Disconnected!

This post is about noticing disconnect and encouraging vulnerability.  By “disconnected”, I am referring to a situation in which our perception of ourselves is very different from how others see us.

But before I get into those subjects, I want to reflect a bit on the effects of my last post.  It took me a few days to recover from that post.  I am so happy I wrote it, and I am aware of how my body and mind reacted to the effort.   It makes more me sensitive and empathetic to my clients and others I know who are trying to make change and grow.  It can be scary and hard, that’s for sure.   It can play out in aches and pains (a stiff neck and achy hips for me) and constant barrages of negative thinking from our inner critic (aka “gremlin” or “voice of judgment”), that voice inside our head which really wants us to stay the same and not grow.     I needed to manage my energy after that experience which did deplete me emotionally at the time.    By contrast, writing the post fuelled my human spirit energy – it made me feel more connected to others and to something bigger than I am.   I also felt proud for being more courageous than usual,  which is something I value for myself and admire in others.   This is another aspect of human spirit energy – acting in a way that is aligned with a deeply-held value.

So that all being said,  I think it’s time to move on to the core subjects of this blog post.  All this reflecting about my food story years ago made me remember an anecdote that I think really helps emphasize this idea of being disconnected.  My wise high school classmate Joanne aptly expressed disconnect in her comment on my last post: “You never know what is going on at home”.

This is the anecdote I want to share with you to illustrate disconnect .  One day during the time in my early high school years when I was dealing with bulimia (see my previous post for the background),  I received a letter in the mail; the mail arrived after school and I was the only one home.  I was excited; I could see it was from one of the boys at school.  However, I became shocked and so upset when I read the contents.  It was hate mail from a group of boys who I thought were my friends.  They lambasted me for being too skinny (of all things!).   Specifically,  the boys accused me of  being “wind woman”, of being so skinny I could be blown away by the wind.    And here I thought I was too fat; I was obsessed by my “fat” thighs.   What a disconnect between my perception of myself and what others saw!   I never showed the letter to anyone and ripped it up and threw it away immediately.  But the way I felt upon receiving that letter is still pretty darn clear to me.   I felt a deep sense of shame:  because of who I was, I had caused people to think and write those things.  I also felt angry.   Was it because I was good at math and was a keen student who liked to answer questions in class?  Was I trying to shine too brightly and needed to be knocked down a few pegs?  Today, I know that there were many issues swirling around, many of which I was not a part of, for the boys who wrote that letter.  They were likely having a hard time adjusting to high school too.  And, as I reflect on it now, they may have done me a favour in helping me realize that my perception of my body was completely out of line with how others saw me – that disconnect.  (By the way, in its extreme this can be body dysmorphic disorder.)

I chose that story because it is such a blatant example of the disconnect.  More often, I think it is harder to put your finger on it.  One way or another, I think we feel uncomfortable when that disconnect exists.  I know from my coach training, and now from experience with many clients, that the path to feeling the sense of belonging and connection with others that we all crave as human beings is through greater transparency –  when our “outside” slides into closer alignment with our “inside”.    We can start to feel comfortable in our own skin, more often and in more roles we play personally and professionally.    To get to that place requires vulnerability and an unmasking of sorts.

So, how do we begin to unmask ourselves and be a bit vulnerable to begin to slide into alignment and rid ourselves of disconnect?      Let’s turn to Brené Brown for help.  True vulnerability, as Brené explains, is:”uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure”. And “vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.”   Brene also debunks a number of the “myths of vulnerability” including the “I don’t do vulnerability” myth.  She warns that if we don’t “do vulnerability, it does us”.

When we pretend that we can avoid vulnerability we engage in behaviours that are often inconsistent with who we want to be.  Experiencing vulnerability isn’t a choice – the only choice we have is how we’re going to respond when we are confronted with uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.   As a huge fan of the band Rush, this seems like the perfect place to throw in a quote from their song “Freewill”:  “If you choose not to decide, you will still have made a choice.”  (p. 45 in Daring Greatly.)

So, we can pay a high price for thinking we can avoid vulnerability;  we may be not be behaving in a way that reflects who we want to be.   We must instead try choose how we are going to be vulnerable and that requires courage.    Some reading I did for my book club last month can help us gain some  more insight here too.   We were reading The Rules of Civility“, by Amor Towles, about a young woman on her own in New York City in 1938.   This quote  from p.3 struck a strong chord with me since I was composing these posts at the time:

Anyone who has ridden the subway twice a day to earn their bread knows how it goes:  When you board, you exhibit the same persona you use with your colleagues and acquaintances.  You’ve carried it through the turnstile and past the sliding doors, so that your fellow pssengers can tell who you are – cocky or cautious, amorous or indifferent, loaded or on the dole.  But you find yourself a seat and the train gets under way; it comes to one station and then another; people get off and others get on.  And under the influence of the cradlelike rocking of the train, your carefully crafted persona begins to slip away.   The super-ego dissolves as your mind begins to wander aimlessly over your cares and dreams; or better yet, it drifts into an ambient hypnosis, where even cares and dreams recede and the peaceful silence of the cosmos pervades.
It happens to all of us.  It’s just a question of how many stops it takes.  Two for some.  Three for others. Sixty-eighth Street.  Fifty-ninth.  Fifty-first. Grand Central.  What a relief it was, those few minutes with our guard let down and our gaze inexact, finding the one true solace that human isolation allows.

I think that this quote hints at where we can start being vulnerable and more courageous: with ourselves.  We can unmask with ourselves and have an honest conversation with ourselves about what is going on for us, what’s important to us and why….in a journal, perhaps (you may know I am a huge proponent of journaling).   Having an opportunity to be alone to reflect is so important!  Through such reflection, we can get an idea of how we may be disconnected, and how we might realign our carefully crafted persona with what is actually inside us.   Wearing a mask all the time, maintaining that carefully crafted persona, can be exhausting, can’t it?    Imagine how much energy we would have left for other parts of our lives if we weren’t working on keeping our mask in place all the time.

Once we have been vulnerable and honest with ourselves, maybe it will be easier to be vulnerable with someone else, and that disconnect will begin to be a thing of the past.  What do you think?

Here are some other questions to ponder…

– Who have you chosen to be vulnerable with?  What has that been like for you?
– When do you wear a mask that you would like to take off?
– As you begin your rounds of holiday parties, ask yourself what parts of you you want to take into those parties and why? In other words, set your intention about how you want to be at those events.
– How do you reconcile being the professional, the expert in your field, with also being vulnerable?

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Photo credit: Turinboy / Foter / CC BY

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