Vulnerability


Leaving class yesterday, I found myself in a conversation with a fellow student, one that is older than me even. During class discussion on the mythology of the family, the mother and the father, I had disclosed something personal to make a point.

It is interesting how some men, and occasionally women, feel that a personal disclosure is an invitation to freely give advice, copious amounts of advice. Although I enjoyed the conversation because it was a personal connection with another human being that went beyond the superficial, I also walked away with a sense of dissatisfaction. Something was amiss.

It took a night’s sleep to identify the source of this feeling: there was a tone of patriarchy in every comment he made about my life. Allow me to explain.

I had disclosed that when I separated from my husband (instigated by me, by the way), I was suddenly faced with an identity crisis. I had been a wife for over 20 years. Suddenly, I was not that person anymore. If I wasn’t a wife, then who was I?

This fellow student (an older black man) and I talked about our educational dreams where I disclosed my desire to graduate from a Texas university, hopefully one located in Austin (my favorite city in the whole world).

I know that in his misguided way he was trying to be supportive. But it went way beyond that when he started delving into my personal attitudes and dreams. I hadn’t invited him in. In analyzing the conversation, I believe that some sense of patriarchal protectiveness, me being the weaker female sex, had kicked in at some point.

Vulnerability will send signals to some people that we, as women, need to be rescued, protected, and guided if we are to find our way in whatever new world we find ourselves. It is no mistake that I spent a full year pretty much locked up in my house after my second, permanent separation from my husband. I felt that no one in my life was safe to be around while I figured out who I was and what I was going to do.

I was so raw, so vulnerable that any voice, no matter how well-intentioned, could assert itself into my vulnerable, very susceptible self, and I would have been powerless to resist. The only way I could survive with my self intact was to limit outside voices.

I was grieving, mourning the loss of an identity that I had built over a 20-year period. That self was dead. That was the day that I began to build my new, independent, determined self.

A year ago, an interaction such as yesterday’s might have set me back quite a bit, leaving me to sift through the words of another to find out which were true and which were not. In the past, I had been so vulnerable that I might have considered his advice as one that should be given great consideration.

The bottom line is that this man is not my friend. He is a fellow student in a class that I am taking. We had one conversation. He had some interesting points. Because I am very polite, I didn’t just blow this guy off and tell him he was full of shit. I just don’t do that (though I probably should more often).

When rebuilding a life after abuse or a serious life change, women must be careful which voices they give credence. It is okay to listen, but we must guard against well-meaning advice that is no more than that: casual advice.

If the voices are too many or too loud, it might be necessary to pull back and shut them out for a time so that that tiny inner voice can begin to speak. As mine did, it might start out as the softest of whispers. Until it is louder, shutting out the noise of others may be necessary.

Had I been able to find one that I could connect with (I tried), a therapist would have been an amazing tool during this stage of reconstruction, or redefinition. [After taking Psychology my first semester, I realized that I had needed a psychologist that used the humanistic approach.]

I am still finding my way. I do not feel that my future is determined yet. Why would I think that? Who can ever really say what the future holds? I know what I dream of doing. I know what I think I want. But I am on a journey, not on a particular road to a set destination.

So, how I get where I am going, if I even go there, is kind of up in the air.

Today I celebrate the fact that my voice is no longer a soft whisper; it is strong!

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