In my last post, I wrote about how good it can feel to be vulnerable and honest about how you’re feeling. I also talked about how that can be difficult because being vulnerable is not easy at the best of times. I challenged everyone to try it. If you did try, or are planning to, you may experience a lot more feelings than just “good”, as I alluded to last week. So, this week, I’m going to share with you some of my lessons learned from being honest and vulnerable.
Lesson 1: Some people just can’t
Each and everyone one of us grew up differently. Each of us has our own set of values, life rules and ways of looking at the world. All of these little elements create a lens and filter through which we take in information. Depending on our level of self-awareness, we may know about this lens or we may assume that the way we see things is the only way. Regardless, when you share something with someone, it is a guarantee that they will not receive it the way that you would have if you were in their shoes. Realistically, they have not lived what you have lived, and you have not lived what they have. That is the bottom line.
I suffered a severe head injury a few years ago that led to mental health issues that deeply affected the person I am. When I first started sharing some of my struggles with those around me, I was frustrated when some wouldn’t listen or tried to brush it off and change the subject. It angered me that they wouldn’t even try to ask questions, help, or understand what I was going through. But, one day, the bottom line – the obvious – finally hit me. They did not suffer a head injury. They did not feel what I was feeling. And no matter how I described it, they might not hear and filter it the way that I wanted them to.
This lesson is one of understanding. Yes, some people will brush you off when you build up the courage to be vulnerable and ask for help. And yes, it’s going to make you sad and angry. But believe in the good in people. Believe that, if they had the capacity, they would help. Take them for who they are, and thank them for listening. They don’t deserve to be in trouble for not understanding or being able to empathize with you… you never know what they are seeing and hearing, or what they are dealing with themselves. As you will learn bit by bit, they just might not be someone who you can go to for support in that moment (and that is okay!).
Lesson 2: Even if they can, everyone helps differently
This second lesson is directly related to the first. As I mentioned, everyone sees the world in a different way. This difference can be seen in someone’s opinions, actions, and their ability, willingness and approach to helping. Again, I always believe in the good in people. But, no matter how good someone is and how great of a friend they are, everyone has a different understanding of what “helping” is. Some people think the way to help is to fix. Some people think helping means showing someone how to move on and forget. Others may think helping is simply listening. Others try to help by distraction. And the list goes on. There is no “one-size-fits-all” understanding of how to help someone when they ask for it. So be patient. Seek to understand how people are trying to help and ask them for it when you need what they can give.
I have a friend who is incredible at this. She knows her friendship bench-strength, so to speak. She knows that I’m her ever-energetic cheerleader. She knows that another friend is the one who will give her tough love and tell her what she needs to hear. She knows another will always show up with a bottle of wine and something fun on the agenda. This is how it should be! We are all connected for so many different reasons, and every good relationship exists because there is fulfillment of unique needs at some level by both parties. So don’t be afraid to take stock of your friendship team and understand what you bring to each relationship as well. You’ll be able to more deeply understand who can help you when, and when you can help others most effectively.
Lesson 3: Sometimes, the feelings aren’t mutual (Warning: this one stings)
I’m going to keep this one short and sweet. Straight up, sometimes you care about someone and the feeling just isn’t mutual. Once in a while, you are going to learn that you might care about some people more than they care about you, and that is okay. It hurts, but it’s okay. It is not realistic to think that all relationships are created equal, and that those that aren’t are capable of standing the test of time. Relationships must be based on mutual care and respect in order to, 1) be fulfilling for both parties and, 2) be worth it. Now, please don’t go off and start picking apart all of the relationships that you have right now. If it feels good and you both feel fulfilled, then it’s working. This is about when something feels “off”. When you’re feeling guilty and can’t figure out why. This is when it’s worth taking the time to see the relationship for what it truly is… because you just might not be that into each other.
Lesson 4: “I would rather have four quarters than a hundred pennies”
A colleague of mine told me this quote last week and it really stuck with me. In the age of social media where everyone has tons of “friends” and “likes” and “followers”, we’re constantly opting for quantity over quality… pennies over quarters. I am not saying anything negative about social media – I LOVE IT. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love it. I think it’s incredible and useful in so many ways (such as you reading this post right now). But, the one way in which it is not useful is our understanding of relationships. Please stop looking at your Facebook “friends” as 1000 people who will help you if you show vulnerability and ask for help. Sitting down with someone you love and telling them about your struggles is not the same as posting it in your status and getting 20 likes; it just isn’t. Please, focus on the real stuff when it comes to being vulnerable in your relationships. Keep social media for what it should be – a way to be social and share media… like posting pictures of your adorable cat.
About Kathryn Christie
As an HR Consultant with a deep passion for Mental Health, Kathryn spends her days pushing paper and her nights volunteering with the Canadian Mental Health Association as a co-facilitator of the Family and Caregiver Education program. Her passion extends beyond the realm of her volunteer work which has brought her to Healthy Minds Canada to share stories, support and inspiration with her community.