Have you ever had that gut-wrenching desire to lay bare your heart to someone you are attracted to? Well, most of us at some point or the other in our lives, may have felt such ‘butterflies’ in our stomach, but many of us may have stopped ourselves from expressing our emotions. We, broken as we are, love the possibility of seeing another person’s raw truth and passion, but when the tables are turned we shy away from letting others see these in us. Today, I see myself as a strong-willed and highly motivated individual ready to take the world head-on. But, recent events in my life have also made me question whether this is truly who I am or am I just projecting myself as being this way so that I am accepted by people around me.
I remember myself as a skinny, overprotected child from a very small town in Jharkhand whose day began with cursing the school principal for starting the school at 7 each morning. Back then, life was simple and predictable. Every morning,my mother would help me get dressed and I would leave for school, somehow survive all my classes, and come home by 4 pm, I would go out to play with my friends, only to return, do my homework, and go to bed by 11 pm. This was my daily routine.
But when I turned 14, everything changed in life as I knew it, and instead, became complicated. A new girl had recently joined our school, and as fate would have it; she was allocated the same section as mine. This was the first time I felt an attraction towards a person of the other gender. It had never been difficult for me to approach someone to talk to them but this was different. Every time I wanted to talk to her, I felt held back by my own insecurities. Fear of rejection loomed large in my mind. Not being loved for who I was, would have shattered any self-worth I had. Shame that would have followed this rejection would have left my social acceptance in jeopardy. My friend circle consisted entirely of boys and being rejected by a girl in my quest for love would have made me a source of daily amusement for my peers. Primitively and instinctively, we are wired to need and cherish connection with others. The need to connect with people is so pressing and overwhelming that just a little misadventure in my search for love could have left me viewing my entire self in a negative light. Too much was on the line for me to fail. All these thoughts loomed heavy on me and I decided not to pursue my feelings for her and somehow suppressed them.
Not finding a safe space for healthy expression of emotions during our adolescence can have a lifelong impact on our wellbeing. In a patriarchal society where people are expected to behave in a particular way based on their gender identity, socio-economic location, and so on, unresolved and/or suppressed emotional trauma can lead to many mental health issues. From difficulties in striking conversations with people, maintaining stable romantic relationships, having good peer connections, to sustaining happy marriages, our trauma can manifest in many ways. For example, people who fear rejection often find it difficult to express their own needs and desires, or develop morbid jealousies, or even become distrustful of their own partners.
In relationships, being vulnerable and expressive helps us open new dimensions of intimacy and closeness. Exposing ourselves and nurturing vulnerability helps strengthen relationships and also tests the stability of relationships. By putting everything out in the open, we have an opportunity to check for compatibility issues and gauge our partner’s acceptance of us. If the reception is not as warm as expected, it also provides us an opportunity to smoothen the poky edges of our relationship and move forward without the fear of judgement.
Being vulnerable helps boost our self-esteem and self-worth by pushing us out of our comfort-zone. It provides us with an opportunity to overcome obstacles and reach deep down within ourselves to find strength and confidence to keep going even when the odds are against us. It presents us with a choice to accept our imperfections and work to make a better version of ourselves.
Though my teenage misadventure ended disastrously, it made me introspect more rigorously. My own failure to rise above insecurities was the reason I never revealed my feelings to her. Though it took me several years to come to terms with my insecurities and accept the fact that it’s all right for me to feel attracted to another person, this entire episode of my life taught me about the opportunities we miss out in life, when we stop ourselves from being vulnerable. If we bare our flaws and weaknesses for the world to see, we may be delightfully surprised to find that our imperfections are what make us loveable.
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