I just woke up from a dream with real tears spilling from my eyes. I can't remember the last time that happened.
I dreamed I was out of town with friends, and we'd split up - half to eat and half to shop. I was the last to finish eating and suddenly realized everyone was gone. I started texting everyone, and one by one they told me they'd gone home. I realized I was alone, out of town, with no way of getting home, and everyone had left me.
In the dream, I was panicked, lonely, and afraid. I couldn't find anyone to help me get home. Then after what felt like an hour, I ran into all of my friends. They were laughing. It was all a prank. No one had left, but they thought it would be funny to trick me. I started crying, and they continued to laugh. "Stop being so dramatic!" they told me.
The last words of my dream before I woke up were mine: "Do you guys actually think I would let you see how vulnerable I am, if I weren't seriously upset? Do you think I'd let you see how abandoned and lonely I felt? Do you think I'd actually let you see me cry?"
I woke up, and fat tears were dripping down my cheeks.
I'm reading a book, Emotional Intellligence 2.0. It starts with giving you a code for an online quiz to assess your emotional intelligence. I'd say I'm very emotionally intelligent, so I was actually really annoyed when it scored me much lower than I expected. I read the reasons, and it came down to this: I am a great listener, a great communicator, I'm empathetic and socially aware, BUT. I don't talk about myself enough. I don't open up about my own feelings or weaknesses with others.
At first I thought, "Well, of course not! Communicating is about listening to others and understanding them, not talking about myself." But the more I read, the more I understood what it was saying. Communication is a two-way street. How can others trust me (particularly professionally) if they don't know me? If I don't open up to them while they open up to me, that's not effectual communication. That's not emotional intelligence, to hide your vulnerabilities and weaknesses and fears from the world. That's being a counselor, not a friend.
The part that confounded me at first was the online analysis that I don't share myself. I have this blog, right? I wrote a book about the most vulnerable time in my life, right? But truth is, that's my personal life, and it's also through a medium of written word. In my face-to-face interactions, I don't talk about myself. When someone asks me how I'm doing, I say great and immediately turn it back to them. Today, I spoke on the phone with a friend/work connection who asked how my new job is going. Though surely she wanted details, my response was, "I love it! So how are you?"
I can share myself through ink and paper, keyboards and screens, but not in real life. And this is doubly so when it comes to my professional life.
What I think was most telling about my dream was that the group of friends I was with were my work friends from my most recent job. The last words, "Do you think I'd actually let you see me cry?", speak volumes. I remember once, early on in that job, I was getting extremely overwhelmed, and one of my coworkers (someone I consider a friend) saw me and stopped to talk. The tears welled up in my eyes, my throat got tight, and I couldn't speak without the fear of losing it. I hated, HATED, him see me nearly break down and cry. I was humiliated, and even now my face burns at the memory. It was him that I said this to my dream.
I don't like showing weakness. I don't like asking for help. I want to help others, but I don't want them to help me. I listen to people all day long; I seem to have some kind of magnet for people to share stuff with me. And I love being there for them, listening to them, being a safe place for them to let it all out. But I don't share myself back, not intimately, not in real life beyond the computer screen. I don't want people at work knowing when I struggle or when I'm uncertain. I want to look amazing and self-assured at all times. I feel this is entirely justifiable! Of course I want my colleagues and those who report to me to see me as strong and competent. But do I do myself and everyone else around me a disservice by not being honest about what makes me vulnerable - what makes me just like everyone else?
This is something I am working on. I can be professional at work and still share myself to whatever the appropriate level is. (This is something I still can't figure out; maybe the book will help.) I need to be able to say on some days work is hard. Today was hard. Today I handled a three-child home fire fatality story. It was emotionally a very difficult day. I found myself at times wondering what I'm supposed to do here. I found myself at times wondering if I could really do this job. I had to push my personal emotions aside to get a job done, which I felt guilty about in return. I need to be able to admit this. I know I'm not the only person in the world to doubt herself or feel emotionally conflicted.
I definitely need to work on this with my friends. If I'm asked about myself, I need to talk a little about myself. Most people who genuinely care about me genuinely want to hear how I'm doing. It doesn't make me arrogant or narcissistic. It just makes me real. Human. Emotionally intelligent.
But vulnerability hurts, and I've learned to be ashamed of it.