“Don’t tell anyone too much.”
My mother always told me this (and admittedly still does every so often) whenever I would get “carried away” in sharing my stories with others.
She would cite various reasons for giving this small piece of advice to me, but each one held onto the idea that seems to permeate nearly every aspect of the American culture in one way or another that we should reflect positivity at all times in the way in which we speak about our lives.
I tried to listen to my mother for a long time, but the emotional and psychological impact of staying silent and pretending like nothing was ever wrong started to take its toll on me, especially as I went through some of the darkest moments of my life.
I had things inside of me that I desperately wanted to share, and continually forcing myself to keep them locked up for the sake of being too negative did nothing but leave me feeling repressed, unvalidated, and incredibly isolated. There was an irreconcilable conflict between longing to be honest and feeling obligated to keep up with appearances raging within me.
Sure, in some ways maintaining a positive attitude can be beneficial to both you and others around you, but what if there is an underlying selfish motivation driving this desire to constantly mirror positivity in our words?
Could it be that we only wish to make it seem like everything is going well in order to create a picture perfect image of our lives to display outwardly to others?
What if the desire to maintain the status quo is actually stronger than any altruistic motivation we might have for being positive?
After all, if I tell someone too much and refuse to keep the truth to myself, I run the risk of them finding out that I have problems going on in my life, I am flawed, I still have issues that I need to work on, and perhaps most importantly, that I am just a human.
But eventually I decided that I wanted to be seen as exactly that: I wanted to be seen as a real human, but maybe even more than that, I wanted to see the real humanness in others too.
The only way to do this was to stop following my mother’s advice to “not tell people too much” and try something different… to try to be vulnerable.
I made it my new mission to be as open, honest, and authentic with myself and others as I possibly could. I started to break down the walls that I had invested so much time and effort into putting up, and, step by step, I slowly began to share my stories, experiences, and struggles with others.
Contrary to my mother’s fears that I would scare people away with my emotional baggage, something quite different happened: As I opened up to others, they started opening up to me too.
The result has turned into a collection of some of the most gratifying and worthwhile experiences that I have ever had.
If I hadn’t had the courage to open up about my history of depression, it is unlikely that any of my friends would have felt comfortable sharing their own feelings of anxiety and depression with me. Without knowing about each other’s struggles, we would have never been able to receive so much support and encouragement from one another.
Maybe one of my good friends who shared that they were having suicidal thoughts with me would have even acted on those thoughts instead of seeking help from a psychologist if they didn’t have someone to validate what they were feeling without judging or shaming them.
If I had never been honest about the pain and confusion that I felt after my father was diagnosed with cancer, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to talk to so many other people who have experienced the same types of emotions.
Two of my friends who ended up in tears while sharing their own experiences with me about the pain of losing someone close to them would have more than likely just kept those tears and feelings bottled up inside of them.
If I had never shared my feelings of loneliness and isolation that are often a part of the package when you move to another country and leave your family behind, I wouldn’t have realized just how universal the feeling of loneliness really is and consequently made the effort to check in on my friends more often to make them feel a little less lonely themselves.
The list could go on and on, but all of these experiences have had one main thing in common: instead of keeping things superficial and refusing to go deeper, real connections were built on the foundation of our shared human experiences. Perhaps it might sound a bit too dark or deeply personal. Maybe it sounds too negative. But in reality, embracing vulnerability couldn’t have been a more positive experience for me.
The fact is that no one has a perfect life. Almost all of us are fighting some type of personal battle, no matter how big or small it may be. The key is whether we choose to silently fight these battles alone for the sake of maintaining appearances or take the bold step towards vulnerability in an attempt to utilize them in a way that has the potential to give others a platform to share their own stories as well and create mutual support and understanding between each other.
If it’s true that no man is an island, it is time for us to start letting vulnerability and honesty have a place in our relationships with those around us… you never know when someone might need it.