“This is how we go for the big win of getting our vulnerability back, even by foregoing the small wins of appearing to have it “together” in any given moment.”
How do you deeply feel about others? As in, other people?
For most of us, an honest response would include an acknowledgement that we have some fear about other people.
Often times we fear that they will judge us ~ what might they think of us if they really knew us, down to the most vulnerable details?
We might fear the outcome if we approach another person, thereby risking being hurt.
And yet, we need others, don’t we?
We long for their love, their attention and care. We long for others to notice us and validate our feelings, to reassure us that yes, we are really here and that yes, we really do matter.
These feelings of longing for connection with others are basic human needs. No matter how much armor or defense we have built up along the way, the deep feelings of needing to be accepted, loved and wanted just as we are never go away.
These basic feelings of longing serve a purpose, they keep us resilient even after many broken hearts. And they keep us in community, which is essential to our survival even when we limit our exposure to the “tribe” as tightly as possible.
And even if at this moment you do not feel resilient ~ the brokenness does not last forever, and one day we find ourselves ready, even with all of our fear, to make eye contact with another human being again.
Where Does the Hurt Come From?
For many of us, we can remember a time on the playground when someone made fun of us, or didn’t accept us as we were.
Even the simple event of not being allowed ~ or invited ~ to play in a group of others can create wounds that still feel sore decades after the fact.
As an adult, when we try to get close to another person ~ now recognizing closeness as a human need ~ these wounds can become apparent, can show themselves again.
Suddenly we are no longer a successful, organized adult, we feel ourselves as a young child on the playground with nobody to play with. We don’t know if we will be liked, so why take the chance to open ourselves up again?
We All Feel This Way
The more I get to know people, and work with them closely in my life, the more I get to see that we are all the same in this regard.
We all wanted love and didn’t get it in one moment or another. Whether from a parent, friend, or sibling, or, when we were older, a girlfriend or boyfriend.
We have all had the experience of being rejected.
And, perhaps, many of us have also had the experience of rejecting someone else ~ of calling a name, throwing a judgement or even a punch. It’s important to understand that these in themselves were all defense mechanisms for our own feelings of lack or rejection.
The Food Connection
How much does your relationship with food have to do with your relationship with people?
All addiction stems out of fear. But not just the kind of fear that we can call out and say, “hey, that’s just fear. I can get over it by telling myself there is nothing to be afraid of here, and just move forward anyway.”
No, this is deep survival fear on the level of the protective mechanism built into every human. On this level, we know that we will not survive without love, and we choose to risk not connecting at all, over the possibility of being rejected, which feels to our survival brain like it might crush us.
So this is deep fear we are talking about, fear we are not normally conscious of.
People overeat for many reasons, but one thing I find common to all is that it has something to do with our relationship to others.
Binge eating is an isolation activity, is it not?
So fear is the common denominator, the common factor across addictions. Again, deep survival fear that is usually beyond conscious awareness much less control.
On top of that, for each person, the deeper story will be different.
Varying Life Stories
For me, for instance, I eat to fortify and strengthen myself to face the world. Because I believe that life is a fight (and relating with others is a fight – to get them to like me, to see me, to keep me around), my internal experience of living life is that I fight, fight, fight (just living day to day life – grocery store, bank, budgeting, parenting, etc) and then I am spent. These battles are exhausting! When I am spent this way, all I want to do to replenish my spiritual energy and my psychological morale is lay low and eat ~ eat anything I want and answer to nobody.
For someone else, your story may have at its center the need to insulate from the world and retreat so as not to have to face it at all. Perhaps you want to retreat so deeply inside of your shell so that no one will see you, that you’ll be invisible.
For someone else still, it might be that eating keeps you from having to interact with the opposite sex, who might judge or reject you.
You can see how all of the examples above have slightly different flavors ~ and we can elaborate on each person’s story in a lot more detail ~ yet at the same time, at their core all these examples are the same.
They illustrate grappling with fear.
Fear around connection. Not just with people, with the world. Since life is relationship, and everything we endeavor to do requires a relationship to be formed ~ whether it’s a to your car, coworkers, the ocean, or a computer ~ relationship is relevant to everything.
And relationship is where we can turn for healing.
But I am brilliant at connecting with people!
Even if you are brilliant at connecting with people and love every minute of it, is there a point or depth of intimacy that, when you reach it with somebody, you start to feel uncomfortable?
Where you want to run away, hide or disappear? Are there parts of yourself that you would rather others not know about?
These are the parts that need a little extra attention, a little love, and a good helping of healing through relationship.
Just to clarify, relationship can be a friendship, a parent-child relationship, siblings ~ it doesn’t have to be a partnership.
How to Get Healing in Relationship
Okay, so you’ve decided that you want to try this angle of getting help from relationship. Where to now?
First is the realization that everyone is like you.
I don’t just mean that everyone loves and everyone feels pain – I mean that everyone feels and does the kinds of things that you feel and do, that you are afraid of others knowing that you feel and do.
In other words,
Everyone shits, everyone farts, and everyone is afraid of rejection.
You can’t have a genuine relationship to another human if you don’t approach them knowing that they have a fragile ego structure just like yours. That for the most part, people go home and do behaviors that they would rather not talk about, just to cope with their feelings of separation.
All kinds of people across the spectrum of life.
And no matter how divine and absolutely radiant their true nature is (and of course, it is), they are also very human underneath their facade.
I have not found one person who does not find it refreshing when I acknowledge my own vulnerability ~ or, better yet, live it ~ in their company.
The truth is that, when we say something awkward that feels true in our hearts, or we make ourselves vulnerable by showing a feeling, like crying, or sadness, or disappointment, or we say, “I am lonely,” it creates connection. What people feel is the genuineness of your expression, not the surface value of what you express.
Even if the response we get is awkwardness or discomfort (saying something about this person’s own inability to be totally comfortable with themselves) you just got a little closer to that human being than if you were maintaining your professional appearance.
I know it is painful, but trust me on this one. Even the awkwardness is better for mending a broken heart than the maintenance of a facade.
This is how we go for the big win of getting our vulnerability back, even by foregoing the small wins of appearing to have it “together” in any given moment.
Once we practice this a few times, making ourselves vulnerable around others, we learn that doing so will not kill us.
There’s a part of us that lives in fear, thinking we are still the small child on the playground. Or the teenager who got rejected.
When, as adults, we relate to others from a place of vulnerability, we prove to ourselves that we are no longer that child, and that even if our attempt at connection isn’t met (and it won’t always be met), we are still just fine. We have the resources now to understand deeply that, when we are not met, it isn’t the end of the world. That reaching out in itself is always worth it, regardless of the result.
And once we begin to do this as a practice, then our relationship with food and overeating also begins to change.
One Small Risk ~ Plus a Bonus Action Step
Just for you, this week ~
- Write your own vulnerability story. Remember a time when you wanted love and it did not exactly turn out the way you had hoped, and your feelings were affected. Just let yourself feel the feeling of hurt that lingers from that experience.
Remember that, if we don’t acknowledge these feelings inside of us, they still affect our lives, just not in a direct or obvious way (and usually in a more toxic way!)
- Take a vulnerability action step. Find an interaction with another human – it could be spontaneous or planned – and allow yourself, even for a moment, to share your true feelings.
Remember that in order to receive any reward, a risk must be taken, so go ahead and take a little risk, go where you wouldn’t normally go, and fully expect that the other person has the right to respond however they respond – you will still be learning and growing!