Love, Belonging, and Crippling Self-Doubt
As a young teenager, one of the things I wanted most was a BFF. (Best Friend Forever) I didn’t need a whole posse, just one special friend to wear the other half of a silver heart necklace, be Kimmy Gibbler to my DJ; someone like the girls I read about in the Baby-Sitter’s Club books.
I tried so hard to make friends with the other girls in my Young Women’s classes. I was homeschooled as a child, and though most girls were kind and inclusive to me, I often felt out of the loop when it came to the teen behavior and politics that went on at school during the day: note-passing, flirting, dances, sport events, complaining about teachers, and even harmful things like cutting. It seemed like no amount of after-school hangouts could make up for all I missed at school that day. I had no desire to attend their school; I was very focused on practicing my instrument and preparing for college, but I still wished for a close female companion to share secrets and giggle with me.
Even though I wasn’t able to take part in what happened at school, I had full confidence about participating in the church context. When a handful of the older girls bullied me at a mid-week activity, going to church or activities after that was forever changed; I was more reserved, less comfortable sharing my ideas and avoided eye-contact with the girls who had humiliated me. My one place to feel safe had been compromised.
I thought when I went away to college that I would finally find the true BFF I had missed all those years and I’m happy to report that the friends I made in the music major department are still among my dearest and most favorite people. Over time, even those sweeties and I parted ways for marriage, missions, graduate school and job opportunities. I’m so happy for social media which keeps us all together over distances (but am I the only one who gets a little horrified to get a friend request from an old high school acquaintance we thought we’d never face again? Yikes!)
Today I’m a middle-aged working mom with the same wishes, faced with limited time and growing vulnerabilities for making and keeping quality relationships. I love my ward, especially the Relief Society sisters who are so generous and kind to me. I feel safe in knowing that I am well liked, I work hard, and that my talents are appreciated.
A few months ago, someone from my ward complained to the Bishop about a post I wrote on this blog and he brought it to my attention in an interview. My interaction with the Bishop was very positive and I love him for the compassion and understanding he showed. I thought it would be easy to brush off the betrayal and judgment I initially felt from whoever reported me and tried to follow the advice of “Let it go. Just move on.”
While I harbor no ill will toward the person, the degree to which this experience has rattled my confidence is alarming, and, unfortunately, growing. My inner dialogue has shifted, and I am struggling to trust the other women in my ward. I ask myself, “of all of you ladies whom I love, which of you doesn’t love me? How can I expose my vulnerabilities and be my true self around anyone, not knowing who disapproves of me? Who is more interested in judging me than understanding me?”
As I doubt myself more and more, the ripple effect of this feeling is tainting some of my closest friendships, to the extent that I replay conversations and scrutinize every teeny tiny little thing I say as unsuitable or insensitive. It’s not that their company is at all inhospitable, but that I am being hypersensitive to jeopardizing their affections for me. Perhaps my true self isn’t worth being friends with and I should just censor myself entirely? Who would really want to be friends with all this?
If I continue down this path, I will most certainly end up with no friends, not more.
What I want to do and what I must do are different. I want to curl up in a little ball and make myself invisible, but I must draw strength from wells down deep and open myself wider to the vulnerability of love. Yes, a possible risk of vulnerability is pain, but probable by-products are love and belonging. I’m not sure I’m strong enough to withstand the pain long enough while I wait for the love and belonging to kick in, but this is where the Grace of God and power of forgiveness come into play.
I hope for people who will forgive me endlessly and who see my vulnerability as a sign of trust. I need the resilience and generosity to forgive those who don’t understand me. And I need to be able to reciprocate outwardly. The best way to have a friend is to be a friend, right? It would be far worse to forfeit my sense of love and belonging to the fear of being vulnerable.
It means I might say something surprising, or make an unpopular comment, or stick my stinky foot in my mouth. It also means affording my friends mountains of grace for their own awkwardness. And yes, it means forgiving the complainers, the haters, the mean girls, and finding a place of gratitude for this position of vulnerability. If I can maintain openheartedness, sharing with others the parts that make me special, I just might find someone to wear that necklace with me.
When have you been vulnerable in friendships? How have you cultivated love and belonging for yourself and others?