Written by Caitlin Hawekotte
Years ago, I lived through one of the toughest chapters of my life thus far. For the first time I could remember, I didn’t have a strong sense of who I was, what I wanted, or where I was going. The inner turmoil I was experiencing was always bubbling just beneath the surface, ready to boil over if a stranger so much as asked how I was doing.
So, I ended up sharing my story with a lot of people, from a stranger I met while traveling who told me they simply could not listen to my problems for even a minute more to family members and friends who met my feeling low with love and compassion. Admittedly, that first one stung at the time because of how direct it was, but I appreciate the honesty and can laugh about it now because their comment was probably more than justified. Plus, it led me to a huge realization.
I had been conflating vulnerability with unfiltered transparency.
It was time to infuse my love of openness and authenticity with some healthy boundary setting. After all, not everyone we meet needs a front-row seat to our lives, let alone a backstage pass. And, as I discovered, sometimes they don’t even want that kind of access (which is totally okay!). There’s a reason there are so many bands in the world because different kinds of music will resonate with different people. No one is wrong or right to prefer one song or another. It all just depends on what speaks to us.
The crash course I took in vulnerability taught me a lot of valuable lessons about how to be an outstretched arm to someone caught in the rip tide of life.
So, I want to shine a light on what it can look like when you come across someone with whom you just might like to share your story. Because if we only learn what to do at a red light but never learn what to do when we see a green one, then we might just stay parked our whole lives, too afraid to journey farther with others.
Here are some of the common threads among the people whose “green light” examples I strive to follow (and constantly fall short of) to this day:
Have you ever had a night when you opened up to someone for hours, only to wake up the next day in a state of nauseated panic? When things like this happen, we might start questioning what we said and why, and we might worry about whether that person will hold what we shared in confidence.
Whenever I felt lighter and more peaceful after sharing with someone, I took that as a sign that I felt safe taking a leap to trust them. They not only helped carry the burden of my fears, concerns, or doubts but also made them dissipate a bit just by witnessing them with me. They helped me transform the pit in my stomach composed of shame, confusion, and hurt into self-compassion, clarity, and hope.
Everyone who met my tenderness with kindness when I was struggling spoke to me in a way that had me feeling a lot less alone. They said things like, “It hurts my heart that your heart is hurting,” or “I love you, and I will always be here for you.” They met me where I was and tapped into that place within themselves that had either felt that way in the past or could imagine feeling that way in the future.
They listened to understand as I sorted out my thoughts and feelings. Without even trying, they inspired me to be a better, more humble person through their displays of empathy and humility.
Everyone I’ve felt great about entrusting with my thoughts and feelings is the kind of person who is quick to assess and apologize for any role they may play in conflicts they encounter in their lives.
Sometimes this trait may show up in small ways, like when someone tells a story of a time they made a mistake they had to remedy, or acknowledges their contribution to a miscommunication about when and where to meet for coffee. As a relationship develops, it might be about more significant things, like addressing when they may have not followed through on a promise.
The first time I consciously realized the importance of this quality was when I was reflecting on how my parents raised my siblings and me. As we were growing up, they were always willing to be vulnerable, admit when they felt they had been in the wrong, and apologize. As a child, receiving apologies from adults had a profound effect on me. It taught me that we are all imperfect, lifelong learners. So, this is a trait that I strive to emulate as well as seek out in others.
Not only were these friends and family members there for me throughout a trying time, but they were also there to celebrate with me as things improved.
Quite often, the people with whom we feel most comfortable sharing our challenges may also be the same people with whom we share our triumphs. Sharing positive things can often be just as vulnerable as sharing difficult things.
So, it’s a great sign when we find someone with whom we feel we will not be judged whether we are in a pit of despair or walking on cloud nine. We all deserve to have at least one or two people in our lives who will join us for the whole ride.
Now, the idealist in me thinks there’s nothing wrong with sometimes having connective, human moments with people we’ve just met because there can be a sort of magic to those interactions. And perhaps some of those one-time, life-changing conversations are exactly what we need. Indeed, the conversations I’ve had with people I never saw again have been some of the most memorable I’ve ever had. So, I will likely continue to have some moments like those in the future when I decide to throw out all the rules and trust my instincts.
However, I learned so much about the “green lights” for vulnerability through my experiences, and it has informed the way that I share. None of the things I’ve listed are foolproof guarantees that we will never feel hurt or disappointed, but we can take calculated risks. Also, none of us is perfect, so I know that I will continue to fail others even when I have the best of intentions. So, this list is not only for me to consider when trusting others but also for me to consult when others are entrusting me with their stories.
As I climb the tree of trust with someone new, I check my footing along the trunk as I ascend and test the stability of branches with small steps as I walk farther and farther out on a limb. Then, as I decide whether to leap and share more of myself, I might be only 80% certain things will turn out the way I hope. It is nearly impossible to ever be 100% certain of anything in life.
But what we might lack in certainty, we can make up for in trust of ourselves. We can have faith that if we take that leap and do not get our desired response, then we will be okay. Even if we fall flat on our faces, we will pick ourselves up and move forward with a little more wisdom and experience to apply the next time someone asks, “How are you?”
Caitlin is an MBTI® Certified Practitioner and Gallup®-Certified Strengths Coach who co-facilitates group coaching calls within the ENFP and INFP Soul Bootcamp Courses. Using her educational background in psychology, counseling, and leadership development, her mission in life is to help people understand themselves and others more fully. She also loves traveling, learning French, and solving genealogical mysteries. She is an ENFP who lives with her ISTP husband and their son, whose personality she loves getting to know more each day!
Caitlin also hosts a podcast titled LIFE with an ENFP, which will launch in December 2020. To connect with Caitlin and sign up for podcast updates, visit www.caitlinhawekotte.com