Getting comfortable with being vulnerable

“We judge ourselves by our own intentions.

We judge others by their behaviour”

Carl Gustav Jung, Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst

Did you know in Psychology, there is something called ‘The Mirror Effect’? Essentially, it’s about walking in someone else’s shoes, or seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. Therapists regularly mirror body language and facial expressions in sessions with patients to put them at ease and encourage them to open up.

I’ve just experienced the power of mirroring on a leadership programme. On day one of the programme, 30 strangers stood awkwardly in a room and had to create a beat using musical instruments. None of us were musicians! This in itself, allowed us to laugh together at the awkwardness we were all silently facing. We did a few different sessions throughout the day and ate dinner together that night sharing little bits of the information we were happy for strangers to know.

On day two however, everything changed.

Photo by Tamara Gak on Unsplash

We were split into 3 teams of ten while our various speakers told us we were going to get to know each other. Now, we had already told each other our names, job titles and a sticky fact about us – mine was one I use every time this question comes up. Anyone from the corporate world will recognise the question instantly and usually have one or two facts about themselves up their sleeve just in case. This is usually to bring a little of our personalities into the space and helps us share something that makes us sound more interesting, knowledgeable, lucky, privileged etc.

The one I always use is a safe bet. When I was about 8years old I learned to say the alphabet backwards. I can do it in around 6 seconds. It comes in really handy… none of the time. It doesn’t give away anything about my personality, my childhood or my personal life. It’s pretty low risk choice and normally when I share, I’m asked to prove it almost instantly.

However, THIS ‘getting to know each other’ session was something completely different…

Our trainer started to talk about her childhood, her family. The relationship she had with her parents, good and bad. She talked about the tragedy and pain she went through when she was younger and the mistakes she made in her teens and early twenties. She talked about the lessons she learnt, how she met her husband and about details about her relationship with her three daughters. She talked about becoming a mother, the things she regretted and the things that changed her forever. She talked through her own tears when things she brought up still held pain for her and laughed at the things that brought her joy. By the end of her 15min intro we were all dumbfounded. I felt like I knew this woman better than some of my own family.

And then it was our turn…

There was something magical that happened in those few hours. I cried through the tears of others sharing their stories – so much so in fact that I didn’t really cry through my own – not sure there were many tears left as I went 6th out of the 10.

However, the vulnerability of the people in that room allowed me to open up more than I ever could have planned. I said things out loud that I had never said before in my life. I’ve always thought I was an open book but there were parts of me that even I held back from me, my friends, my family. My secrets. My lessons. My mistakes. These nine strangers and I now knew some of the most intimate things about each other. Things we’d kept to ourselves our whole lives.

It was the most powerful group therapy session I’d ever had – Not that I’ve ever had group therapy before. Sharing my own story was cathartic and liberating. It was freeing and pulling off that mask to show who you really are enabled me to build soild relationships and friendships throughout the week. I no longer had to play a role. A role I thought others wanted to see. A role that was exhausting to stick to. No, now I was able to be my true self. The real me. Warts and all.

Hearing the stories of these people, people I had only met 24hours before, created bonds that will now be very tough to break. We were together a total of five days in that hotel in the middle of beautiful countryside outside of London and I have never experienced connections like that happen so quickly. I’ve never felt anything so powerful in my entire life.

Photo by Viktor Forgacs on Unsplash

The training we were on was part of a wider scholarship programme for The Marketing Acdemy. This part of the training was from a programme called The Living Leader and was created to help us all become brilliant leaders. The strategy behind it was pretty straight forward… Revealing ourselves and allowing people around us to learn about us, what makes us tick, what can trigger us and keep us awake at night, enables our teams to work better with us. It also gives them the opportunity to open up and share their stories ensuing that we enable them to play to their key strengths, find good working patterns and truly understand the people we rely on professionally.

This got me thinking about why I believe some people find it easier to support others on their mental health journey. If people are willing to show their own vulnerability, this in turn can make others feel comfortable and therefore open up. They don’t need our life stories, but by being open about our own journey with mental illness can enable them to freely talk about their own. Without judgement.

If you want to have a good understanding of the people around you, tell them about you. Tell them everything that has created the you that you are. Hopefully in turn, they will mirror you and share their story too.

And for those of you who are concerned someone you know is hiding something painful and suffering in silence, this could hopefully be the breakthrough you need and allow them the opportunity to ask for help.

Thanks to feeling comfortable to be vulnerable, I now have 29 incredible friends, 30 odd if you include the incredible speakers we met on this course. All of which showed their own vulnerability as part of their own storytelling. It was incredibly refreshing to witness, and experience and I honestly believe the last five days have changed me forever.

If we get the opportunity to understand the people around us, we’ll understand more about the intentions behind their behaviour and this in turn will enable us to see the world through their eyes.

Published by Em@InsanelyNormal

I am Em, the Author of Insanely Normal. A mother of two, a marketer and copywriter and huge advocate for normalising the conversations around mental health.

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