Why don't we talk about it?

I was surprised how much (mostly private) feedback I got about a couple of my recent writings on friends and on health.

Almost every email, comment, private message, etc. I got about these posts was some form of this (paraphrased): "Wow, thank you for writing about this, I have totally been struggling with this so much and it's a relief to know I am not alone and/or get some info or insight about it."

The reason this surprised me is that even now, after having this sort of experience with previous posts, I still often feel like I really am pretty alone in dealing with these things. I feel like I'm really going out on a limb by writing about them publicly. But again and again, I get these responses from people... which begs the question: Why aren't we talking about this stuff? No, this isn't a rhetorical question, I really want to know why everyone's not talking about this, out in the open!

If this many people have responded to me personally (only a fraction have posted anything publicly), how many more are these topics hitting home with that I don't even know about? And why, oh why are we keeping our suffering a secret, keeping it quietly tucked away where continues to eat a hole in our emotional and/or physical well-being?

I have two theories on this.

The more obvious theory: Vulnerability

You've read Daring Greatly by now right? (If not, put your name on the waitlist at the library or get thee to your closest second hand bookstore, there will surely be a copy waiting for you!) At this point, I chalk a lot of behaviours up to the fear of being vulnerable, letting people see who you really are, what you're really going through, etc. because of the fear that it will end up being a weakness that people will take advantage of. (Vulnerability isn't a sign of weakness though, it's a sign of strength!) Everyone's been hurt before, and lots of us are scared to trust again. That's normal. But I don't think that it's this simple.

The less obvious theory: Judgment

There's this weird thing going on, I'm certain that I'm not the only one who's noticed it. All the self-help, positivity, spirituality, woo-woo, fix your life stuff all over the internet... it doesn't allow you talk about the bad things. People suddenly label you negative, tell you you're holding yourself back, judge you as not spiritually mature enough... And at a time when you're taking a leap and opening up, that fucking hurts.

None of us want to put ourselves out there only to be pushed back into place, told that it's only okay to talk about "genuine" feelings if they are positive ones. It's bullshit. Your feelings are your feelings, they make you a whole person, and denying the ones that aren't so easy to feel or to hear doesn't help you at all. It keeps you stuck.

What do we do about it?

I know what I'm going to do: keep being honest and vocal. That's the thing that's always come naturally to me. I still feel hurt when people judge me for what I've said, sure, but that's not going to stop me. No matter how many times I've felt belittled, minimized, or censored, I know deep down that I shouldn't be ashamed about my experiences. 

Sharing what I go through gives me strength. When you tell me "me too", that gives me comfort. When you tell me my words have helped you, and that you want to try too, that gives us community. And together we can find our way through this.

Do you have any theories about why it's so taboo to talk about things like health or friendship? Any ideas of what would help such personal topics become easier and more common to talk about? I'd love to hear your take.

Thanks for reading, here is a pretty flower for you! xo


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Hi Ariane,

It seems to me that people have become more isolated at the same time they are apparently encouraged to superficially share more. Facebook posts tend to be filled with nothing but positive stuff, not real stuff. Virtual friends far outnumber real ones. The cult of positivity seems to have brainwashed everyone.

There's been this cultural shift where only positive things are celebrated, failure is feared or bad for self esteem, everyone is a hero for just doing what they should, not something truly extraordinary, you get a gold star for just showing up. Gurus abound everywhere you turn, especially online. Shallow, superficial relationships have supplanted real ones that take effort.

I think people aren't talking about it as you say, from fear, of vulnerability and judgement, but also of feeling inadequate when they compare themselves to all these people that seem to have it all together, but who are only letting you see a small portion of their lives. We all feel pretty average and yet everyone has some rather extraordinary in thier lives. A talent, a skill, things they done or survived.

If people make celebrating their ordinariness a good thing, talk frankly about their hardships and triumphs, their feelings and thoughts, it would normalise these conversations. People seem to have a real fear of standing out or what people think of them. Publicly participating apparently is hard, but if we did it more maybe more people would would be encouraged. I'm glad you are writing about this.

Thus I had to put my two cents in. Thank you for starting the conversation.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment Dana. :) I think you're so right about the superficial sharing... the funny thing is that when I do post more meaningful or honest posts on Facebook for instance, I often get huge responses compared to the superficial stuff. It almost seems like people are hungry for "real" online connection beyond all the fun or superficial stuff. 

Someone also suggested to me that maybe people don't feel much of the real life consequences or obligation when it comes to something like RSVPing to an event and then bailing last minute without letting anyone know. Because it's online and there's so much going on online that they forget this is a real person who really cares whether they show up...

I hope at some point things start to shift!

Personally, I have a fear of being judged and that fear tends to cause me to clam up and apply a very strong filter to what I say publicly about certain issues. It's not that I shy away from them exactly, but I'm very careful about what I say and how I say it.

For example, mental health issues are something that I struggle with, and while I feel called to speak out about them... both for the general education of others who might not be aware and to connect with others who struggle with similar things... there's also an acute awareness that if I don't phrase things the right way, someone might accuse me of using things I've been diagnosed with as a crutch, someone might accuse me of acting out for attention, someone might look at what I've written and think, "Hmm... She's got an anxiety disorder? I don't think I want to hire her... She might freak out and flake!" So on and so forth...

I want to be honest about the things I struggle with, but I have to be careful because if I were to just post how I felt willy-nilly on a bad day, I might be putting forth a very very negative picture of myself.

Blogging, at least for me, feels like this delicate balancing act between being true to my experience but in such a way that it doesn't alienate people who don't experience the world the same way that I do.

Yeah, I really understand that fear especially when it comes to saying things online. I have decided to trust that my abilities will always speak for themselves, and if someone wouldn't want to hire me because of what I've opened up about, I wouldn't want to work for them anyway! But I know it's not so easy for a lot of people.

That said, I find this also happens in person, in more private spaces too - that part is what really baffles me. 

You know, it's funny... I feel like I've give a lot of lip service to the whole "If someone can't handle what I've said online and uses that against me, maybe they shouldn't hire me," sentiment (in fact, I uttered that very statement last night to someone last night) and yet, at the same time... It still looms there as a fear, and I feel like it's a fear that's flared considerably as I've taken distance from the web development industry. Maybe that's something I should be taking a look at... Hmm....

As I was coming back to this blog post today, suddenly I remembered one of the things I read in the 4th chapter of Daring Greatly, the one about various kinds of vulnerability armor that people use, and for me... The one that most highly resonated with me was the floodgating, which is the process of oversharing personal info with people whom you don't necessarily have a close enough relationship with to be comfortably sharing something overly personal with, and in result the other person recoils uncomfortably reinforcing the pattern of disconnection.

Looking back on my younger years, I think this was a large reason why I had a difficult time making friends. I was an anxious, unhappy kid growing up in a family where vulnerability was to be ignored as if it didn't happen, so the way that I tried to cope with it was to just spew off all of my troubles on the first person who was nice to me, which usually resulted in the person backing away slowly and whispering to the next kid, "That one's crazy."

Now that I'm older and a little more self aware, I'm a little more controlled about it... but at the same time, I think I also have a tendency to take it to the other extreme.... Where I'm paranoid to say anything to anybody ever about the things I'm struggling with because I'm afraid I'm going to floodlight somebody by accident.

Hmm... Well I guess I feel like things like health struggles and friendship struggles (and work struggles and family struggles, etc.) are pretty normal things to talk about to begin with, ya know? Sure everyone has some boundaries, and you have to work with that to an extent, but these are things that we all deal with - they shouldn't be interpreted as weird or crazy to talk about - tho I think they often are! I guess for the last while I've just erred on the side of sharing. It's still selective and conscious but I push myself to do it.

Hi Ariane - My rambling thoughts on this are that:

1. People don't like to discuss their emotions in general. There is often such a negative backlash that we learn not to open up (ie: don't be so emotional! don't let your emotions get the best of you! Just forget about it!) We ARE emotional. We have to let it out.

2. I have (in the distant past) had a fear of getting too close to people (long story). I would have good friendships, but not go past a certain depth. totally got called on it, which changed my outlook. Since then (this was a very long time ago), I have been trying to be more open/vulnerable, but it can be a challenge. I'm not saying you have to be an open book with EVERYBODY to the same degree, but strong friendships are worth it. And no matter if it's w/ an acquaintance or a good friend, I think we should always be ourselves & be honest.

3. I think it's all connected to fear of being judged or abandoned. We don't want to open up b/c we are afraid that people will judge us. We don't want to show our emotions or let people know how much they mean to us or what we are struggling w/ because we are afraid of being judged and/or abandoned.

:) Very rambly, I know. I have a lot of complicated thoughts on this & other related topics. Have been reading a lot in the past 1-2 yrs about this & related topics. FYI, a helpful book for me was "Happier at Home" by Gretchen Rubin (loved the idea of 'Being Andrea"), and also Wild by Cheryl Strayed (I could really relate to the struggles she was facing and how she dealt w/ them). I also really enjoy the blog rowdykittens.com for bringing focus to one's life. Thanks for starting a discussion!

btw, I've been meaning to read Daring Greatly, thanks for the reminder.

Hey Andrea! Not rambly at all - you even used a numerical list! ;)

1. TOTALLY. I think part of why I'm so sickly is from suppressing emotions (like as a coping thing since childhood), I'm going to a mind-body counsellor about it now and it is blowing my mind how unaware of this I was! It is so healthy and necessary to let it out and process it all!

2. YES YES YES! I am not an open book with everyone either, but it's an important part of building trust and intimacy. I actually have a more recent fear of getting close to new friends (from bad experiences a few years ago) so have become super conscious of this lately. I think learning who to trust is a big part of it for me now.

3. Absolutely. Couldn't agree more. This is the conundrum - cause if you don't go for it, you end up alone that way too!!

Thanks for the super thoughts on this and for the reading recommendations, I will totally check those out! I've heard of the books and they sound good. :)


ps. Sorry for any typos, I am crazy and wrote this on my phone that I am terrible at writing on!

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