Who is it safe to tell my story to?
Learning when it’s safe to tell your story is one of the most difficult challenges you may face on your way to becoming well-functioning and truly loved in this world. We all need social affirmation. We need others to recognize what we’ve been through for it feel real. We need others to help steer us toward resolution to all the conflicts life can present.
If you don’t know my story, you don’t know who I really am.
If I don’t know my story, I don’t know who I am.
That’s how we operate. We tell our stories to figure out who we are. We tell our stories to help others know who we are too.
You may be dying to tell someone about the chaos in your life, to have someone listen to you on end, to be held as you cry, to witness you in your anger and say, “You are justified.” You may be looking everywhere to find someone to listen, someone to understand, someone to tell you there’s nothing wrong with you, to say, “I love you. You’re okay.” You may be searching for someone to help you make sense of what’s happened. Every person in society deserves to have someone to talk to at length about what they’ve experienced when they hit rock bottom.
How a community responds to people dealing with tragedy plays a huge role in a person’s recovery — how fast they recover, or if they ever recover at all.
However, there are a lot of people who will not respond the way you need them to. In fact, most people may not respond well to you vomiting out your dramas. They’ll judge you as a big hot mess. WATCH OUT! Red Flag. There she is. Downtown disaster. They will feel threatened by the darkness of your experiences. They will run away or push you away. And this will hurt.
Be compassionate to yourself and others. Be aware that if an event or relationship has been hard for you to process, it is hard for them to process too.
They don’t know where to put the information you just shared. They don’t know what to do with it. They don’t know how to help you. They can’t help you.
And many times, this has nothing to do with you. It has more to do with what your story brings up inside of them. Your story causes their anger, sadness, and fear to surface. It causes their doubts and confusions and vulnerability to arise. Maybe they’ve never had anyone be able to handle them in a state of deep sharing.
You need social skills. You need learn to be around people and feel normal — to go out to dinner and talk about the pickles.
Just talk … about …. the damn pickles.
Don’t talk about:
- gun violence
- money problems
- your shitty last relationship
- your feelings of insanity
- the capitalist cannibals
For just one night, talk about what’s going alright. Talk about a movie, a TV show, the clouds in the sky.
You are who you are. You’ve been through what you’ve been through. One day you’ll be able to appreciate yourself for it. In the meantime, as the mystery unfolds, you deserve to enjoy the simple pleasures in life too. You deserve to enjoy the presence of others without getting heavy all of the time or getting a lot of attention for your wounds.
And yet, emotional pain has to come out. It has to come out and it will. And it always comes out in the form of a story.
There is all this talk about being yourself and being authentic and being vulnerable as the pathway to healing. And it is the path — with safe people in a safe place. And then, spilling your guts can be very healing — very, very healing. It can make you feel 20 lbs. lighter and far more centered. There are people who can handle who you are, as you are. They even like it. Holy shit! They care about your feelings. However, it takes a lot of trial and error to know who those people are and the best way to go about building those relationships.
The persona is there to help with that. The persona helps you conceal your true nature. It’s a mask, a facade that makes social interactions easier. It is the stealth and slick and humble part of your personality that acts in different ways according to the context of each situation to mitigate conflict, to make people feel comfortable, to avoid that rubbing-your-nails-against-chalkboard type feeling.
Your words carry a frequency. You can leave people feeling like they’ve been hit by a sledge hammer or rubbed with a handful of rose petals.
Having an effective persona is a life skill. It becomes a problem when it is all you are, and you never let another person into your emotional world. You shut down completely. You never let yourself be socially inappropriate, which often means voicing everything that gets swept under the rug, to take down your walls, and connect with someone so hard. You can’t do this without emotion. And when you do this, miracles can occur. People respond out of concern and respect for you, no matter what it brings up inside them.
And sometimes they don’t, but the great news is that other people don’t have to be okay with all of you for you to be okay with all of you.
If you find yourself blurting out the traumatic events in your life to bosses or co-workers or random people at the coffee shop, you may want to question, “What is this is about? Why do they need to know this? And who is it meant to serve?”
You want empathy. You want to feel normalized. You want approval. Watch out. Some people may not be able to go there with you.
The golden rule is to reveal your shadow to a person a little bit at a time.
If you are looking to build long-lasting relationships, know you have the time to do this. A bit of privacy can be beautiful. You can stand in this world with honor, without being an open book. And when you can stand in honor, people will want to stand beside you.
Bit by bit, share pieces of yourself when you aren’t emotionally activated. Share the plot of your story, the parts you understand. You will find there are people who are open to your openness. They are the people willing to be open too. Respect the process of trust-building. Let people see that you are safe to be around now, before you beg them to define you based on who you were back then.
Pay attention to who cuts you off when you try to get deep. Watch for who minimizes your emotions. Watch for who wants to argue with you over facts instead of stretch themselves to understand your perspective. Watch for the people who seem to shut down as you open yourself.
Use your discernment. There are people out there (and these people may be in your own family), who may never want to hear anything from you but the words “I’m good. I’m happy. Everything’s great.” And that is heartbreaking.
Please, no more heartbreak. You only need one person in your corner to be okay.