Being vulnerable is something that has been placed in society’s narrow box of characteristics that are ‘negative’. It’s seen as being weak, as being as element of femininity that needs to be hidden, pushed down, bridged over. So many of us are pushing through, braving it, trying to act strong in order not to be walked over or taken advantaged of. Vulnerability is weakness. Those who are weak cannot stand on their own two feet, make decisions or lead. This perception is so strong from the truth. In fact, I don’t believe people know what vulnerability is.
I used to think that only the strong-minded, the strong-willed and the independent could make something of themselves, be respected, and be successful. I created this big personality, one that bordered confident and intimidation. My voice wasn’t afraid to be controversial or stand up for myself, but only on issues or topics external to my life. If someone brought up something that was going on in my life, or had an emotional or physical affect on me, I felt sick to my stomach and started to sweat. I’ve learned recently that this voice wasn’t my authentic voice. It was a way of bypassing of my true voice. It was voice that protected me. My knowledge, confidence and ability to articulate that kept me safe.
While I’ve been learning slowly about our voices, our truth and our authenticity, nothing hit home like this weekend at the Rise Sister Rise workshop. Rebecca asked us to pair up and one partner was to ask their partner a question, and their partner was to answer. Usually however, once they have answered the question, they were repeatedly asked the exact same question again. And again. And again. When Rebecca explained this process, I thought there was no way I’d have enough to say, that my first answer would be my only answer. It’s kind of like asking someone “How are you?” and you say “Ah grand” because really you don’t believe that care. Imagine if that person asked you again “how are you?” repeatedly, more than likely you’d find yourself suddenly saying “well you know what.. not great because a, b, c..”. Except in this case, the question was “What are you holding onto thats not even yours?”. The more it was asked to me, to more I understood, the more I let my guards down to this complete stranger, the more I surprised myself, the more the tears flowed.
The point of this exercise was not just to realise and admit to ourselves the amount of other peoples shit we hold onto, but also releasing and admitting this to a complete stranger, who showed the most amazing ability to hold space for you, to truly see you and to listen with such care to your voice, without any attempt to fix you, or give you advice. There was no pats on the back, or “there there”s or hugs. Just pure space to say whatever you needed to someone who repeatedly asked you the same question with the desire to hear the truth, to force you to be uncomfortable and dig deeper.
So many of us force our opinions, offer our advice or apply our life situations and experiences to someone else’s, believing we are trying to help them. I used to think thats what I needed from someone. Someone to confirm I wasn’t crazy in my thoughts, that I wasn’t the only one going through it. While thats important and brings a sense of peace, it’s affects wear off. Sometimes peoples advice or their interpretation of your experience can make it worse, can dig a deeper hole and can make you never want to share again. Try it next time you feel that someone needs to be listened to. Don’t say a thing until you are spoken to. Don’t make it a conversation. None’s experiences are the same, you shouldn’t ever be able to say “the exact same happened to me”. It’s not true. We all experience things from our own unique lens that can never be replicated.
It saddens me that chances are I wont experience this kind of communication or space again until I attend another workshop of Rebecca’s. But if we all make an attempt to resist fixing, advising or applying maybe this will become easier for all of us.
Observe yourself next time someone is telling you a story or confiding in you. Do you jump in? Can you stay silent throughout? Can you listen and give them your full attention including facing them and eye contact? Can you hold a space for someone without thinking of yourself, your experiences or your situation?
Who in your life can hold space for you? Who can’t?