Since I was in high school, I have always been little miss cheerful: always happy and smiling and always the one to listen to other people’s issues instead of trying to complain or focus on my own. But underneath the smile and the sweet exterior, I wrestled deeply with feelings of shame and unworthiness. I was scared for my messy heart to be revealed so I bottled all my struggles up inside, positive that if I shared what I was wrestling with with anyone else, they would confirm all the thoughts running on repeat in my head: I’m too much, too emotional, not worthy of love or belonging.
It wasn’t until I got to college that I found friends who loved me persistently and faithfully enough to break down my walls. They asked me real questions until I gave real answers, and in the safety of their love and their acceptance I started to believe that maybe what God had reminding me for months was actually true: maybe I was worthy of love and belonging, maybe even the deepest, darkest parts of my heart were worth loving. Because I was brave enough to be vulnerable them and they loved me so well in the midst of it, those relationships grew deeply and I started to believe the real truths about my heart and who I am.
Since then, I’ve seen the same thing happen over and over: every time I am brave enough to share the real, dark parts of my heart, the insecurities and the fears and the shame, women have responded with grace and love and our relationships have grown as a result. That’s not to say I’ve never had an experience where I shared and felt judgment or hurt by someone’s response. But the overwhelming response to my vulnerability has been grace and a resounding chorus of “You’re not alone.”
What Happens When We Don’t Share Our Struggles
When we’re deeply afraid that people will shame us, judge us, or even just walk away from us, it seems close to impossible to open up and be honest about our deepest struggles, about the fears and insecurities that lead us to numb the pain and hide in a million different ways. My deepest fear is that when I share my struggles, people will shame me and confirm my deepest fears that I’m too much. I talked with a friend a few months back who shared that more than she fears the shame, she fears that if she shares her struggles, people will do what they’ve done many times in her life: walk away, leaving her alone and confirming her fears that she’s unworthy of love.
I don’t know what stops you from sharing your struggles with the people you love, but I know this: when we let fear prevent us from sharing their struggles, it’s very likely one or all of the following things will happen:
1) We will look to other outlets to express the emotions we can’t share.
The negative emotions that we feel will always come out somewhere. I’ve seen people I love dearly turn to food or alcohol or shopping or boys, all in an attempt to stop feeling the fear and insecurity and shame. When I feel shame and fear, I turn to control. I try to control my husband to make myself feel loved and enough or I try to rearrange my life so I feel in control. When we wrestle with feelings of shame and insecurity, those feelings are bound to come out somehow, and it’s often in unhealthy ways.
2) Our relationships will stay shallow and superficial.
We spend time with our friends and our spouses and our families, but the relationships always stay at a level just above the surface. We wonder why we can’t fully trust the people in our lives, why it feels like our relationships aren’t as deep as the relationships other people talk about having with their friends or loved ones. We might spend hours and hours with our friends and families, but there’s just something missing. And when the you-know-what hits the fan and it all falls apart, we don’t feel like we can call those people to share those dark moments with us.
3) We will start to believe the lies that we aren’t good enough or too much.
Finally, and maybe most dangerously, when we let the narratives of shame and insecurity play on repeat in our heads without sharing them, we start to believe them to be the only truths that matter. We forget that there are other narratives, that there’s a chance we might actually be worthy of love and acceptance and the voices in our head are just lies.
When we aren’t vulnerable and honest about all the ways life has been really freaking hard, the fear and shame can start to be overwhelming, spilling over into our lives and our relationships with God and with other people.
Three Reasons To Share Our Struggles
Yes, it is SO scary to share our struggles and open ourselves up. We fear that when people see the real us, they’ll reject us or shame us or just plain walk away.
But friends, what if they don’t?
What if we open up and share the ways we’re struggling and failing and people respond with grace? What if we take the chance to share with people and they respond by saying “me too” and showing us we’re not the only ones who struggle? What if our sharing gives them the courage to share about their own struggles, and we see those friends and those relationships grow and deepen as a result?
I fully believe that if we share our deepest struggles (the one that comes to mind over and over as you’ve been reading this post), that we will see our hearts and our relationships grow in three ways.
1) We will start to believe the truths that we are worthy of love.
It might seem like this is backwards, that when we share our deepest selves people will realize we’re not perfect and walk away. But almost every time I’ve shared my heart, whether in blog posts or in real life, it has felt like a weight off my shoulders. People have responded with abounding grace and I’m reminded that I’m not the only one who struggles. When I see people’s responses, I start to think that maybe even my darkest self is worthy of love. If we never give other people or God the chance to affirm that we are worth love and acceptance by sharing our deepest selves, then we’ll never start to believe those truths ourselves.
2) We will give other people the freedom to struggle too.
When I look around at our social media centered world that seems to show everyone else’s perfect lives, it’s easy to believe that I’m the only one who struggles. Sometimes it just takes one person to be brave and admit they’re not okay for all the other dominos to fall. It takes incredible bravery to be the first one to let down our walls and admit we struggle, but sometimes that’s all it takes for other people to feel free to do the same. When I’ve shared posts about scary things like intimacy and my fears about God and why it’s been so hard for me to find friends post college, I’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of people who’ve cried “Me too!” in their comments, their emails, and their posts. Let’s be the brave people to break the silence and admit we’re not okay so other people feel free to do the same.
3) We will see real intimacy in our friendships, our marriages, and our communities.
The relationships that deepen, grow, and last are the ones built on a foundation of vulnerability. When I’ve taken a risk to share a deep fear or struggle with a new friend, even maybe before I felt 100% safe to do so (but if we’re honest, do we ever feel 100% safe?), I’ve seen that friendship grow deeply. Those friends feel more free to share their own struggles and the relationship starts to grow in leaps and bounds. In the words of Brené Brown, an author and researcher whose works have shaped my views on vulnerability, when we share, other people will feel free to stand and say with us, “I am imperfect and vulnerable am sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I’m brave and worthy of love and belonging” (Rising Strong).
If you’ve been around this blog for more than a day, then you know that I am a big believer in vulnerability. My heart for this blog is that it would be a place where women feel safe to not be okay, where they feel safe to share their brokenness, their hurts, their shame, and their fears. It’s why I come back to this space day after day and why I invite other women to share their hearts here on Womanly Wednesdays.
When we open ourselves up to share our real selves, we always risk hurt and rejection. I’m not saying to go and share your deepest secrets with people who’ve shown themselves to be untrustworthy or who’ve hurt you consistently in the past. Maybe the safest and best step for you is to find a counselor who can listen to you and help you move toward healing before you even begin to share with your friends or families (you can read about my journey with counseling here). But if you have a friend, a relationship, or a platform where you can open the doors to real, honest conversation, I challenge you to be brave and jump in head first. Because in the words of the wonderful Brené Brown (seriously, y’all, she’s amazing), “I have to trust myself and the people I care about more than the gremlins, even if that means risking being hurt” (Rising Strong)
Talk about your eating disorder, your battles with depression, or how your parents’ divorce while you were in college shattered everything you thought you knew about families and relationships. Talk about how sex (even in the context of marriage) can be incredibly confusing and hard, about how you feel discontent in your job or wonder if you’ll ever get married or catch up to everyone else you know.
Share the struggles with the people around you and I know you will see your heart and your relationships start to grow. And maybe, you’ll start to believe the truths that even the darkest, most painful and broken parts of your heart are worthy of love and acceptance, both by God and the people who love you.
I’m linking back to this post at Imparting Grace, Embracing His Will, A Life In Balance, Purposeful Faith, A Fresh Start On A Budget, What Joy Is Mine, The Beauty In His Grip, Strangers And Pilgrims On Earth, Me Coffee and Jesus, Women With Intention, A Little R & R, A Wise Woman Builds Her Home, Coffee For Your Heart, Serving Joyfully, 3D Lessons 4 Life, The Deliberate Mom, Dance With Jesus, Missional Women, Busy Being Blessed, Live Free Thursdays, Whole Hearted Wednesdays, Thriving Thursdays, Christian Mommy Bloggers, Still Saturdays, Tuesday Talk, and Modest Mondays.