On Feeling Exposed

and why we need to keep taking risks

Have you ever shared a core truth about yourself only to feel naked and exposed—and a bit hurt by the response to your vulnerability? Of course you have.

We've all had the uncomfortable feeling of wanting to put the genie back in the bottle once we've let her out. But no! the genie's out, and so is your red-faced embarrassment floating around without a place to land. By this point, we usually just want to disappear.

Why does this happen? Why do we feel so vulnerable when people respond to our deeper selves in ways we didn't expect?

Being human is a tricky thing, and our place in the world is something we're always negotiating. When we share a side of ourselves not usually on display, and we get rejected, ridiculed, or are met with speechless open-mouth shock, we recoil. We get small, and maybe we even get angry. Or we go away, back into our shell where we swear we'll stay—and never do that again! 

This happened to me recently.

I would say people know me to be an open book. I freely share my thoughts and fears, my passions and my sorrows. Yet, there are parts of me that are apparently off-limits. I often don't realize these aspects are hidden until they bubble up to the surface, and I find myself divulging in what I think is a safe and friendly situation. Ninety-five percent of the time it goes okay—sometimes even great. But wow, that five percent where everything feels like it falls apart is just no fun.

When this happened to me a few weeks ago, I felt myself retreat. I had a solid week of some not-so-nice self-talk about how stupid it was to share and how every time I get close to someone I get hurt (attachment theory, anyone?). I've since calmed down and now see the situation with the perspective that time and distance gives, and I know I didn't do anything wrong. But it still feels tender.

Confidence & Coping

Friends and acquaintances say I project confidence. They think I've got it all together and figured out, and I don't appear to need anyone or anyone's help (read: love). Most days I am confident, but my sometimes-tough veneer was born of out of self-protection—a primitive coping mechanism from a very early age. To shield my sensitive and bullied self, I developed a hard outer shell. But don't be fooled—this shell was only created to cover my gooey middle (not of caramel, though, sorry).

And ouch it hurts when people you trust go away right at the time you divulge that no, indeed, you are not composed of concrete and steel and that yes, you need people, and love, and a shoulder to cry on from time to time.

Closer, Not That Close

Yep, we humans are a tricky lot. We want to be close, want to share, but are afraid of getting hurt. We don’t take chances and reach out because we know getting close to others means we will get hurt—and that’s true—we will. But we must keep playing in the field of human relationships because honest connection is what we need—hurt be damned. Connection helps us make sense of life and not feel so alone and crazy in this lonely old crazy world.

So, here’s to being human. May we keep trying to connect in meaningful ways while remembering that we’re all a little sensitive and gooey on the inside—even if we look like we are made of brick on the outside.


  • The Living Planet Index (via World Wildlife Fund) The population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have seen an alarming average drop of 68% since 1970. “This report reminds us that we destroy the planet at our peril—because it is our home.”

  • How Big Oil Misled the Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled

  • Why You Should Make Useless Things (TED talk). Toothbrush helmet. Don’t miss this—trust me.

  • Tammy shared this quote last week in her newsletter, it’s too good not to share here:

We have been living a myth. We have constructed a dream. We have cajoled and seduced ourselves into believing we are the center of all things; with plants and other sentient beings from ants to lizards to coyotes and grizzly bears, remaining subservient to our whims, desires, and needs. This is a lethal lie that will be seen by future generations as a grave, a grave moral sin committed and buried in the name of ignorance and arrogance. —Terry Tempest Williams

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