This is Part 2 of a series about the monstrous stories we live with. Link to Part 1 is here.
Before I proceed, a side note: as I wrote this Monsters series, I came across this somewhat related post on learned helplessness by another blogger. It’s more scientific than my ramblings here, not like there is a competition 🙂 . And now…
Part 2. TED Talks. A Walk
On a recent Friday, while commuting home, I followed a link on the Twitter feed and watched the powerful TED Talk by Monica Lewinsky, “The price of shame“. One thing led to another and on Saturday afternoon I ended up watching the talks by Guy Winch “Why we all need to practice emotional first aid” and by Brené Brown “The power of vulnerability”.
Another side note: “The power of vulnerability” is on the playlist of the 20 “most popular talks of all times“. Yay to “The best stats you’ve ever seen” by Hans Rosling and “The power of introverts” by Susan Cain, also on the playlist, – my people 🙂 ! Speaking about stats, yes, that’s 2 out of 20 with the titles starting “The power of”. Two other talks have “SixthSence” in the titles, and yet 2 more have “Underwater” either in the title or intro. Now back to the monsters.
The thesis of Dr. Winch’s talk is pretty much the opening sentence of his Psychology Today/ The Squeaky Wheel blog post “The Seven Habits of Highly Emotionally Healthy People:
Most of us pay close attention to our health and we treat threats to our physical well-being as soon as they occur. We dress warmly when we feel a cold coming on, we apply antibacterial ointments and bandages to cuts and scrapes, and we don’t pick at scabs as they heal. We sustain psychological injuries in life just as often as we do physical ones, but we are much less proactive about protecting our psychological well-being, than we are our physical well-being.
In the talk, Dr. Winch tells stories. Two of them moved me to tears. One, about 3:30 in, is about the time when he had moved across the Atlantic to New York to study and was for the first time away from his identical twin brother on their birthday. He was waiting for his brother to call all morning and all evening without realizing that he accidentally disconnected the phone. And he himself didn’t try to call, precisely because of how lonely he felt.
Loneliness creates a deep psychological wound, one that distorts our perceptions and scrambles our thinking. It makes us believe that those around us care much less than they actually do. It make us really afraid to reach out, because why set yourself up for rejection and heartache when your heart is already aching more than you can stand?
Another story is about romantic rejection and our tendency to kick ourselves when we are down, to drive the knife deeper into the cut.
Dr. Brown’s talk starts with her quest to research human connection, upon which she embarked as a young scientist who wanted to sort out, measure, and organize all the mess of human interactions. She interviewed lots of people for her research. Years into it, and a book or two later, she discovered that the people who have a strong sense of love, belonging, self-worthiness (she called them “whole-hearted”) were the same ones who had the courage to be imperfect.
The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.
She then proceeds to share, vulnerably, how she struggled with that discovery, because it went against her tendencies to sort everything out and to find perfection. But then the resulting breakdown led to her seeing that many people struggle with vulnerability and numb it with food, drink, religion, blame, but then we also numb joy, gratitude, and happiness. Embracing vulnerability, as hard as it is may be, means being seen and loved for what we are, being alive.
I finished watching all that, picked up the tissues from the floor, washed my face, and decided to “combat loneliness” (a little bit) by going for a walk – at least to see people. “Wait, no,” I thought, “This is not enough. I need to find company.”
Three of my four best friends of these days live within 20 minutes walk, the fourth would drive up in half an hour at a short notice, if she possibly can. I pick up the phone to text Tom. I put it back down. Because Story Loneliness whispers: “What if he says ‘No’,” and I recoil.
I get dressed, and then, boots on already, realize that, where our friendship is now, his ‘No’ would be exactly the same to me as my not asking in the first place. So I pick up the phone again and type, “Hey Tom, what are you up to? I’m going for a walk. Care to join?” And we go for a walk, cover about 6 miles of streets, hills, stairs, open areas, and have one of the longest continuous conversations we had had. Loneliness shrugs and crawls under the bed for a nap.