I have spent a great deal of time hiding. I hide myself in various ways. Sometimes I disappear into a crowd by retreating inside of my mind. I find comfort in my thoughts that feel so loud. Sometimes I forget others cannot hear them.
Other times, I vanish by blending in. I dress in ways that are expected of me; not too loud or colorful. I hide my insecurities under layers. No one can see me inside of this dress. I hide behind makeup. Sometimes, I add an additional mask by hiding behind the camera. Another layer gets added on with a filter on Instagram. I hide myself once more with a generic caption and fun emojis.
Can you see me now?
I distinctly remember, standing in a crowded cafeteria as a college student for an internship project that forced me to be seen. I was interacting with people but it was part of my job. It was just another mask I put on. Today, I am social because it is what is expected of me.
Another student turned to me and said, “You know, people are interested in you, they just don’t know you.”
I stood there silently and just smiled at him in response. I did not know how to be known.
I am terrified of being known.
The truth is vulnerability shakes me to the core. At times, I have made the choice to live an isolated and mediocre existence because it was just too hard to want more. I will not introduce myself to that person across the bar who is making eye-contact with me. Maybe they are just staring at something behind me. I will not go after that thing that terrifies me but excites me at the same time. If I do not want anything, I cannot be disappointed. If I do not try, I cannot fail.
This narrative is not working for me anymore.
I have started to realize that I was conditioned to keep my opinions to myself. I was raised to hide my needs from the world and I internalized this so deeply; I hid them from myself as well. I do not ask others for what I need and therefore, I cannot be helped.
You see, I have created a life of safety. I will never be disappointed. But I am never satisfied, either.
I have become so isolated and afraid of rejection, failure and vulnerability that I have forgotten how to be loved. I have forgotten how to share my voice with the world. I have forgotten how to ask for what I need.
Slowly, I am turning this narrative around. It started really small. It started with little statements to people I love.
“I did not like when you did that,” I tell them how it made me feel and ask them to do it differently next time.
It was terrifying. Except, it was also liberating. The people who loved me, understood. They apologized for the way I was feeling and consented to the new boundary I set. The relationship grew from the communication. Things did not fall apart because I communicated my feelings and needs.
I started setting boundaries with everyone. Some people did not like the boundaries. The truth is, people who benefit from our lack of boundaries, will always resist our growth. I have learned to recognize that other people’s reactions to my boundaries are not my problem. My boundaries grew firmer and more rigid as a result.
My boundaries are no longer a wall I build around myself for protection from love. My boundaries are a set of guidelines, which teach people how to love me. They also teach me who is worthy of my love and commitment. Boundaries are a two-way street.
I have learned that I am not alone. The more comfortable with vulnerability I have become, the more I find my true friends respond with a quiet, “me too.”
It terrifies me to write these feelings on paper. I know there will be people reading this who think, “I had no idea she felt this way.”
Of course, they will. I have been in hiding. I have played various roles to fit the character suited to the scene. At work, I am professional and wise. When I teach yoga, I am spiritual and open-minded. With my friends, I am athletic, creative, and free-spirited.
The funny thing is, everyone would describe me as deeply authentic. That is not to say, I never show up. There are moments throughout every day where I arrive with my whole being but the vast majority of the time; I am not my integrated, authentic self.
I am learning to show up. First and foremost, I show up for myself. I have started listening to the dreams I have ignored. The little tug at my sleeve, like a needy child. The little strings on my heart, being plucked by tiny fingers. The girl I was as a child; free-spirited, introspective, and wise, still exists deep inside. She knows my dreams and reminds me that grown-ups do not always know the answers.
I am unlearning my conditioning. As a woman, especially, I have been conditioned to hide. What if I speak up and no one listens? I will speak louder. What if I express my needs and they are not respected? I will sever that bond. What if I share how I feel and I am laughed at? It does not diminish my feelings, they are still valid.
I love myself enough to show up. I believe in myself strong enough to know that my vulnerabilities, insecurities, and self-doubt are not a reflection of my worth. They are simply manifestations of what yogis and psychologists call “The Shadow Self.” This simply means, the parts of ourselves that have not yet been illuminated by light.
This is how the light gets in.
By sharing our vulnerabilities, fears and insecurities with the world; we witness them externalized. We see them reflected in the hearts, scars and shadows of others. Regardless of the other person’s reaction to our shadow selves, we learn something new every time we share. A little bit of light enters the darkness, even if we are the ones doing the illuminating.
I have spent a great deal of my life in hiding. The problem is, absorbed in my own shadows, I could not see the light. I am learning how to show up. I am learning that by offering my shadow to be witnessed by another; we both gain a little deeper understanding of ourselves.
It is absolutely terrifying to be witnessed. We are wide open with arms outstretched to the heavens and a sign that says, “Here I am, go ahead and project all our insecurities, doubts and shame onto me.”
People who have not explored their own shadow will derive a great deal of pleasure from projecting their pain onto your vulnerabilities. However, if we surround ourselves with others, whose arms are wide and hearts are open, we experience true freedom in love, life and connection to others.
I believe it is worth the risk.