Growing up, maintaining a “good” reputation was a huge thing embedded into my values. And much of this, especially in the desi community, entailed being what was considered to be well-behaved and docile. Much of being respectful and “good” was attributed to being unconditionally obedient and submissive to elders, and not arguing with them.
And much of it included not being vulnerable.
But this last bit was not just limited to the desi culture I grew up in– it was also tied to the American culture that I grew up in, having been born and brought up here in the United States.
I was taught that vulnerability was a weakness, that struggles you went through mentally were to be hidden, and that if you had struggles, they were insignificant compared to what people worse off than you went through.
To be vulnerable was antithetical to being strong, and to be emotional was to be weak.
To express negative emotions was to be shameful, and being raw and real about negative feelings and experiences brought the shame of being a burden and a mood-killer.
Overall, to be vulnerable was embarrassing.
It wasn’t until college that these experiences were dispelled.
Much of what helped me open up as a person, and be more of my authentic self, was letting go of what others thought.
And being more open, reciprocally, helped me care less about what others thought.
Little by little, I started by first opening myself up to one person. And from that, I opened myself up in general, opening up to more and more people. However, specific elements and details were filtered based on who I was opening up to.
I normalized things that were often stigmatized, such as mental health, feelings of loneliness and desire for belongings. Before, the thing that was holding me back was worrying about what others would think, and the consequences that would result from what they thought and what they knew about me.
The key for me to open up was to let go of the value I gave to what others thought of me.
And I’d be lying if I said that what others thought or said about me didn’t bother me at all. It’s human nature and instinct to not want to embarrass yourself in front of others, and to want to be accepted by others.
Rather than not caring at all, it’s more about not caring as much. Instead, that extra energy is directed toward caring about being authentic and valuing who you really are over the image of the person you are trying to present.
And that comes a lot with realizing that who you really are is worth more of your concern than what others perceive of you. And it comes a lot with the realization that those who accept you and are good for you, those who have the potential to be real friends to you, will gravitate toward you when you portray who you really are rather than a facade of who you want others to think you to be.
Genuine connections with others starts with self-validation.
There is the realization that those worthy of your care, energy and thoughts are those who value you for you and not whether or not you fit society’s expectations for the constructed ideals that you were taught to strive to be.
For me, being able to open up was more about shifting the focus from receiving approval from people and impressing people to connecting with people in raw and meaningful ways. And to really connect to people, it’s important to be real and open about things that other people can relate to and feel, but are themselves also hesitant to open up about.
It makes them feel less alone. It also makes them more likely to want to open up with you and to be more willing to put the efforts of connecting.
And as for those who judge and demean– they’ll reject and be repelled by me. Instead of dwelling on the fact that I’m not accepted by them– shouldn’t I see it as a blessing that the toxic energy from them is kept out of my space and my life?
Those who value connecting will want to connect with others who show that they value connecting, too. This is whether these people craving and valuing genuine human connection are already open and vulnerable, or if they are still trying to muster the push for bravery to open up. The latter group can be inspired as they see that they are not alone.
There is a kind of emotional intimacy that is promoted– and this kind of emotional connection leads to the realness that leads to genuine relationships.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the things I choose to share with much closer friends are things that I share with the world. Of course, there are different layers and aspects of vulnerability, and depending on the person, some of that vulnerability is best reserved for those who are most trusted and actually deserve the privilege of knowing them.
Regardless, being more open and forming authentic human connection means being willing to be vulnerable and open about more things that are stigmatized, but shouldn’t be. And it means cultivating the courage to be able to open up about big things in general so that you can open up about even bigger things with those who deserve to know about even deeper things and will genuinely be there for you. In a way, the initial opening up phase is like an unintentional tester that allows you to take steps to determine who to trust and feel safe with, upon seeing the initial reactions from people to the first stages of you opening up.