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 in this world. We all need social affirmation. We need others to recognize what we've been through. 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.
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.” 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, most people in our society aren't trained to deal with people shocked out by the tough stuff. We are taught to pull the blinds down to avoid the realities outside our window. 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 will judge you as a big hot mess. There she is, the downtown disaster. They will run away or push you away. And this will most likely hurt you.
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.
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 witness them in a state of deep sharing.
How they treat your emotions shows how they treat their emotions. 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.
In the mean time, you need social skills. You need to 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
- child sex trafficking
- 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. 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 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 in your interactions.
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.
When you leave a conversation, how do you want people to feel? Focus on that.
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 real life. You never let yourself be socially inappropriate, which often means voicing everything that gets swept under the rug to get by day-to-day, to take down your walls, and connect with someone so hard.
And you can’t do this without emotion. And when you do this, miracles can occur. People will respond out of concern and respect for you, no matter how uncomfortable it becomes. And that is a miracle.
And sometimes they don’t. Because they can'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.
The golden rule is to reveal your shadow to a person a little bit at a time.
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?”
If you want approval, watch out. You may not get it.
However, if you are looking to build long-lasting relationships, know you have time to do this. A bit of privacy can be beautiful. You can stand in this world with honor - without being an open book, spewing your guts against the wall. 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. 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 your pain or something terrible that happened to you.
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 try to 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. But you can deal. You only need one person in your corner to be okay.
And for those times you need to vomit, come to J2. We want your story. We want you to scream it. The people here are coming to hear it. We know you make a difference by sharing it. We know that sharing your truth builds a more compassionate society. We want to know what’s underneath the rug, what’s behind the mask. We want to see the vibrant, creative expression of your exquisite sensitivity.
words by Alison Sher