The Loneliness of Vulnerability

Photo by the author

I’ve built my entire livelihood out of helping women find their confidence. I’m a photographer of women and a reiki practitioner to women, and although I don’t get paid to listen to or help with confidence issues, it’s something that has always come easily to me. Helping women pinpoint the source of their pain and uncover rich lessons that bring clarity and understanding to their personal journeys have been some of my most loved experiences in this life.

We’re all born with gifts and mine is to be a digger. I dig through the mess and dirt of pain until we hit the bottom and there’s nothing else we can do but pierce through to the other side. Don’t read this as ego; I’m really (really) bad at a lot (and I mean A LOT) of things. This just isn’t one of them. Though a large number of women find their way to me through my professional roles, an equal number of women, if not more, gravitate to me outside of my work. It’s like they unknowingly have radar that searches for a specific frequency and that just so happens to be the frequency at which I vibrate. Some are friends that are near and dear, others are acquaintances I’ve met along the way, some women find me again from the past, and some seek me out specifically because they think I can help them in one way or another. I love and appreciate them all, but when I look around, the circle of women that is there for me is so small it can’t even make a circle. In fact, lately, it can’t even make a shape of any kind.

When I meet a woman through my work that needs my ear, I’m already in a professional capacity and understand the boundaries at play. But, as I said, some are already in my life and a lot come to me as new friends/acquaintances of some sort, or as blasts from the past. This means I often go into those connections more casually and socially. I listen and I ask questions. I hear them and we talk about what’s going on in their head and heart. They share their deepest vulnerabilities with me and I make space for that. But when I begin to reveal anything about me that doesn’t fit within the box they’ve put me in, or paints me in a different picture than the one they had especially framed for who they believe I am, it results in blank stares, or worse yet, running right over my vulnerabilities for a return to their own.

Sometimes women want to hang out with me because they have this specific vision of who they think I am and when those rosy glasses crack, I’m left in the dust as a total disappointment. Other times, I’m a rock for them through a very difficult time and when they see their way through it, I no longer exist, even as they’ve later watched me make a huge shift or struggle deeply with something going on in my own life. Then there are the women that come to me seeking advice, which I give openly but when they decide not to take it, hide from me like a child that is sneaking away from her chores, even though it makes no difference to me whether they follow my advice or not (which I tell them).

I’ve watched as friends tripped over themselves to be there in the most lovely of ways for other friends in need, but barely turned their head when I could’ve used some support or extra love. I’ve wholeheartedly celebrated friends’ beautiful milestone events in their lives, given generously to commemorate these successes and others, and dropped things at a moments notice to be a shoulder to cry on for their failures or losses. Yet, I’ve sat in wonderment about what I may have done that didn’t warrant even a dull murmur, let alone a heart-filled cheer or the simplest of acknowledgments for the same with me.

I’m guessing one of the reasons may be that I’m seen as the “strong one”. The one that never needs help, or the one that is simply here to give it, but never to receive it. I’m not the underdog, and everyone roots for the underdog. I’m the one that is here to stand as your biggest fan and loudest cheerleader, but when I’m on the field I can see that the stands are laid bare. The worst is when I make the mistake of thinking we are in a reciprocal vulnerable conversation and I share myself only to see it’s gone through one ear and out the other. That hurts. I can’t tell you how much pain it causes when I’m sharing something deep and sacred, which is really hard for me to do in the first place, and the other person literally picks up their phone to check their messages. I have, more times than I can count, stopped talking mid-sentence, and do you know that most times the other person doesn’t even know it? And sometimes this is with close friends. It’s heartbreaking to me.

I don’t think I’m alone in this at all, either. I have talked with other women in the same role as me, in one way or another, and heard similar stories. I guess if I were smarter I’d see that maybe these are my people. Maybe that’s what we need to do; band together and form a gang with matching jackets. That’ll show ’em. The truth is, it can be really hard to identify who is there because they want a peek inside or because they’re only a taker and not a giver. Or I guess I should say it’s hard for me. Maybe that’s the lesson in all of this.

I know we live in a time of Brené Brown, where vulnerability rules, but I can’t help but take notice of how it has truly backfired for me in a lot of ways. For me, it’s either been too much or not enough. Maybe that’s the other lesson. I can only hope that there is something in there for me because as of now, vulnerability is pretty lonely.

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Elizabeth Craig

Photographer, Reiki Practitioner, wanderer, ponderer, lover of writing.