Life · Society & Culture

You are at your ugliest when vulnerable. Here’s why

I was afraid to share my secrets.

Here we are at the usual coffee shop near Town Hall, and my friend asks me.

“Could you tell me what’s wrong?”

I couldn’t. I didn’t want to be seen as weak.

I bottle my problems up so that I don’t bother others. Yet, I felt his sympathy.

“Well…”

15 minutes of silence after, I told him.

I didn’t want him to know, but I was at a loss. No one was there to help me. I couldn’t make sense of the thoughts in my head. I didn’t want my best friend to see me in such a poor state.

Have you ever had a time when you were uncomfortable with sharing something due to who you are?

It could be this notion I have in my head. Whatever my problems were, it doesn’t seem right to share. He might be uncomfortable hearing about it. He may judge me.

He won’t. He’s my friend. I know him that well.

Yet, I felt unattracted to the idea. I am at my ugliest when I’m most vulnerable.

When I realized that, I started crying. He already had his hand on my shoulder.

He knew I was suffering. We all need help sometimes.

Why is this considered ugly?

Society doesn’t seem to agree most of the time. For someone to show their vulnerabilities, it is mainly looked down upon.

What we deem to be ugly – in the context of a day to day routine, these are emotions and habits that are rarely shown in a conversation with others, and only shown with those in your primary locus.

I call this ugly, because there are cultures that instill a certain image of man and woman, and that vulnerabilities can be seen as a sign of weakness – flawed even. Ugly, and preferred not to be seen in public.

These emotions can be inappropriate in contexts other than being by yourself or with loved ones.

  • These are some examples:
  • Men are alpha and strong, therefore do not cry
  • Men do not exhibit feminine traits
  • Women are seen as weak and frail, therefore require protection all the time
  • Women do not exhibit masculine traits, etc.

I don’t agree with this notion. Personally, I would love it when we showcase our true vulnerable state, to cater to each and every individual need. Alas, not everyone may think this way.

Johari Window

I may share with you as much as I can, but there are deep dark secrets that I am not willing to share.

To put this into perspective, let’s take the Johari Window:

Source: CommunicationTheory

It’s my favorite window. I like to talk about this window when explaining how people hide their thoughts.

To give a brief explanation: the Johari window is a 2×2 table showing how an individual interacts with the world. You have:

  • What the self and others know
  • What only the self knows
  • What only the others know
  • Nothing (it’s impossible to put anything there!)

Looking at No. 2, this can include vulnerabilities: times when you want to call for help, or that you are at a loss. Why is this only for yourself to see, when you yourself seek help? In society, it is these borders that were taught by the people around us.

We become indoctrinated by our environment to the point that some vulnerabilities should not be shown.

This process had been happening for so long that it became natural. Similar to the Way of the Bushido weaved into the air that is Japan, societal constructs derived from past generations became integral to contemporary images of people.

People can be looked down upon for acting a certain way, defined as ‘ugly’ if you will. Those who do not follow the societal norm are seen as outliers, and those who keep emitting their true, unconventional selves in this environment would find it difficult to fit in.

It is similar to beauty standards: the standards that we can find in trends, and those who divert too far away from these are not considered ‘beautiful’.

Yet, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and nothing deserves better praise than a person being themselves.

Some examples:

  • A man wearing drag and makeup is not following the social norms of what a man ‘should be like’. they could be perceived as ugly then
  • A woman can be perceived as ugly and disgusting for expressing herself differently: a buzzcut, rebellious outfits and a loud/expressive personality
  • A man crying in public, in complete vulnerability, could be seen as a threat of masculine traits, not showing weakness
  • Similarly, a woman going against traditional household expectations can be surprising: being the sole breadwinner, whilst the man acts as a house-husband. Those who do not agree with this model may judge them harshly, as they do not adhere to the general family image.

Though I applaud these self-expressions, according to societal standards, these are not so well received as conventional ‘beautiful’ lives.

Sustaining your Image

As external influence takes its toll on us, we start to form an image of what is accepted in our cultures.

For example, showcasing a different part of yourself may disturb the collective flow, or repel others before they become overwhelmed by you. Growing older and learning this the hard way, some may put up a shell around themselves, and choose to not open up.

Showing your vulnerabilities becomes an unnecessary act.

Sustaining this image is keeping the borders on the top-left box of the Johari Window (what you show to yourself and others). This image is what is shown to others on purpose, what you CHOOSE to show. Some thoughts can be:

  • I want to be beautiful in the eyes of others
  • I want to be seen as a confident person
  • I want people to know that I am dependable
  • I don’t want to be seen as weak.

This can be slightly misleading. It can lead to inaccuracies in deeming one’s personality: they won’t show everything until they open up.

For some, it’s a gamble: people can have a 180 on their image once they show how vulnerable they are. This can be uncomfortable for some.

Some take it to 100.

The ones who are the most vulnerable, tend to be the ones that stay memorable to you.

The crazies, the creative ones, the ones who aren’t afraid to speak their mind: the ones who pay no heed to what people think of them.

For me, the first person who showed total vulnerability was Robin Williams.

Robin Williams is a comedic genius.

One of the greatest minds on stage, he had a quickfire mind willing to shoot back on improv, and comedy that is wild and unique. On the stage, he’s a crazy comedian, but in movies, he is a powerful actor that portrayed emotion to all ages. As you can tell, he’s a hero to me.

He displayed everything on his mind. There’s a video explaining what goes through his mind here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVF6S-BDM6k

He may be a special case as he is a comedic celebrity, but if the average person does this in public, it wouldn’t be well-received.

Making jokes out of anything and everything? It may be perceived as annoying. Over-the-top comments? Not everyone will understand, and those that don’t might feel uncomfortable about his antics.

All this is acceptable on stage, but this really is how he is all the time. I have great respect for someone who shares their vulnerabilities, a side that we find uncomfortable in normal conversation. One could call them eccentric, but I call these people the greatest. They are not afraid. They would rather show the truth than hide it for convenience.

What happens if we show ourselves?

We are afraid of hurting ourselves: we don’t share our vulnerabilities because we are afraid of harm.

But do tell, my friend, should we stay still and let our vulnerabilities control us, or expose them in order to understand how to become strong?

Note: this does not mean you should share your biggest secrets with everyone. Ask around: how would people feel about you sharing your fears? Your biggest wants or your secrets?

By doing this, you will realize there is one skill that we all commonly share: judgment of character.

This is used to understand impressions. This is used to understand the actions that people have made. This is what separates the ugly from the beautiful: we judge characters based on the context they are in.

Some are judged to be eccentric in certain cultural contexts, but normal in others. There are those who are ‘artists’, masters of their own craft, but if they were to do the same in public, it may be too much for the average person.

What happens if we show ourselves? We filter out those who are judgmental from those who accept you.

Your vulnerabilities are not ugly.

They are a reflection of who you are: beautiful.

To be judged by others for being yourself is to be envious of your wonderful qualities: true, against the norm, and grants greater respect.

Don’t be hindered by those who insult you for being yourself. They chose to live a life of normalcy, but you: you choose to live life as it’s supposed to be.

Fun, exciting. Real.

Satisfying.

N.T.C.

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