I recently had the pleasure of reading The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown. While so much of her work resonated with me, there was one part in particular that gave me cause for reflection. At one point, Brown talks about addictions and how they “take the edge off of vulnerability”. Now, this is not about to be some big revelation like some celebrity sitting in front of Barbara Walters. Fortunately, I’ve had healthy doses of fear from religion, the law, and letting down my mom, throughout my life to help steer me clear of anything sordid. But reading this chapter from Brown made me think about “helping” through this framework that she provides.
For as long as I can remember, I had a knack for listening, which might surprise some who’ve seen me get easily distracted by shiny objects. Not only this, but I have always been intuitive – I’m able to pick up on both verbal and non-verbal cues that just something may be amiss. Those abilities are paired with an instinct to reach out, to ask the question “Is everything ok”. It was only natural that, as I went through college that I would match my own abilities with a helping profession.
The irony, however, is that I’m terrible at accepting help, and I’m even worse at seeking it out. Of course, there are many that like to joke that I am the type of person who enters a helping profession in the first place – those who need help so they give it instead. For me, an unwillingness to be helped is mixed into vulnerability. It’s not out of fear of being imperfect – I’m all too willing to admit the areas I might not be as good at as I wish I was. No, it’s more about letting people know where my vulnerabilities are and what they might be. Comic book fans may remember a story arc where Superman decides to entrust Batman with kryptonite. That act, while fiction, is very powerful for me to reflect on. He not only let Batman know what his biggest (and possibly only) vulnerability was, but trusted him NOT to use it unless absolutely necessary. THAT is what I fear and what I struggle with most. As some friends have noted, I can be like an onion (something Shrek fans will appreciate) with quite a few layers to get through. It’s a rare moment that I allow someone to get through them, and to me to ask for or seek help gives someone a fast track, kind of like a mechanical peeler. The moments where I have asked for help or allowed someone through that have resulted in being let down or disappointed have only meant a few more layers getting added on the top.
And so, to mask those vulnerabilities, like Brown mentioned, I help. It’s not a disingenuous help at all. I enjoy helping, especially because, like a singer belting a tune or a welder shaping metal, this is where my own abilities really get to be fully at use. The issue is that I lose the balance. I not only try to help anyone who asks, but I actively place myself in situations where I might be able to help others. At one point in my life, while working at a University full-time, I also held a part-time job as a youth minister at a Church. Helping not only allows me to feel my purpose, but it allows me to avoid asking for it in return.
So what’s your “addiction”? Is there something you throw yourself into in order to avoid or numb something else that would make you vulnerable?