnerable before certain others – either because s/he is too open or because there is a desperate need to vent out. Hence, it is unwise to expect that you are the sole respite for the person.

Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness. Internalization of thoughts, emotions and feelings might prove detrimental in the long run when a person resorts to repress them. To be agents of healing for people around, the art and science of being effective handlers of vulnerability needs to be mastered. If you feel you are a person who can handle vulnerability, create the ambience. Don’t impose vulnerability. Forced vulnerability is hedonistic! 

I WON’T JUDGE YOU – IT’S A PROMISE

He was a colleague of mine and now a friend, thanks to the messenger services we are still in touch with each other after 12 years of acquaintance. We share common interest for writing. I share my blogs with him and vice versa and so is the case with mutual appreciation and encouragement.

One day during such casual chat about our lives, common hobby, national politics to office politics, weather and current affairs he opened up his heart to me. He was going through a lean patch in his marriage. And the issue that he mentioned was something I never imagined any of my male friend would ever discuss so clearly with me. Even now when I am writing here I am in two minds whether I shall discuss or not but the only thing that prompted me to go ahead with this story is “we all are mature adults”.

In his words – I don’t know whom shall I confide into and I don’t know if I am doing right or wrong by bringing up this topic with you. But since you are woman, you might understand well another woman. I can’t discuss with my male friends because knowing them well I know they will make fun of my dilemmas. The thing is I love my wife very much but unable to understand her sexual fantasies. It seems it is on her mind all the time. It is too overwhelming for me. I always believed marriage isn’t about just sex. Even if I want to just have a good time talking and knowing about her she simply have a different definition of lone time. I try to be a good partner in every sense she wants me to be but things are becoming overbearing. If things continue like this I am afraid I have to part ways and lose her which I don’t want. Do you think I shall go for counseling?

I had to be patient. One thing was quite clear from his situation and hesitation – we as a society still has many taboo subjects that we don’t want to or can’t talk about without a smirk on face or being judgmental. That was the exact reason my friend had been feeling insecure and going through a phase of mental pressure.

What I offered as an advice: I appreciate your idea of marriage and also the fact that you chose to open up yourself. See a woman also have sexual preferences and fantasies as much as a man have. But everything must have a limit. Just as she is vocal about what she wants you have the same right to be eloquent about how you feel about your relationship. Counseling is definitely an option but it’s more about both of you being open to the very idea of working it out. Patience is the key here. No marriage is perfect as people are not flawless but at the end of the day it is all about their willingness to age together. Don’t worry first talk to her, I am sure she will understand. Give it a try.

He thanked me and promised me to take the initiative of making his marriage work. Few days later when we were chatting I asked how things were at his end l. He responded “relatively better, we are taking things slow. Thanks for being understanding and not judging me. You are really a god sent friend to me”. I was overwhelmed and really happy that things were slowly moving in a better direction for them.

I strongly believe in one thing – as a friend the least I could do to help anyone is to listen to them as being heard out takes off a lot from the sufferers, isn’t it?