I recently had this friend who really struggled to express her emotions. At first, that was a bit surprising to me. However, her inability to express emotions was her attempt to not be viewed as vulnerable.
The same thing also happens in the context of relationships. People, especially women, try to present themselves in a very specific way early on in the relationship. As one wrong expression can lead to views of being crazy, damaged goods, or unable to maintain a stable relationship. Through failure to express vulnerability, you are not showing up as your authentic self in the context of these relationships.
Inauthenticity allows someone to like and fall for a version of you that isn’t representative of who you really are as a person. Is that even worth it in the long term? Usually no because honey your real self is going to make an appearance one day.
Many women, especially successful women, struggle with expressing vulnerability due to a number of reasons.
First, women have long learned that they are expected to behave in a certain manner in specific spaces.
Although many of these views are antiquated and rooted in women passively occupying spaces, these norms are still fairly prevalent today. Yet, this isn’t congruent with the values and ideals of most modern women. So what do you do instead? Many women are successful because they learn to be constrained in their emotions, create a calculated plan and outline their specific goals. When challenges arise they tend to “bounce back” (or do they?) and continue moving forward.
Nowhere in the script is there an opportunity for successful women to be vulnerable and demonstrate a range of feelings. Expression of too many feelings is equated to being weak, emotional, or PMSing. This, in turn, translates to a potential identity crisis, because you’re trying to integrate these societal preferences into your existing personal identity.
Second, the weight of the world is on your shoulders, especially as a successful Black woman.
When you occupy spaces such as jobs within corporate America that are traditionally held by White men; the only person of color sitting at the table, or the only one in your family who has reached this level of success it’s A LOT.
You have likely been taught because “you are one of few” that you need to keep it together at all times. You not only represent yourself but also your family, your community, and your race. So much weight to place on one person’s shoulders.
Third, all the expectations on how you should show up to professional spaces influence your ability to navigate romantic relationships as your authentic self.
It makes perfect sense to me why when you get to the interpersonal relationships that you adopt the same philosophy because that’s how you’ve had to navigate other spaces within your life. So naturally, you may enter into relationships being very cautious about what you can share or what you can’t share about yourself.
These inconsistencies between your “masked image” and your authentic self can cause the breakdown of a relationship in the future. For instance, at face value, I come off as a prude, shy, and have limited life experiences. However, in real life, I am pretty outspoken and have a very complex past. Yes, I’m also super nerdy (omg, I live for corny jokes). There is a clear distinction between my personal “masked image” and my authentic self; thus, I need a partner who complements the quirky pieces of my true identity or at least can appreciate it.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to not be ashamed of who I am. The things that I’ve been through are a part of my story. My previous experiences have shaped the person that I am today but they don’t define me. I am not a victim to my circumstances. Instead, I allow my circumstances to fuel who I am and who I’m continuing to become.
Next time you are interested in someone, I encourage you to explore the power of authenticity and vulnerability. One way to begin to do this is to think about one thing that people may not know about you that you are comfortable sharing and share that. Make sure that what you’re sharing isn’t just a fact but something that is connected to feelings.
For instance, if I have been talking to a guy for a while and see that our interest in one another is growing it’s important for me to disclose my experience with intimate partner violence (You can read my story here) as that influences specific triggers that I have and why certain boundaries are important to me in the context of a relationship. That is super vulnerable for me to share; however, if a person views me as “damaged goods”, feels sorry for me or can’t handle my truth we aren’t compatible and it’s on to the next.
I charge you to recognize that vulnerability isn’t a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. Your future bae will love your authentic self and it will lead to an open, honest and healthy future relationship.