Sprained Dignity (I’m Full of It)
I am, more often than I would like, full of shit.
This is worth noting because, while it may not be a surprise to you (it’d be nice if it were, but I won’t pretend I think it will be), it remains a source of unending surprise to me.
I need to explain using a passage from Peter Pan that I’ve always loved, because it explains something just perfectly:
Quick as thought he snatched a knife from Hook’s belt and was about to drive it home, when he saw that he was higher up the rock than his foe. It would not have been fighting fair. He gave the pirate a hand to help him up. It was then that Hook bit him. Not the pain of this but its unfairness was what dazed Peter. It made him quite helpless. He could only stare, horrified. Every child is affected thus the first time he is treated unfairly. All he thinks he has a right to when he comes to you to be yours is fairness. After you have been unfair to him he will love you again, but will never afterwards be quite the same boy. No one ever gets over the first unfairness; no one except Peter. He often met it, but he always forgot it.
That’s exactly it – that feeling of repeated, stunned hurt. I’m often helplessly amnesic, with my own hypocrisy standing in for Captain Hook.
I write about how delightful it is to be open and honest, and how amazing Brene Brown is, and how we need to embrace vulnerability, and sunshine and rainbows and unicorns. It’s not that I’m insincere; I believe it, truly. But it doesn’t look that way – because I fail so often, and so spectacularly, to notice when actual moments in actual life require this daring be put into practice.
I get why I do it. I get why my instinct isn’t to open up. People are not always trustworthy with your feelings, and embarrassment is the most painful thing there is. Worse than broken bones or skin. Self-consciousness. Envy. Loneliness. Shame. Humilation. They’re a sad tangle of fear and they hurt like hell and don’t let anybody tell you different.
The thing is, hiding all that wrongness has never made it stop hurting. Letting myself stay afraid has never made me less afraid. Not once. Not at work, not with people I love, not with myself physically, not with myself mentally. Not ever. It just stuffs the rottenness back into the dark to fester.
Feeling disgraced is the opposite of feeling grace. And when I eventually realize how to be honest about how I’m broken and incompetent and need help – that’s when I’ve always been amazed by the grace I get from the world. There are wonderful people I’m lucky enough to know. (I wish I knew them better.) And not being willing to be vulnerable is the stupidest thing I can do. (I’m never going to know them better that way.) Hiding vulnerability is a slap in the face to people who (weirdly) want to help (help even me).
Yet I hide. Over and over. Because my brain jumps to assumptions. One assumption is that people have time and brain space to devote to judging me. (A pretty egotistical assumption, ironically.) Another is that my brokenness is bigger than anybody else’s. (Also a bit egotistical.)
The problem is, the hot lava of those shamed assumptions rolls over the sensibleness that normally is quite good at having a sense of humor and proportion. It’s a natural disaster inside my head.
I’ve got lots of broken and imperfect parts, but it’s logically pretty unlikely that their total is much more terrible than anyone else’s. So why is my reflex to hide them so strong? This article got me thinking about what I must actually believe. On the evidence, it appears that when we do this – make these assumptions – we actually really believe, deep down, that we’re different – that we’re a whole lot more terribly put together than anybody else.
Did you notice how I just slipped into second person? I didn’t realize I was doing it till I’d done it. Less revealing: that’s why I did it. Less prickily, pointily personal, if I say “we” do this, not “I” do this. It’s easier to write uncomfortable things in the second person. It’s me hiding again.
When I hide my brokenness, it’s saying that I believe nobody would understand.
Which is, obviously, full of shit.
And now we’re back where we began. Perhaps fitting. This was never going to be a post with answers.