We humans like to appear – or at least think we appear – a certain way to the rest of the world. And we work pretty hard to maintain that image.
What about you? How do you want people to view you?
Super competent? High energy? Confident? Calm?
But life happens. And suddenly you don’t look so competent, energetic, confident, calm. Then what?
Most likely, you feel like your carefully constructed image is about to crumble around you. Leaving you feeling embarrassed… vulnerable… exposed!
If you’re like most people, you don’t take well to that exposed feeling. In fact, we’ll do just about anything to avoid it. We care that much about how other people view us.
In my experience, living with a chronic condition leaves you with more opportunities to feel exposed. Clients tell me stories about times when they have felt exposed. Getting sick at a party. Not being able to participate fully on a bad day. Having to ask for support. Getting caught taking your medication. Not eating what everybody else is eating.
Chronic conditions just aren’t always very predictable. Even when you’ve done everything you can do to avoid the unpredictability and to appear as “normal” as possible.
Feel exposed lately? Here’s how to regain your perspective:
Shrug your shoulders. Okay, so it happened. You didn’t plan for it and you don’t have to apologize. Life happens. And that shoulder shrug just might loosen some of the tension you’re feeling. While you’re shrugging, you might also say to yourself: “This does not need to be a catastrophe.”
Just come clean. Consider sharing a little information about yourself. Something like: “I’m feeling ___________ today” or “I wish I could join you in that but I can’t today.” You might even say, “I’m feeling a little exposed here.” Share only as much detail as you’re comfortable with. But remember that the more you try to cover up how you’re feeling, the more obvious it is that you’re trying to cover something up.
Get on your own side. When all that negative self-talk starts popping into your mind – the self-accusations, the self-criticism – talk back to yourself with some words of encouragement. Remind yourself: I am doing the best I can.
Don’t try to read minds. Be careful about assuming what other people are thinking. Most likely, they are concerned about you, though they may not know what to say or how to show their concern. Don’t assume you’re being judged negatively. And anyone who does judge you is not someone whose opinion you need.
Admit it: We’re all vulnerable. Whether they’re living with a chronic condition or not, nobody is able to keep up their in-control front all the time. But look at it this way: You’re authentic self is a whole lot more interesting than the one you may be trying to project, and a whole lot more relatable to the people around you. Let the cracks in your armor show. Being vulnerable invites other people to be vulnerable, too. Being human brings people together.
Remember that nobody likes feeling exposed. You’re not alone. Everybody around you has their own story about feeling exposed. Some of them may even share theirs with you.
Give people a chance to help you. If you need some help, go ahead and ask for it. Chances are, somebody is just waiting to jump in and help but didn’t know how to offer.
Feeling exposed? Welcome to the club. Don’t let it get you down. Keep your perspective. Hold your head high!