It’s been awhile since I’ve experienced it: vulnerability hangover. It’s a term Brene Brown coined for that feeling of, “Did I just share too much? Is she going to think I’m way too much of a mess?” It’s enough to make you throw up a little.
But I felt that vulnerability hangover the other morning. The night before I’d spent time with someone I’ve known casually from a distance for a long time and always wanted to know better. Neither of us are shallow end of the pool kind of girls. We sat on her porch and poured out our life stories to each other, the good, bad and ugly. It felt both cathartic and terrifying.
I deeply desire to be an authentic person. I want to be someone others see as real, and who invites others to be their real selves too. Too often, though, my authenticity looks like what Don Miller describes in Scary Close, “I’m the kind of person who wants to present my most honest, authentic self to the world—so I hide backstage and rehearse honest and authentic lines until the curtain opens.”
Was I authentic with this girl? Yep. The terror came in the fact that I had no time to rehearse – it was all just out there, without filtering, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was too much. If I was too much.
But I’m learning that it’s ok, that on the path to being authentic I must be vulnerable. I must be willing to be messy. I must be willing to put who I am out there, whether or not it is exactly what I think other people want. Sometimes it will surprise them, maybe even be more than they want. But being real is not about doing it perfectly. And I’m learning that in that process, God can minister to me and through me. Here’s how I know:
We recently moved back to the U.S. after 13 years of living overseas, and started the acculturation process. Despite being back in my own country, I felt incompetent, messy, lost, uncertain. In a word, I was undone.
In the middle of my mess, I was thrown a lifeline. An acquaintance from our life overseas invited me to a process group studying the Brene Brown series Connections. I thought it would be a great opportunity to get to know a few new women in this season, maybe make some friends. I wanted them to know the real me.
Only the real me who showed up wasn’t the me I wanted them to see. It was the incompetent, messy, lost, uncertain and undone me. I wanted to be authentic, just not that authentic. I wanted my authentic self to be cool and attractive, not a blubbering mess. Every week I determined, “This week, I will not cry at group.” And every week, I cried.
But in my tears, people seemed drawn to me. They cried with me. They loved me. They shared their own stories of incompetence and mess and uncertainty. They saw me; not just the me I want them to see, but all of me. There, I found the great joy not only of being free to be myself, but in seeing how it gave others the freedom to be authentic right back.
I wish I could say that now I move forward with my authentic self confidently and consistently. The truth is, I know the enemy wants me to live in fear and to shrink back from people. There is always a lie hanging out there, waiting for me to grab hold of it, that says people would rather have some other less messy, less needy version of me, that I will be more acceptable if I present a better picture of who I am.
But where I am trying to hang my hat is the truth that God designed the true me, and He loves it. He took great delight in making me who I am, every part of me, and if He loves it, others can as well. He can love me through other people when I step out with the real me. So I keep stepping into vulnerable places, knowing that I don’t go to find approval or acceptance but simply to live freely.
This morning, I took a long walk with my new friend. I mentioned my vulnerability hangover, and she laughed and said she’d felt the same. Authenticity isn’t something we rehearse—it’s what shows up when we are free.