Love, Belonging, and Crippling Self-Doubt

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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?

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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? 

Violadiva

Violadiva is an oxymoron, a musician, a yogi, a Suzuki violin teacher, a late-night baker of sourdough breads, proud Mormon feminist, happy wife of Pianoman and lucky mother to three.

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20 Responses

  1. EM says:

    I had a similar experience–I wrote a blog post and the bishop called me in to talk. As far as I know, the simplest way he could have found out is through another ward member who found it and shared with him. I was a little confused during the interview, but that’s a different story for another time. Since then, I also can’t help but wonder who was so concerned about what I wrote, who was willing to tell the bishop instead of talking to me. I already felt unsafe sharing my more difficult thoughts at church, and now I feel that even more. Now it seems that experience has validated my perspective.

    You get to choose how, when, and how much to share your true self with the church. And you get to feel sad or scared or mad or anything else when sharing doesn’t work. Thanks for writing about your experience! It helps.

  2. ElleK says:

    I, too, had a similar experience. I felt completely ambushed (it was during a temple recommend interview), and while it all turned out OK in that my Bishop was nice about it, I was crying and traumatized through the whole thing and have major trust issues with interviews now. I felt like there was a target on my back since one or more ward members outed me. I haven’t been able to write about church stuff on my blog since. Now I bring my husband with me for ward level temple recommend interviews, and if I’m ever called in for an interview, I always ask specifically what it’s regarding first. I want so much to be open about who I am and what I believe, but most days the price is just too high.

  3. SH says:

    This was a great post–what an amazing writer you are. The thought that kept coming to me as I read was –it’s amazing how everyone is insecure, regardless of social status. I always had friends, wasn’t popular, but wasn’t un-popular. Wasn’t valued by all, but wasn’t not-valued either. I pretty much floated in the middle. But I was incredibly insecure and unsure of myself. And I know enough about the “popular” people to say they felt just as insecure. It’s really a shame that we all have felt that way. And it’s true–there’s no betrayal worse than that which comes from people you rub shoulders with at church each week. And as a side note–when I get a FB request from someone that treated me poorly in HS I cringe. The same feelings come back. Even at my 20 year reunion last summer, I could hardly stand to look at people that had been mean to me. Some feelings never go away!

    • Melissa says:

      Excellent point. Which is also why it is so important to be kind. I would hate to know someone could hardly look at me because I had made them feel that way!

  4. We need to go to lunch. <3

  5. Thatgirl says:

    For me it is with family, not church. I don’t offer up very many of my radical idea in church, though, maybe I should more. I am different in many ways than my in-laws, and they occasionally say exclusionary things, that while not meant to be hurtful, do make me feel like an outsider in a rather large family. I love them all and admire them, and there are those I feel very close to. But at the same time, I feel keenly how different I am because our backgrounds are so vastly different. It came to a head recently, and I am struggling to find my place again among these people who were some of my most cherished friends. It has left me very sad overall, and I’m not sure what to do about it.

    I’m sorry you have had to deal with this. It is so difficult to be vulnerable with others! I really admire your courage to put this information out there in the face of what happened. God bless you.

    • Violadiva says:

      Thanks for sharing your personal vulnerabilities, Thatgirl. I hope that your tender words and experiences, thusly shared because you have so much trust in your husband’s family, will come back to you with that love and belonging we all crave and need. It’s the risk for pain that makes us want to shut down, right? Hope you can hold on for the payout.

  6. Joni says:

    I think it’s a little odd that the bishop felt the need to pass the complaint along to you, instead of simply telling the complainer to mind her own business. If he wasn’t planning to discipline you for the blog post in question, what purpose was served by telling you that someone had tattled?

    • Violadiva says:

      I’m really lucky to have a bishop who was a trusted friend first, and who cares more about discerning my heart. As you can see from the comments above, not all bishops like that. I can only imagine how much worse I would feel if reprimand were also piled on!

  7. Markus says:

    This is an excellent post. We often talk about the characteristics and attributes of God being powerful, just, constant, even merciful. But as Fiona Givens so eloquently points out, our God also chooses to make himself vulnerable. He weeps when we disappoint him. When we “wear our heart on our sleeve,” we often get burned. But perhaps vulnerability is a part of sainthood (godhood, personhood…) that we should cultivate alongside love, forgiveness, patience, etc.? So many of us prefer to build walls to protect our fragile ego. Your experiences resonate with my own. Thanks for sharing and for putting yourself out there.

  8. EmilyCC says:

    I’m so sad that this happened to you and impressed that you bravely continue to be vulnerable and write posts like these.

    This is a great reminder for me that whenever I want to complain about someone at church to a leader, I need to remember how it felt when someone did the same to me. It’s helped me to be better about saying, “Hey, that kind of hurt my feelings,” or “Did you know this when you said x?” directly to the person instead of telling a bishop or Relief Society president.

  9. VK says:

    So sorry for your difficult experience. Honestly, I think more of these interviews are prompted by the strengthening church members committee putting pressure on local leaders, rather than tattle tale ward members.

  10. Ziff says:

    Mormon tattling culture is absurd. I’m sorry about your busybody ward member associate who felt the need to complain to the bishop about your writing. FWIW, I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve read of your writing here, and I hope the jerks don’t slow you down.

  11. Sue B. says:

    A big part of the problem is bishops calling people in after a tattle when they should be counseling the tattler to become more generous of heart, more loving, and less judgmental. Most “tattles” should never be revealed to the one being tattled on.

  12. Jenny says:

    Violadiva, I love you for sharing your vulnerability here with us. You helped me at a time when I’m struggling with a similar situation to think twice about curling up in a ball like I would also rather do. Your post helps me to feel more willing to be vulnerable, to choose love, and to be more ready to give and receive grace and forgiveness from others.

  13. Rachel says:

    I would feel really vulnerable in that situation, too. I haven’t experienced it, personally, but one of my sister’s has, and it also changed the way she felt about the individuals in her ward, and how safe she felt there, and speaking what she believed–at least for a time.

    I think your answer is a brave and good answer, and is the way to deeper friendships and relationships, though it also comes with risk. May we all be more loving and grace filled toward one another.

    xo

  14. Emily says:

    Thank you for writing this post. I had an experience with a friend turning on me and blaming me for her marital problems, not her husbands pornograpy addiction. She told me I was worthless and that everyone in the Relief Society felt that way. It was tough because she was very “popular,” while I am more foot in the mouthy. It took many years to trust again.

  15. spunky says:

    My husband jokes that I have trust issues. But he’s right. I am gifted at foot-in-mouth speak, and in the rare times when I have shared who I am, I suddenly feel like I am the subject of others’ conversations, rather than being included as an equal. I struggle almost constantly to not shut down entirely from certain people, groups or organizations– and am very good at keeping everyone at arm’s length. It is lonely. Desperately lonely. I admire how you’ve out it out there, and hope to learn from your example. Thank you so much for this piece!

  16. Emily U says:

    This is such a poignant, beautiful post. I can relate a bit in that when my Ordain Women profile went up, someone informed my bishop about it. His response to them was great – “isn’t that a nice picture of Emily.” I was bewildered that anyone noticed or cared, to be honest. Anyway, I doubt that person was my friend to begin with, so whatever. I also relate to Thatgirl above in that I’m super careful what I say around family, and this does limit our ability to fully know and love each other. I don’t know what the answers are, but I loved your reflections here.

  17. Chi Passeri says:

    I want to thank you so much for writing this wonderful live saving article, Thank you for reminding me again and telling me new tips on how to overcome this. I will do the very best I can and be the best of me. Continue making lovely and helpful posts like these. You saved me and other people s lives.

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