Unmasked, unguarded – and somehow, still safe

We all have secrets and guilty pleasures. It’s a broad spectrum, but we all fall somewhere on it. We think that keeping secrets is a way of holding on to the things that make us authentically individual – truly ourselves – but of course there are secrets we never tell because we’re afraid of them taking over our lives by permanently altering the way others perceive us.

But regardless of what our secrets are and why we choose to keep them, we do so to the point where we hide a huge part of who we are from even the people who know us best.

In my particular case, my nature is so introverted and then further encased in a shell that it’s inherently difficult for me to open up to anyone. This means that when I do confide in somebody it’s because I feel safe with them, and I don’t expect to be hurt by the person in whom I confide the secrets that hurt enough already.

People constantly surprise us and the ritual of confiding in others is a prime opportunity for us to be reminded of this fact. Exhibit A: you tell the same thing to two different people in more or less the same fashion, but they’re both going to react differently – and that will tell you a lot about who they are and maybe even what you are to them.

I once told an ex about the particularly harrowing nature of one of my previous relationships. I trusted him, loved him more than any other person I knew, and wanted him to really know me, and I wanted to demonstrate all that by opening up and telling him things I had never told anyone else. Eventually, instead of bringing us closer together it pushed us apart. My story – and some of the most defining moments of my life that it included – of who I was before him became, I think, fodder for his insecurity, jealousy, and minor prejudices. It got to a point where I did not feel whole standing in front of him; instead, I felt torn apart, over and over again whenever he asked me for reassurances on the subject, and eventually felt incomplete – like I was less of a person for having made mistakes in my past, and now had to tilt at windmills to prove I was worthy.

A couple of weeks ago, I told the same story again to another person – a good friend this time – during a particularly rough and emotional day. It was one of those situations where things just came out and I realized at the end of it that I had pretty much emotionally exploded all over somebody and told them a secret that I had sworn to never tell anyone ever again. It had cost me one close connection and for a few minutes I was utterly terrified that my unintentional and unfiltered blurting had just cost me another one. (Oh, and did I mention I did this over text? Way to go, right…)

“And now I have the horrible feeling that if I was standing in front of you right now, you’d be looking at me in an entirely different way, and I’m hating myself for that,” I said quickly, as it had been a minute or two of text-silence.

“I don’t see you differently. We’re two friends who are telling each other things and being open. It would take a lot to change my opinion of you,” came the response.

I suppose my friend really meant that, as we’re still talking as we’ve always done, and maybe even perhaps on slightly more familiar terms now.

One story, two different people – and two different reactions whose juxtaposition made me realize that I’m too hard on myself and think too much about what people might be thinking.  And that realization caused me to see that not letting anyone in might protect my heart from pain, but it also prevents my heart from experiencing joy.

Anyone who’s had this kind of experience – this unexpected acceptance by one person when the same situation resulted in rejection by another – will tell you that it’s difficult to say how it feels to know that despite revealing something so deeply hidden, you are still cared for and still seen as a whole person worthy of time and attention.  You feel a kind of unexpected joy at the equally unexpected relief of not being the only one who knows something that weighs so heavily on you.  You feel like a person again because another human has accepted you, warts and all, and will still be there for you.

I’ll probably always be guarded. I’ll probably always need my shell, and I’ll probably always be very cautious about opening myself up to another person. But it’s nice to know that I don’t always have to hide – that I can be safe enough in somebody else’s presence so as to be vulnerably open and totally myself with them. It’s nice to know that in at least one friendship I don’t have to wear masks or pretend I’m a little less flawed, that I am accepted entirely and can therefore be exactly who I am and express exactly how I feel.

After all, while the truth sets you free – “this above all: to thine own self be true.”  And by being open and honest, I am being more of who I really am, and I have once again been surprised by joy.


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