Have you heard of the Australian blogger Constance Hall? She is a mother of four who has a blog and has recently written a book. Her book is about being a self-titled ‘Queen’. A woman who may or may not be a mother or a wife. A woman who is worthy of love and forgiveness, self-acceptance and respect, support and compassion. She has created a community of Queens who join together in their quest to believe in their self-worth no matter what. A community that supports and encourages. That sees each other as royalty, even in amongst their failure and mess.
Constance sometimes posts things that are close to the bone. She’ll tell the world about how she has been crying for hours. How she has left her husband. How she has gone back to him. She posts semi-nude pictures of herself, praising her own “mum-bod”. These photos go “more viral than herpes” (as she puts it).
Constance has had her fair share of negative feedback but she has 127,000 followers on Instagram, 934,373 likes on her Facebook page. She is loved by people the world over, spanning different continents.
You will have noticed I write a lot about grief. When I was 20, my boyfriend died of cancer. When I was 29, my Dad died of cancer. Grief prompted me to write, both times. It was grief that birthed this blog and almost all of my creative writing.
Much of the feedback I have received about my writing has been along the lines of:
The challenge for me has been to discern, when it has not been obvious, whether this is a compliment or a statement. The truth is, honesty can make us uncomfortable. Opening up our yucky, cankerous sores and being open about our deepest, darkest feelings can put people on edge.
Because we are presenting vulnerability. Constance portrays vulnerability, in some way shape or form, in almost all of her posts.
It can make us uncomfortable because we don’t trust it. We don’t want to be it. We can’t control it. But most of all, we don’t think we need it.
A friend told me about Brené Brown, an American Researcher and Story-teller who has done talks for TED.com. Her research centres around vulnerability and I listened to her talk on the same day I hit publish on part two of Four Minutes Dead.
FMD is a story about fear, pretence, and what’s necessary for true connection: being real. Brené’s research struck me as immensely powerful, compelling, and revealing. I’ve been pondering it nearly every waking moment since.
It’s no small thing, to make yourself vulnerable, is it? Forget hypochondria… what is the word for a phobia of vulnerability? I think we all have it to some degree.
Have you ever fallen out with someone and said something along the lines of:
“When you did that you made me feel vulnerable and that’s why I didn’t like it and can’t tolerate it.”
Yet, according to Brené’s research, the people who experienced the most joy, love and connection (the Wholehearted, she calls them), were the ones who fully embraced vulnerability.
“They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.”
“They had a willingness to say I love you first.”
“[They] love with their whole hearts even though there is no guarantee.” Brené Brown
What could your marriage/relationship look like if you were always willing to love when there was no guarantee? If you loved with your whole heart. If you let yourself be seen with all of your imperfections. I mean, all of them. If you courageously honoured the vulnerability of your spouse or partner.
What would your friendships look like? What would your parenting look like? If you showed your children how you can courageously embrace your own imperfections and model compassion, for yourself first and foremost.
Now, the crux of it all…. What would your social media accounts look like?! I read an article on The Pool today about how one writer had ditched social media because they were sick of how it fuelled resentment in them. They were sick of the ‘perfect’ lives portrayed on some people’s accounts with #inlovewithmylife tacked on the end (just in case the message wasn’t loud and clear already).
OK some of us bloggers are marketing for a living and I’m not saying that’s not ok. But in portraying our lives to the people we want to connect with, either on social media or in person, we can sometimes act as if we’re in advertising and trying to sell our lifestyle to them, rather than show it for what it truly is. So we show the good bits. The perfect bits. And we omit the struggle.
I won’t invite so-and-so round today because my house is a mess.
I won’t go and introduce myself to that mum in the playground standing by herself, day-in day-out because she might not want to know.
I can’t go to scenario A,B or C by myself because I may need to ask for help or end up looking like a foolish loner, or worse; a failure.
I won’t plan a romantic picnic in the lounge because my spouse might laugh at me.
I won’t let my kids see me cry, or be frustrated, or wrestle with difficulty because I need to model perfection.
It’s all avoiding being in that place of vulnerability.
Grief makes you vulnerable. Rarely in life do you tend to feel and express such raw emotion so publicly than you do at a funeral. The day after Robb died, I had all my friends round and I told them what happened when he died. I didn’t realise at the time, as an inexperienced 20-year-old, that I was helping myself heal. I didn’t know what else to do except to reach out to others. My parents had always encouraged me to talk and to express and so I did because it’s all I knew. I owe them so much for that.
But it’s not just the vulnerability of the pain. When you lose a significant person in your life it can make you question your identity and your self-worth. This is what I have experienced with losing my Dad. Even at the somewhat riper age of 29, a wife and mother.
But parallel to many deep and painful crises I have had some of the most special and joyful moments of my life.
I can see how, in many ways, I have handled this badly. At times I have believed I am not enough for my kids. I have believed that my pain is making life worse for them. I can see how I haven’t always had compassion for myself and let myself feel the pain. I can see how sometimes I’ve numbed the pain. I’ve thought ‘what the hell’ as I’ve bought something I don’t need, eaten something I didn’t want, and drank more than I was truly comfortable with.
And by doing all that I was denying myself joy by numbing it all. I felt the grace of God as he gently led me through, but it was what it was.
However, I do feel I’ve got something right: I’ve let myself be seen. I’ve done it publicly and that’s not necessary to be vulnerable in a meaningful way. It’s not everyone’s bag and it shouldn’t take precedence over the vulnerability that is necessary in our daily life-sharing with families and friends. But, it has been genuine with the hope to inspire vulnerability in others.
Writing is my thing for expressing it but it might not be yours. I may have been very open in many ways but there is plenty I’ve kept for those closest, who get to see all of me. That privilege is for those who are courageous enough to ask and hear the truth of it. And those who are stuck with me because they’re joined by blood or marriage (too bad).
I found it incredible hearing what Brené says about the importance of vulnerability for creativity. I shared my first ever short story on my blog and I felt intensely vulnerable. But then, it sparked so much creativity and motivation to write more fiction and just get it done. I could have sworn it was about the feedback, the patting-on-the-back. But I was surprised to find that it wasn’t. It was in that moment of hitting ‘publish’. That act of vulnerability that sparked fresh creativity, and also joy. I had never written poetry before my Dad died but there are several on this blog.
Out of vulnerability came creativity and beauty.
“Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor 13:13
We can often think of that verse (or you may know it as a phrase) and think about what we most need. We all need love, yes. But perhaps we should review it as being our most important task. Brené starts her talk explaining that humans were made to connect. That is our purpose. What causes disconnect? Fear and shame, she discovered in her research.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18
Loving wholeheartedly means laying yourself on the line. It means getting hurt and disappointed.
It means feeling joy.
On my social media I am going to be posting some things that aim to demonstrate that intention to live wholeheartedly. Look out for the above badge in my sidebar that links to Brené’s site. I recommend downloading her parenting manifesto here.