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Vulnerability Vs. Over-sharing

oversharingI’ve learned the difference between vulnerability and over-sharing the hard way.

I look back at my college years and shudder. My memory of those first few years in college were an over-sharing fest. Put a bunch of sheltered, horny Christians trying to navigate their first steps in adulthood in close-quartered dorms and mandatory weekly “spiritual formation” groups and it’s bound to happen. I guess.

I think they called it community. Or maybe authenticity. I don’t know– there were a lot of buzzwords thrown around that I hardly remember.

What I do remember getting way too emotionally intimate with people I hardly knew in the name of “authenticity” and then quickly watching that relationship quickly die off to something of the formal “head nod” around campus. I remember stroking the backs of sobbing girls I also hardly knew in the dorms — even though at the time I would have called them my best friends– in the name of “community.” Once I shared something so personal and close to my heart to a group of ELEVEN people that happened to sign up for the same small group as me because I thought that’s what it meant to be “real.”

We all wanted to be known, not just to others but to ourselves. We were figuring out how to have friendships and romantic relationships. We were telling our stories to others in hopes they would accept us, validate us, love us. We were saying to each otherย here is all of me. Can you love me? (Maybe other people do this in high school and by college they are more socially adjusted? I wouldn’t know.)

Somewhere in the backlash to all this, I closed myself off in the years following college. I would be seen as strong and independent and always a badass. I don’t do vulnerability, I thought to myself. That’s for weaklings. That was for the emotionally unstable girl I used to be.

…And then I began this blog. I started out posting recipes and DIY projects. Safe stuff. But then, this other story started burning inside me. I tried to ignore it, but every “safe” post I wrote left me feeling more empty. So I finally dug in. I started talking about the gritty stuff of faith and motherhood and anxiety. You guys responded to my openness. I started hearing from some of you, that you were going through some of the same stuff. It made me feel less lone.

But I’ve made mistakes here. I’ve over-shared and I’ve later regretted it. For every one commenter who tells me my blog post helped set them free, I imagine there are about twenty-five readers who are silently judging me for being so open about taking anti-depressants and for writing my intimate thoughts about God.

As a writer in the instant publishing age of the Internet, I will constantly struggle to find my personal line of vulnerability versus over-sharing.

I’m reading Brene Brown’s “Daring Greatly,” which is all about living vulnerably. She says the different between vulnerability and over-sharing has to do with the level of earned trust in a relationship. Openness with people who earned trust in our lives = vulnerability. Vulnerability is about being real with the people who we trust… Our spouses, our friends, our mentors.

I think Christian culture can get obsessed with “confession” and “authenticity” without enough heed to earned trust. I’ve been at conferences where the speaker asked everyone to turn to their neighbor and share a secret they’ve never shared with anyone before. YUCK.

But then, where does writing on the Internet fit in? I have shared things on this blog that I don’t talk about in person with half of my acquaintances in real life. How does the Internet “earn trust”? (Spoiler: It doesn’t.) Yet isn’t there a place for vulnerability on the Internet? Isn’t there power in voicing our stories and shining light to the shame that tries to keep us silent?

Brown writes, “I don’t tell stories or share vulnerabilities with the public until I’ve worked them out with the people I love.”

One of the worst mistakes I’ve made in blogging so far was when Joe learned something about me by reading my blog. He asked me why I went to the Internet first before him.

I had to think about it for a few days. But my eventual answer changed the way I live. Here’s what I came up with: TRUE vulnerability is scary. It’s scarier than over-sharing. It’s shockingly easy to throw things out on the Internet, or a group of eleven acquaintances in college, or to some stranger at a conference, and walk away. It’s totally different when you are in the arms of someone you trust and you are acutely aware of how much you need them to love and cherish you despite your all your secrets and flaws. That is where the real risk in vulnerability lies. But the other side of this lives a rich and safe relationship that’s way better than any instant relief over-sharing provides.

What about you? Have you over-shared in the past? What does vulnerability mean to you?

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3 Comments

  1. Anna on May 15, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    I, too, have overshared in an effort to be vulnerable and open. I think it’s not unusual, particularly for university students living away from home for the first time. I was prone to not sharing anything at all and being extremely reserved, and for me, oversharing happened partly as my attempt to combat my natural reserve in an effort to be more open and genuine with people. It’s a complex thing, to try to find the balance between sharing nothing of oneself and sharing everything. And it’s so easy to overshare on the internet, because even when you’re communicating with people you know in real life, it’s easy to think of it as fairly anonymous.

    I do often share about my experiences with depression and taking medication for it, partly because I think it’s important to work on breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illness, and partly because I want others who were silent like I was for so long to know that they aren’t alone. I haven’t always been so bold. The first bout of depression that I finally recognized as depression hit shortly after I started grad school, and when I finally got treatment for it, I didn’t tell anyone at school about it. I was at a Christian university and was unsure how my classmates and professors would respond, given that many of them came from fairly conservative backgrounds where things like depression are often dismissed as spiritual issues (not that anyone would have responded that way, necessarily, but that I wasn’t sure who I could trust to take me seriously). The first person I told there was the one whose words in a discussion had given me the courage to give medication a try, and I talked with them because I wanted them to know how much of a difference they had made. After that I slowly told a few other people at school, but not many.

    In contrast, the members of the Bible study my husband and I were a part of at the time were there for us when I knew something was wrong and wasn’t sure about whether to label it as depression (since to me, it didn’t look like I thought it should), and were there as I became willing to try medication, and they were there as I started to get better. I could be vulnerable with them because we had all spent a lot of time together, and our relationships had deepened to the point where we could safely be vulnerable with each other. And that, of course, is because genuine vulnerability thrives best where there is trust.

  2. Kelsey L. Munger on May 15, 2015 at 1:41 pm

    Oh, man, I remember those over-share fests in church so well. The youth group I grew up in was very cliquey and gossipy, so even though we were supposed to be “authentic” and “transparent” I didn’t always feel safe (“prayer requests” were so often code for gossip). I thought it was bad that I didn’t share more.

    Then, after I graduating from high school, I got involved with a different group of over-sharing young adult Christians and I swung to the opposite side. I shared deeply personal things because it was expected, because that’s what being a real Christian meant, not because I knew them or even really trusted them.

    I love what you said, Carly, about how the difference between vulnerability and over-sharing, when it comes to blogging is whether or not the issue has been previously worked through elsewhere. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately because I know there are some stories I could share on my blog — stories people might relate with, stories that might even get traffic. But I can’t tell them, at least not now. I need to talk them out with my husband and my therapist and close, trusted friends before I open myself up to the internet at the level.

    Great post, Carly. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Tejaswi Subramanian on September 17, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Leave the haters behind. I feel you and your journey. ๐Ÿ™‚ It takes courage to put thought and share yourself. Stay sensible, but stay honest. ๐Ÿ™‚

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