7 steps to get you through a vulnerability hangover

Let me tell you a story about the time I led a rather unorthodox workshop in my school.

As part of a professional development day, our Headteacher decided that the afternoon of the training day would be given over to staff wellbeing, where staff could volunteer to run workshops on anything they wished as long as it was not work related for other staff to sign up to. You can only IMAGINE the excitement – normally teacher training days are very intensive and the thought of spending the afternoon doing something fun instead at work?

BRING IT OOOOON!

The Headteacher asked for submissions to be emailed to him so he could put together a booklet for staff to sign up to workshops with. All sorts of cool ideas were being submitted – yoga, life drawing, cycling, cooking, zumba … it was gonna be an awesome afternoon.

Being an art teacher I toyed with offering something art related, obviously. In the lead up to the submissions deadline I kept on cycling through the usual ideas, but didn’t really feel excited about anything.

I reasoned that if I was gonna offer a workshop instead of just sign up for something myself, and put in all the effort of planning and delivering it, then I wanted to do something I REALLY wanted to do (teacher’s time is precious and hard won, my friends).

Me being me, what I really wanted to do was something a bit more ‘out there’. I realised what I really wanted was to help people make an art work that captured their unique form of contribution in the world – a celebration of how who they are and what they stood for impacted the lives of others. Teachers give a lot –  I wanted those who signed up to walk away with a reminder of just how meaningful and unique their contribution was.

Once this idea came to mind, I just couldn’t shake it off despite how ridiculous I thought it would sound to those at work. Doing something so openly ‘woo-woo’ in my very practical and logical workplace felt very much like exposing myself for the crazy weirdo I am.

Thankfully, I had enough sense to understand that being afraid was a sign of how important it was to me. Also, despite being afraid of a LOT of things, I aim make a concerted point of doing it anyway just to prove a point (to who I’m not so sure, but that’s something for a therapist to look into one day XD).

Somehow I found the will one weekend morning to email the Headteacher my proposal. After spending a loooong ass time writing it up and trying to somehow put what I was proposing in writing without sounding like a new-age crank, I pressed the send button.

Here’s the internal dialogue following this:

*exhales after pressing send button *

*reality slowly dawns*

Oh fuck – I’ve just sent a crazy email to the person who pays my goddamn wages.

I’ll never be taken seriously again.

(scratch that, are you even taken seriously anyway?!)

*email pings – opens response saying that the proposal is fine and he’ll put it in the booklet*

Woohoo! He didn’t shoot me down and I’m actually doing this!

Oh fuck – I’m actually doing this …

Fast forward a couple of months later. It’s workshop day and I’m properly bricking it. About 8 people have signed up for it, a mixture of heads of departments, 2ic’s, heads of colleges and even a member of senior team. People who I have worked with, respect, admire (and a couple I’m even a bit scared of …).

Cue sweaty hands and the shakes.

3 hours later they’re walking out with their art works, thanking me as they leave. It’s been a funny afternoon – it’s not everyday you sit your work colleagues down to talk about their personal values and ‘purpose’, and then lead your superiors to make something from it. Luckily, I work with amazing people, so even if they thought it I was nuts they didn’t make me feel uncomfortable at all and I learnt something new about each of them as a person as a result of our 3 hours of weirdness.

I leave to go home on a high – despite feeling like I was showing my crazy in my place of work, it had gone really well and I felt on top of the world! On the train home I couldn’t stop smiling as I congratulated myself on growing a pair of ovaries and putting myself out there.

But as I turned into my road, I felt a sick feeling rising in my stomach. I literally stopped in my tracks as I felt my skin flush red and those shakes I felt at the start of the workshop come flooding back. I closed my eyes and mentally ran over all the things I spoke about in the workshop, thinking just how cringe-worthy and ridiculous I must’ve sounded to my very intelligent and down-to-earth colleagues, bringing up their faces in my head and recalling every possible eye-roll or forced smile I could interpret from their reactions to my words. Each imagined judgement felt a like a sharp pain as I wondered how I could possibly show my face after such a stupid move on my part.

I was blindsided by a very real and very unwanted shame-storm.

It didn’t leave for days, and I spent a lot of my time in the following weeks at work trying to avoid the people who had been in the workshop. Thankfully, nothing was mentioned about it, and I finally managed to forget about it all and carried on at work as normal again.

It wasn’t until a year later, reading Brene Brown’s book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ (which I advise you to go and read RIGHT NOW if you haven’t done so already. Go, I’ll wait for you.) was I finally able to realise exactly what happened, especially after I felt so happy initially leaving to go home that evening.

I’d experienced a vulnerability hangover.

It’s not like this was even my first ever one (or last), but it was definitely the most obvious and pronounced in terms of how swiftly and effectively it had shut down my initial feelings of pride and happiness. FFS.

Vulnerability hangovers are the feelings of shame and panic that come after putting yourself out there.

And I’m not talking about the physically daring things like bungee-jumping or skydiving. It’s the emotionally charged stuff of opening up to someone else or doing something that you fear others may judge you for. It’s the feeling of being found out for who you really are, and coming up short in some way.

Ultimately, they are about you being SEEN, and fearing you will be rejected for it.

There’s so many things we do and face that scare us, that we worry will go wrong or that people will think poorly of us for. Those are real fears and real feelings.

However, there is something particularly painful about the feeling of exposing yourself so openly and honestly. When it’s more linked to a sense of who you are, over what you have done, it feels far more threatening.

And if you actually take that brave step and put yourself out there for the world to see? Those nagging voices of worthlessness and rejection try to come snapping at your heels quick time.

There is one way to avoid them though …

Don’t try anything new. Never open up. Stay hidden. Keep who you really are and what you really want buried deep.

That’s a high price to pay for the safety of avoiding vulnerability, in my opinion.

So what do we do? Should we stay closed off and keeping others at arms length for all our lives? Hell no. So the catch is, how do we work through vulnerability hangovers? How do we learn to walk ourselves through the fear of being seen and come out the other side wiser and braver?

7 steps for getting through a vulnerability hangover

Provided for you in infographic form. Because, pretty.

7 steps for getting through a

I hope these give you some ideas on how to get through a vulnerability hangover. I recommend checking out Brene Brown and her research on shame and vulnerability – her work has been so inspiring and helpful in my own life.

How about you? Ever gone through a vulnerability hangover? How did you get through it? I would love to know in the comments. See you around ;).

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