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The Power And Pitfalls Of Complete Vulnerability

The Power And Pitfalls Of Complete Vulnerability

The first time I remember being vulnerable was in the fourth grade. It was Valentine’s Day and I was in love – or so I thought.

While waiting for my mom to pick me up from after school daycare (I distinctly recall this memory to this day), my best friend and crush at the time, his friend, and I all sat in a circle playing Jenga by the child-sized lockers. In the middle of our game, he looked up at me, and asked, “So who do you have a crush on?”

My heart stopped. He continued staring as though he already knew the answer, as though my eyes must have given it away, but said nothing and waited for me to respond.

With a bit of hesitation, I raised my finger, pointed at him, and said, “You.”

He smiled, and for a moment, I thought that he would say the same. I assumed his smile meant the feeling was mutual and he liked me too. But, of course, I thought wrong.

The next words out his mouth nearly ruined Valentine’s Day forever for me. He said, “That’s cute…well I have a crush on Natasha [who was my other best friend at the time].”

Looking back, it’s almost comical how quickly my emotions changed within the instant. I went from blissful, hopeful, excited, and nervous to confused, angry, mortified, and ashamed.

How could he? I thought. How could she? (Even though she wouldn’t even found out until middle school).

I was hurt, yes, but even more so I was upset at myself for allowing him to make me feel such a way – a way which made me feel as if my whole world was collapsing all around me and I had no control in the matter.

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I didn’t understand it at the time, but this was the first time I’d ever felt truly vulnerable. And it was one of the worst vulnerable moments in my life, but arguably amongst the most important too.

Earlier this year, I experienced a situation similar to my Valentine’s Day catastrophe. Instead of crying into my parents’ arms for five straight hours, I decided to do some self-therapy and seek out advice from others going through the same thing.

So I read The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion, wrote some admittedly melodramatic songs, and cried a little, of course, but I also discovered a Ted Talk called The Power of Vulnerability.

By this time, I’d grown up enough to realize what I was going through was a result of my inherently vulnerable nature. I had put myself out there, without my initial hesitation, and fallen flat on my face in the midst of great expectation.

However, when I watched Brene Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability” talk, I felt the puzzle pieces start to come together in my head. It was as if she was speaking directly to me, but indirectly, by speaking about vulnerability.

In her research, Brown started off by talking about the idea of connection and how humans have this ingrained desire and need to connect with others saying, “In order to allow for connection, we have to be seen, really seen.”

She went on to say that she’d discovered this factor hindering us from connecting with those around us that stemmed from a sense of fear and insecurity. What she’d found was shame.

And underlying that shame and sense of unworthiness was excruciating vulnerability.

When reading The Year of Magical Thinking, I thought what I was going through was a subset of grief – an unnamed, but universal feeling of loss that we have all experienced at the signs of an end. But when I watched Brown’s video, I realized it was the all-too-familiar emotion of shame.

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It was the fear that maybe I wasn’t good enough, maybe there was something wrong with me that made it impossible to continue this connection I’d established. In hindsight, I didn’t need the validation of my worthiness, but I wanted it. I wanted to know I wasn’t still that little girl who wasn’t enough for her first valentine.

I needed to know I was wanted for me.

“When you ask people about love, they tell you about heartbreak…when you ask people about connection, they’ll tell you about disconnection,” Brown pointed out. I realized I was no different then, and admittedly I’m still not.

In being vulnerable and revealing an unseen layer to someone else, I had lost something of myself. I had lost that part of me that feared the unknown, but in doing so, opened myself up to the possibility of rejection. And rejected was exactly how I felt.

But as the video went on and Brown delved further into shame and vulnerability and connection, I realized it was not my vulnerability that had made me feel weakened in the circumstance. Rather, it was my willingness to be vulnerable that made me stronger, and my feeling of shame and rejection that instead belittled me.

Brown’s research then switched to focusing on this idea of “the wholehearted” who are “people who had a strong sense of love and belonging because they believed they were worthy of love and belonging.” She explained that these people had three factors in common: courage, compassion, and connection.

“They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be what they were,” Brown said.

And even though I had gone through a whirlwind of negative emotions following periods of vulnerability in my life, it occurred to me then and there that I was a wholehearted person. The only difference being that I thought I should be the opposite.

One thing that my best friend has said to me time and time again, which is now lodged in my brain forever, is that she sees me as someone who gives their full 100% when it comes to what I love.

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I love to write so when I do, I put my whole self into my writing. I love music so when I produce songs, I practice them until they’re perfect. And when I love someone, I give everything of myself to that person, even if the future looks unclear or unfruitful.

But when it comes to whom I choose to be with, I expect that same effort. I expect it because I was given that overabundance of love from my parents. Not that it’s a bad thing, but it definitely raised my expectations for relationships beyond the average idealist.

For a long time though, I thought it was a bad thing. I believed myself to be too loving, too caring, and too emotional, which translated into needy, dependent, and irrational for most people.

However, in watching “The Power of Vulnerability,” I started to see that it wasn’t that I was these things. I was anything but needy, having chosen to balance my friends and my relationships equally ever since I could date. My dedication to all aspects of my life reflected a stronger sense of independence than any Beyoncé song could convey.

And irrational could only begin to describe the list of words loosely tossed at me in a feeble attempt to diminish my sense of intuitive knowledge and self.

It was that I was willing to be vulnerable, and thus willing to feel such a way I had.

After the video ended, I spent a great deal of time thinking, really thinking, about who I was. And by the end of it, a whole two hours later of list-making and songwriting, I came to the obvious, but not as understood realization that I was human.

I made mistakes. I wasn’t perfect, and I certainly didn’t try to pretend I was. But above all, I was open enough with myself in order to be vulnerable. And that was arguably what was most beautiful about me.

All of us fear the idea of vulnerability, whether we like to admit it or not. We build walls around us to keep out what scares us most like heartbreak, pain, jealousy, rejection and endings. We distract ourselves with things, places, and people that may not give us much joy, but certainly help us avoid the thoughts that torture us.

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But as Brown states in her video, “When we numb the bad, we numb the good too.”

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m terrified of change. I’m terrified of what will happen, or what won’t. To be honest, most of the time I’m crossing my fingers behind my back and hoping to God that a miracle in the shape of a comfortable reality will lend itself my way. But I know that’s not the way it goes.

And ultimately I don’t think I’d accept such a fate.

“To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, even if there’s no guarantee, we must love with our whole hearts…practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror…and to believe we are enough.”

In life, there’s no sticker of guarantee. There’s no promise you’re going to make the varsity team, get straight A’s, graduate from college, find the job of your dreams or settle down with the person of your dreams. But if we never try, then there’s a positive guarantee we’ll only be disappointing ourselves.

At the end of the day, I know I’m not perfect. I know I have a lifetime of learning left to go and a list of lessons I have yet to fill. I know I’m still that same little girl who cries to her parents, gives her whole heart and loves even with a question mark hanging in the balance.

But I am enough, whether or not I have a valentine to call my own.

And in looking back, I’m so grateful for those moments of vulnerability and heartbreak and pain because it gave me the courage I needed to continue on, become stronger, and to never give up, even in the face of uncertainty.

It’s not easy to be vulnerable, but who says it has to be a bad thing? I know I wouldn’t have it any other way, and deep down, neither would Brene Brown.

Featured photo credit: vulnerability/rebecca nicole montana via flickr.com

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Published on April 7, 2021

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

Some of the most manipulative people are so good at what they do that their words and actions can convince you into thinking they truly care about what’s best for you when in reality, it’s quite the opposite. The most common signs of a controlling person are rarely obvious to outside observers. And for someone enmeshed in a controlling relationship or friendship, it can be incredibly challenging to stay away from this toxic person, even if you’re aware of their emotionally abusive tendencies.

While it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether to preserve or leave a lopsided, unfulfilling relationship, it’s nevertheless critical to understand the following six signs of controlling people so you can better advocate for yourself and mitigate the influence of their manipulative tendencies in your own life.

1. They Push Their Own Personal Agenda

Do you know someone who always tries to micromanage the words, behaviors, and attitudes of people around them? Does this person act like they have the right to know anything they want about you, including your location, what you’re doing in a given moment, who you’re talking to online, or any other private information about you? And when planning events and special occasions, does this person dominate conversations, steer plans in their own preferred directions, disparage others’ suggestions, and refuse to collaborate with anyone who might disagree with them?

If you answered “yes” to some of the above questions, then those are clear signs of a controlling person whom you absolutely need to be cautious around. Controlling people are reluctant to even consider alternative ideas, let alone enthusiastically work with people who have differing views. They prefer to be the captain of every ship—regardless of how much or how little an issue personally impacts them—and they have an arsenal of manipulative tactics to deploy if someone stands in the way of them achieving their own personal agendas.

In long-term relationships with controlling people, you may feel constantly pressured to meet their demands, follow their schedule, and focus on whatever they feel is most important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these people act like the universe revolves around them, which can be exhausting to deal with for their family members, friends, and colleagues.

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2. They Make Everything Transactional

Controlling people aren’t always self-centered, but they’re not too empathetic either. Empathy for them tends to appear in the form of strategic concessions they use as a means to get what they want. They typically view interpersonal relationships as transactional opportunities to extract more value from people surrounding them, which can have a draining effect on those they interact with.

For example, one sign of a controlling person may be their insistence on “keeping score.” This can involve doing nice things for you with the ulterior motive of demanding something from you at a later date in exchange for what you thought was just an act of kindness or a friendly support.

Perhaps they shower you in praise (also known as “love-bombing”) or gifts then blow up at you if you don’t intuitively know they’re expecting something back from you. None of us are mind-readers, but controlling people behave as though everyone else should think and act like they want others to and those who fall out of line are punished for failing to meet their impossible expectations.

A controlling person may also threaten to withhold support if you don’t adhere to their demands, but they do so in such subtle ways that the guilt they impose blinds you from the unreasonable nature of their behaviors.

Some statements to be wary of include:

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  • “I did ___________ for you. What do you mean you can’t do ___________ for me?”
  • “Remember how I helped you with ___________? That took a lot of time and energy from me, but I guess you didn’t appreciate my help.”
  • “I always give you ___________. Don’t you care about my needs too?”
  • “You’re so selfish!” or “You don’t care about me at all!” (gaslighting if you respond with hesitation or politely decline their request for help for perfectly valid reasons, such as not having enough time or resources to assist them)

3. They Criticize Everything

One of the most common telltale signs of a controlling person is their capacity to criticize anything and everything, even small things that seemingly don’t matter. As with many toxic traits in relationships, these problems typically start out so small that you may not even notice. At first, you may even agree with their criticism or at least be able to understand their perspective when they bring up an issue.

However, the criticism tends to get more intense, more constant, and more perplexing for people who maintain relationships with controlling people. You’ll likely notice how they rarely seem to criticize something they do. It’s almost always other-oriented and these types of people are so manipulative that any rationale they offer can seem plausibly legitimate.

Some warning signs of a controlling person who’s overly critical to the point of abusiveness include:

  • Criticizing things about you that you have little to no control over (e.g., appearance, disability, family)
  • Criticizing your personal choices and interests, such as educational pursuits, career, clothing, favorite music, time spent on your hobbies, etc.
  • Punishing you for expressing vulnerability by invalidating thoughts and feelings you share with them
  • Attacking you whenever you express an opinion counter to theirs

4. They Balk When Someone Criticizes Them

We all know the adage, “what goes around, comes around.” But this statement doesn’t apply as much to toxic, controlling people. They’d much prefer to dish out criticism without ever having to take it in return.

For instance, if your friend constantly talks about your appearance with little regard for your emotions but flips out if you make just a single comment about their appearance, there’s a possibility that they could have some hidden controlling tendencies left unchecked. Remember, these people aren’t just controlling in their behaviors towards others. They’re also actively trying to stay in complete control over every aspect of their lives, which includes how others view them.

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This seemingly insatiable desire for control can prompt them to lash out against even the smallest bits of criticism, leaving people around them too weary or scared to speak up again in the future. While it’s possible they may suffer from something called rejection sensitivity dysphoria, this does not excuse them from the consequences of their words and actions. They should seek professional help to better manage their reactions to criticism.

5. They Socially Isolate You

Not all controlling people do this, but for manipulative narcissists, socially isolating victims is a go-to strategy for maintaining control because it’s effective at preventing people from truly understanding how toxic their partner, family member, or friend is treating them. Think of it this way—if you don’t talk to many other people in your life, there’s less of a risk that you’ll damage their reputation by revealing their abusive tendencies.

Socially isolating others also gives the person more control over you and your life as it becomes more difficult to break away from them if you don’t have other healthier channels of communication and interpersonal support to turn to.

This process doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it something you can readily recognize as abusive. At first, it may seem reasonable, such as asking you to stop engaging so often with family members with whom both of you disagree on major social or political issues. As the social isolation progresses, they may suggest cutting people out of your life—especially if they don’t like that person, regardless of how you personally feel—or even conjure up high-stakes problems like “it’s me or them” under the guise of saving you from people in your life whom they don’t like for whatever reason.

In a controlling person’s life narrative, they’re always the protagonist who’s incapable of any wrongdoing. The blame is always redirected at someone else, whether that’s you or other people in your life. The more they isolate you from other supportive people in your life, the more susceptible you’ll be to falsely believing that they’re right and you “don’t need” your other friends and family when you have someone as perfect as this person.

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6. They’re Emotionally Abusive

It’s hard enough to be in control of your own emotions but when someone else is constantly belittling you and your interests or leveraging guilt and shame to manipulate you into saying or doing what they want, this can make it even more challenging to stay in control of your own life and emotional well-being.

Emotional abuse is another sign of a controlling person that is often overlooked in relationships. After all, human personalities vary widely in terms of passivity, and it’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to be significantly more passive than the other. This becomes an issue when the controlling partner or friend exudes signs of emotional abuse, which can start subtly and become much more pronounced over time.

Concerning signs of emotionally abusive language or behavior to watch out for include:

  • Dismissing your needs and/or belittling your interests in counterproductive ways
  • Privately or publicly shaming or humiliating you
  • Making you feel as though you can never live up to their expectations or do anything right (according to their own vague, subjective standards)
  • Gaslighting you into thinking they said or did something that never actually happened (making you question your own reality)

Final Thoughts

It’s sometimes hard to see the negative things about someone with whom we have a relationship. We may sometimes unconsciously overlook the signs of a controlling person, especially if that person is someone we have known for a long time or are close to us. However, cutting them off your life is the best thing you can do for yourself. Just watch out for these six signs of a controlling person and take immediate action when you spot them.

More Tips on How To Deal With a Controlling Person

Featured photo credit: Külli Kittus via unsplash.com

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