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The Importance of Being Vulnerable

Posted on December 7, 2018 by Jenn Zatopek

Last week, I decided to embark on a new job in addition to doing private practice counseling.  The job is flexible and lucrative and has supportive management.  It is for a good cause and would allow me to pursue several dreams that are coming true for me, especially so for the next year.  On paper, the job sounds like a winner.

But I have a confession to make to you:  I stopped sleeping through the night the moment I decided to take the job, which was last Wednesday.

Anxiety became my bedfellow and the inner family of voices in my mind clamored loudly, protesting the paperwork, home visits, and the upcoming challenge of balancing work and artistic endeavors.  I accepted that this is part of my physiology and that sometimes (read: often), I will experience fear.

This is a normal response for people: to experience feelings.

So my posts as of late have been deeply positive, and it is my goal to continue to focus on the good things I have in my life.  My gratitude practice has changed my thinking for the better.  And my religious tradition calls me to do so and gives me ample sacred texts that encourage me to surrender my anxieties to the Divine who will give me peace.

However, the truth is that something happened on Monday that I feel compelled to share with you.  It’s my truth at its most raw and messy.

On Monday morning, I sat down to begin several hours of requisite online training on a national corporation website. My heart was beating loudly in my chest, and I said the Serenity Prayer several times as I tried my best to navigate the website. I was alone in my home office and had no one to ask questions to, which only increased my heart rate.

This is the way of the modern world, isn’t it?  We have computers to help us learn, but in so many ways, this form of training is deeply unsettling for those of us who are social creatures, who rely on talking things out with others to process information, which is absolutely normal for many people.

Because I didn’t understand how to interact with the tricky web interface, I called my husband for help. And I became more panicked as I tried to explain to him what I was experiencing, and then it happened.  The thing that was coming that I dread.  One of the most vulnerable things to do with another human being.

I broke down. In tears. I couldn’t stop crying because I didn’t understand what to do and I keened.  Because old lies reared up in my mind about my incompetency as a worker and (sadly) even as a person.  The shame was simmering at the surface, even though I had done my best to keep it at bay.

I want to model vulnerability on this blog even as I share my knowledge, experience, and hope as a clinician and writer. I do not want to be so over my own suffering that I stand as a paragon of fabulous behavior because like you, I am a glorious mix of brilliance, existential dread, overwhelming love, intense joy, and (often) paralyzing fear.  It is part of the human package.

The miracle of the story is that my husband heard me in my mess and asked me if he could come to help me navigate the course.  The other miracle is that I said yes to his help.  When he arrived, he hugged me and we sat down to tackle the difficult website.

Together. As a team.  Collaborating.

Human beings are meant to be with other human beings.  It is the way the Divine designed us.  And the happiest and healthiest people I know I have positive and uplifting interactions with others on a regular basis, whether that’s through healthy family time, therapy, religious services, recovery groups, book clubs, or time with safe friends.  It allays the deep loneliness that is at the heart of the human existence.  It is why so many people gravitate toward a religious practice (myself included).  It helps us feel less alone.

What I discovered on Monday morning, in the midst of my tears were a multitude of things that rests on one key truth: I am a human.  Not perfect. In need of help. Not someone who can figure all things out on her own. A person who needs to ask questions. A person who is worthy of asking for help and receiving it. A person who can do things well, who does do things well.  A beloved and beautiful person. Just like you.

What I have found that has been helpful in letting go of fear is reaching out to someone else.  So the next time you are in the midst of a crisis and you think to yourself “I don’t need anyone. I’ve got this,” my challenge to you is to risk vulnerability with *safe people and reach out to someone and ask for help. Whether that is for emotional support, a meal, a card, or something else: my challenge to you is to ask for help.   All these little actions count towards creating a better world that is in the long and arduous process of deep transformation by the Divine, which, if you let God, includes yourself.

*Safe people are folks who do not yell, criticize, judge, or evaluate you negatively on an ongoing basis. They are people who allow you the freedom to be your whole self and cherish you for who you are, not for what you do. They forgive easily and they love easily.  And they are out there, and with time and patience, you will find them.

(Photo by Ambar Simpang on Unsplash)
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