A distinct vulnerability comes with writing. Putting pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard, and pouring your heart and soul, past and present and future hopes onto a blank page.
Your mind jumps to the thought of ‘what if someone reads it?‘ or worse, ‘what if they read it and judge me?‘ or, worse still, ‘what if they read it, judge me, and know me?‘
The pieces of ourselves we put into our work, be it through a fictional character or within a personal essay, are laid bare on the page, naked and afraid. They open us up to criticisms and judgments targeted not only at the work itself but at the personal aspects we’ve woven into our words.
Have you ever told someone a secret? Shared your deepest desires, fears, and longings with another only to have them dismiss or laugh at you? Calling you weird while their face contorts into a grimace. Because I have. And I can imagine you have too.
It’s many of our worst fears to be truly seen and then no longer wanted.
And as with all fears, it must stem from somewhere.
By allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we risk exposing ourselves to further judgment, shame, and embarrassment. For many of us, we avoid any situations or conversations that may require this level of openness.
Why? Because we’ve been wounded in the past, and the last thing we want is to experience more emotional pain. Particularly when the subject of the attack is our own self.
I know this to be true for myself, anyway.
Sharing my innermost self, my thoughts and dreams and fears, with another person, is terrifying. To feel so safe with another person is almost unimaginable. Even expressing them through my writing is anxiety-inducing; my chest grows tighter at the idea of someone, somewhere, knowing my secrets.
But there’s only so much emotional disconnection we as individuals can produce before it affects those around us and our inner selves more deeply. Our fear of being known and having our true selves rejected by those we care for or value the opinions of holds us back from creating truly authentic work.
Writing requires vulnerability to tell a story, connect with the reader, and incite emotion or empathy. Without vulnerability, our words fall flat. They lose a deeper sense of meaning and cannot truly convey the trials or tribulations of life, the beauty of nature, or the grief of loss.
Why do you think the paintings in the big city galleries or the classics you study in your literature classes are heralded as the greats? They contain a facet of the artist, the subject, or the world. An emotion captured in a moment, frozen for eternity in paint or ink or sound or movement.
It connects with the viewer, the reader, the listener.
Without vulnerability, art is without meaning.
There’s no way around it—unless you’re a hard news reporter reciting fact, perhaps. Writing requires a piece of yourself. It requires you to give a segment of your self in the hopes that it may resonate with another’s.
It sounds horrible, I know. Even while writing these words, I’m filled with dread at the thought of someone reading them. But, our needing to be vulnerable doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
I used to dodge writing anything other than simple articles or stories in the pursuit of remaining hidden. But as a result, I closed myself off from my full potential as a writer and my authentic self. My childhood fear of criticism held me back for a long time, keeping my work shut away in a notebook that sent my heart racing whenever I acknowledged its existence. I’m just beginning to tackle this, embarking on an introspective journey that feels like a muddy hill-climb.
There’s a fine line between vulnerability and oversharing, something I think many of us learn the hard way, and that’s grown blurry with the rise of social media. To weave ourselves into our words and to emotionally dump onto potentially vulnerable readers are two different things. Instead of channeling your frustration into a hurried paragraph via your Instagram caption, try to be conscious of what you write.
Choose each word deliberately, with thought and heart and soul, and you’ll find that many people will connect with your work, but only once you truly connect with it.
It’s still scary, and it likely always will be (at least a little bit). But, like exercising or public speaking, the more you work at it, the easier it becomes.
Don’t think you have to share it. Putting your writing out into the world isn’t a requirement. But even utilizing words for your own benefit, in your journal or a piece of notepaper you shred or burn after, can help you process, heal, or forgive. For many of us, being known to ourselves is a first step in allowing others to do the same.
Ultimately, we must learn to be vulnerable for ourselves rather than for others. Those who can clearly show these parts of themselves are more likely to understand the importance of trust and possess a deeper level of empathy and understanding. All of which are vital in forming and maintaining connections.
To be vulnerable is to be known. To be known is to be seen. And to be seen is to be accepted.
On some level, isn’t that what we all want? To be accepted.
Even if the process is absolutely terrifying.