Oscar Zoroaster... how many of you know who that is? I would guess the majority of people would say they have no clue. How about the Wizard of Oz? Yep - one and the same. He’s the flustered man behind the curtain who is afraid to be revealed for who he is.
I’m sure everyone has felt like they have spent some time hiding behind the curtain. Let’s talk about what can happen after we step out and allow ourselves to be seen.
Putting a piece of yourself out there without a safety net can be excruciatingly difficult. Allowing scrutiny and judgment in any form can be terrifying but it is the origin of freedom, authenticity, creation, and meaningful connection.
Vulnerability hangover. Brené Brown coined the phrase that today has over 360,000 search results on Google. “vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage — to be vulnerable, to let ourselves be seen”*
We all know the feeling even if we are unfamiliar with the phrase. Vulnerability is stepping out of our comfort zone to share an authentic part of ourselves with no assurance of acceptance. The hangover is the horrible feeling of regret, fear, or uncertainty that follows our disclosure. It’s also very normal.
The word I think best describes what a vulnerability hangover feels like: OVEREXPOSED. We may as well be standing in public naked for the feelings that can come rushing forward when we let our true colors be seen.
No matter how much I tell myself that it is brave to risk and be vulnerable, I still catch myself thinking “What the what… why on earth did I say that?!”. I wish I could suck the words back in, fold inside myself and disappear depending on the level of vulnerability.
There are no set rules about to how we experience it. What seems risky to one may appear safe to another. We might feel it immediately as the last syllable hits the air or it can be delayed and sneak up on us down the road.
A consideration or two about how we step into bravery. The level of risk we take should be in proportion to the trust we have with the person we are sharing with. I wouldn’t advise sharing your most embarrassing moment with the person who always has the latest dirt to dish, but a trusted friend may be a good place to practice if they have proven that they can catch you with empathy and not judgment.
We also have to feel ready. Ready is not the same as perfect. If we wait for all the stars to align, we will never move. We do however have to feel as if we are authoring our own story. Never, ever let anyone push you into self disclosure or moving forward in any area of risk, otherwise we feel resentful or even victimized - and we are aiming for authenticity and freedom.
How much of a hangover we feel will depend on the content of the disclosure. Was it a thought that someone might judge as strange, or did I just jump into the deep end of the pool and reveal something that I thought I’d take to the grave? The level of exposure and risk will dictate the intensity of the hangover.
Part of the privilege of being a therapist is that I get to witness bravery in action every day. It stirs up strong feelings whenever I see a client reveal a part of themselves that they have worked tirelessly to contain. It is humbling, inspiring, and beautiful to witness someone invest in themselves enough to risk being seen. It is transformative.
It is also contagious. I find that I am often inspired and take a cue from my clients who show the courage to create something different for themselves by stepping out of the shadows into the light.
So what’s the cure to a vulnerability hangover? In my experience - time and compassion. It's critical to allow ourselves time to sit with the understanding of the courage it takes to lower the mask long enough to be seen. It also takes a bucket-load of compassion. It’s easy to judge ourselves harshly or critically, but holding ourselves in compassion is where we will find freedom and release.
By the way - I have found that the people who judge you the most critically are the ones who don’t understand the integrity of vulnerability, opting to criticize others who demonstrate the courage they lack. My people are the messy and frazzled ones who would rather be real than perfectly polished.
So let’s not confuse being strong with being an impenetrable force. The man behind the curtain went to exhausting lengths to maintain the great and powerful persona that was ultimately exposed as smoke and mirrors. Oscar Zoroaster found his own path to freedom by connecting with other lost souls on their own journey of self discovery.
*TED. (2012, March 16). Brené Brown: Listening to shame [Video]. YouTube.
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