Yesterday, I admit to my dear friend that I’m not good at being vulnerable. I’m better at listening and giving advice and pretending I have it all together. I’m better at being cheery and funny than admitting when I’m not feeling well. Maybe, deep down, I think that folks won’t love me as much if I admit my struggles and my weaknesses.
I spent five years studying the emotion of shame. One would think I could see through my tactics! We hide away and protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable. We preempt the mere possibility of feeling inferior, exposed, or judged by tucking ourselves away in protective spaces of various forms. But my research regarding shame proves this: when we make ourselves vulnerable, we create pathways for intimacy. Our capacity for intimacy directly correlates to how vulnerable we are.
My cats perform dramatic displays of vulnerability. When they roll flat on their backs and expose their tummies, they welcome affection. Dogs enact even more impressive acts. With incredible submission, a dog will lay down, roll over, and endanger himself by revealing an unprotected belly and throat.
In the animal world, showing the belly and offering submissive gestures signals love and trust. What submissive gestures might I enact to signal to my friends that same love and trust? A willingness to expose my underbelly–those weak and unpleasant things about me–might seem dangerous and shameful. But these impressive acts of vulnerability are what make friendship happen.
Who wants a friend who can’t be vulnerable? Who wants a life shackled by the fear of shame? Roll over, show your belly, and just see what love you find.