How do you define the difference between showing all my cards and being vulnerable?
I am an open book and share so much about myself early on when I feel like it’s a safe space to then ultimately being [sic] judged in the end. When is too soon to be vulnerable in a relationship/friendship?
Dear Open Book,
Thank you for sharing! I can relate to this predicament on so many levels. For decades I’ve used alcohol and sex as tools to validate and affirm my existence, my sexuality, and my sense of worth. My life looked like a series of one-night stands and affairs throughout my relationships and marriages. I would overshare with women in an attempt to create false security, sensitivity, and empathy. It was inauthentic pseudo-vulnerability because it was self-serving, intended to gain immediate favor, sympathy, and positive regard. My oversharing and “transparency” was a form of seduction, weaponizing vulnerability for my own personal gain.
There were nuances to my oversharing and vulnerability, though. It was not all ill-intended and misguided. Deep inside me there was a small boy crying out for attention and acceptance. I wanted to show all of my cards and expose myself because I wanted to be accepted and loved. The problem was, I was using people to validate myself. The work that I needed to do was to learn to love and accept myself completely. I found my time, space, and clarity to do this after I voluntarily checked myself into rehab; finding resources and people willing to guide me. This self-discovery is requisite before deeping other relationships. Otherwise, you are leaning on others to validate you, to “complete” you. In this sense, people and relationships are mirrors. You can only authentically show up for others as deeply as you show up for yourself. If you have to abandon yourself to meet another, the gesture or act is disingenuous and tenuous at best.
Finding the right balance between vulnerability and discretion requires attunement and discernment. Discretion is important to knowing when to share private information and discernment requires us to be judicious in our perceptions and judgment of situations and/or people. This is the “chicken or the egg” dilemma. An early full disclosure, i.e. “showing all your cards,” often bypasses discretion and discernment. It’s a full frontal assault - sometimes it works, in the case when someone is ready to receive you, and sometimes it doesn’t, in the case when someone runs for the hills or judges you. Think about your longest, deepest relationships. Those relationships are slowly built and fortified by hundreds or thousands of little acts of kindness. Those are the moments. Your raw and honest exposure to those friends is justified as they have shown that they will care and tend to your vulnerabilities with loving kindness, too.
In new relationships it is imperative to be discreet and discerning in who we share our personal information with until we develop our love map with them. A love map is all of the ways that we are connected to and relate with our partner. It is the deepening of our understanding of the explicit and implicit elements of our partner’s or love interests' life. When we share conditionally in an effort to receive acknowledgment or love it will come across as inauthentic and overwhelming, leaving you open and exposed to judgement and wounding. It may seem contrary, but when we are oversharing and forcing “vulnerability,” it actually distances ourselves from the people we are trying to connect from. In your case, it seems that may be an unintended consequence of sharing yourself. In my case, it was intended as I didn’t want to be close to the people I was pursuing. I need the space and separation to distance myself from the horrible acts I was perpetuating.
There are fundamental prerequisites to allow authentic and vulnerable exploration: safety and trust. But, how do you develop trust and safety with someone that you don’t fully know, yet? How do we get to know someone if we don’t know if they are safe and trustworthy? This is another “chicken or the egg” situation. In order to share openly and honestly, you need to trust your partner and know you are safe. In order to know you are safe and trust your partner, you need to share openly and honestly over time to reinforce the bond. At some point there will be a moment when faith is all you have. Faith is essentially “blind” trust. It's not completely blind because there are typically signs, conscious and unconscious, tangible and intangible that help direct us towards safety. Your faith will be strengthened by your discernment and experience with people, but there will always be an unknown. Your intuition is soul-guidance; trust it and trust yourself.
To be continued...check back next week for Part 2 of this exploration.
With love and light,
John Moos, MD