Apr 3, 2014

On Coming Out of One's Shell

I have always found that analogy disturbing, because what is a shelled creature like when it is out of its shell?

Yeah. Soft... unprotected... generally a bit ugly. And they're not *supposed* to come out of their shells all that often. It's a pretty lousy analogy.

I want to sort of think/write about two topics that seem related to this whole shell-shelling concept. The first is:

Why is it so hard?

I think my biggest motivation in trying to approach others is connection. And also, relationships. And also, to be more approachable myself, because I'd like people to feel safe coming to me in person, not just on the internet, if they need help. I'd like for people to feel safe talking to me if they need someone to talk to. I have been through a lot! It is comforting to me, that I can use what I have been through to help others. It gives the whole lame experience purpose. On the interface of the internet I am approached regularly by people who have gone through stuff. I share my thoughts about going through divorce, or tragedy, or a spouse's pornography addiction or struggles with priesthood or whatever. And, of course, about writing.

I was talking with a friend the other day about why it is so hard to approach people, or to feel like we've done a good job when approached by people for help. Why we tend to think back on conversations and rehash everything and beat ourselves up.... Why, even if we know someone in our acquaintance has gone through something difficult or could use some friendship, it is so hard to reach out. I think it's a few things combined.

First of all, Shyness. Shyness, I think, is partly a fear of rejection, and partly being easily overwhelmed in new, or confusing, or complicated social situations. Also worry about offending others. I think that last one is the biggest for me. I worry constantly that I have inadvertently offended or hurt people or made their lives harder because of my interactions with them.

The second is empathy. When you are capable of feeling for others, you want to help them. Partly because you are feeling for them, and partly because it's just important--people who are struggling need to be helped by people who feel for them. You are suffering with them (a much smaller degree than what they're suffering, but still.) It is very hard to watch someone I know struggle. At church especially.

I think that the combination of shyness and empathy KILLS. You want so badly to reach out, so you do, and then after you do, you beat yourself up over everything you did or said and basically come to the conclusion that you've made someone's life harder, not easier, by your interference. It's tough. And yes, I realize that this negative way of thinking needs to be ferociously challenged.

The second thing I wanted to address on the topic of newly-unshelledness:

Being hurt.

I have been pretty badly hurt. I can now freely admit that without feeling shame. Just because you've been hurt does not mean you brought it on yourself. Also, it's OK to talk about it. It's something to know about me, as a relationship develops deeper. It's sharing--it's OK. And one huge revelation I've had lately is...

ALMOST EVERYBODY has been hurt. At some point, by some thing. It really is true that we are all fighting invisible battles.

I have been thinking lately that a lot of the strife that occurs between people (who are nice and trying to do what is right) has to do with these hurts and nicks to our self worth, and how we interpret the world through the facets we are left with. Honestly. I think that people often think that they are the only ones who struggle. I know I get that way at times. And so they're struggling, and someone says something to them in a not-quite-perfect way, or accidentally forgets to do or say something exactly right, and because they're in that difficult place it's an extra painful thing.

When someone hurts us, how do we react?

In the past, it has been a struggle for me to even admit when I've been hurt, but boy have I reacted anyway :) with anger, accusations, sometimes giving someone the cold shoulder for a bit. I stew and stew and stew and wonder and cry and struggle. And yes, part of that is because I was significantly hurt, and it affected my trust in people to a severe degree. Part of it is also because, newly-deshelled, I have been extra sensitive and soft and injurable.

But I was thinking the other day. A phrase has been repeating in my mind and soul lately--being a soft place to land. We all make mistakes, every one of us. Usually by accident, but sometimes even on purpose. Some times we do things we know aren't perfect, that might hurt another person. What if, instead of reacting angrily and defensively to others' imperfect moments, we became a soft place for each other to land? What if we sought understanding, exercised empathy, and saw the other person's nicks and hurts, and recognized that the person who hurt us is most likely coming from a place of pain or confusion or worry just like our pains, confusions, and worries.

What if we all did that?

Wouldn't the world be so much easier to live in? What if people helped instead of calling the city? And if a person calls the city, what if I responded by thinking about how, to go through the trouble of calling the city, my weeds must have bothered someone quite a bit. And for some reason they felt unable to approach me about it. So maybe I should prioritize their removal and not stew over it. Maybe the person who called had a really bad day and my weeds were a last straw, and maybe they're regretting what they did right now. (Sorry to use a real life example, it's one I've spent a lot of unproductive time being hurt and angry about.)

What if, when someone *really* hurts you (and it's okay to feel pain, to retreat, and to remove some trust in those situations, but) what if you could come out of your pain and realize someone else's?

How would I feel about someone that I was really mean to, who immediately forgave me and was even nice to me, and acted like they were my friend anyway? I would trust them, that's how I would feel.

I want people to trust me. And I want to trust others.

I'm working on it.


Joanna McCormick said...

I love that you blog about your vulnerabilities!!! I love your realness and we've never even met!

Sarah Dunster said...

Thank you, Joanna! It is scary. But I feel, important.

David L said...

Well you know me and you know what happened in my case. In some ways, I find out stories very similar with some (obviously) key differences. But still... similar.

And the truth is that I'm finally dealing with most of mine 30+ years after the fact from a time of life when I could barely remember let alone comprehend what was happening.

But it is nice to know that people care and believe you.

Of all the words I've ever heard, "I believe you" are some of the best. There is something so freeing about telling someone what happened and hearing that they believe me.

So madam Sarah, I believe you. :-)