Brene Brown’s marble jar seems like such a simple concept: a marble represents an act of trust and each one over time builds to strengthen a connection and create a relationship. The people you can count on are the ones who have filled your jar and whose jars you’ve filled… easy peasy. It’s a concept I thought I understood well and could use with moderate skill to work out who I could trust and who I should distance myself from. But as the discussion for our first webinar progressed, I felt like there was a major block preventing me from accessing the conversation.
The workshop is entitled Creating Connected and Authentic Relationships but I realise that as highly as I value it, I’m also afraid of wanting connection. Isn’t it something people just have? And if I don’t have it, there must be something wrong with me. I’ve dedicated so much of my time and energy to it… it even plays a starring role in the byline for my business: very individual – very connected. But even though I prioritise understanding feelings, especially other people’s, I always keep mine in check.
Why do I do that? Maybe it’s because my feelings are less important. Mine are inconvenient. Mine don’t matter as much. Other people’s problems are bigger, deeper, wider. I have to cross the huge chasm of their pain and struggle and fear before I can get to mine. I’m not allowed to hurt until they feel better.
So maybe I’ll keep my hurt for another day. And maybe it’ll go away on its own… quietly. That would be best. That would be convenient. And I’m really good at convenient. So let me do what I’m good at. Let me put my hurt away and not show it to you. Let me perfect connecting with people through my work but shut it down in my personal life. Let me be good at trying to make other people feel better. Let me stay quiet about me because it’s not about me. This isn’t about me. Nothing is about me.
The red ‘mute’ button next to my name on the webinar screen is a relief. I don’t have to speak. No one has to know what’s going on in this corner of virtual space. As the discussion continues I write in the margin of my notebook, “this is messing with my mind”.
Talking about trust pushes insistently at the barriers between parts of me that I keep separate for a reason. Even though they’re not all invited, these voices from different times, places and experiences are gatecrashing. They’re talking about how jars break and forcing me to see that I care about losing my marbles.
The discussion moves on and a shift occurs. Beth shows us a video of how empathy works. A little fox finds comfort when a big bear ‘feels with’ her. He doesn’t try to fix the problem or silverline it. He connects with her pain and just sits with her. This is in contrast to a t shirt clad gazelle who peers into the dark hole that the fox finds herself in and offers her a sandwich.
And that’s when I realise why I have such a complex relationship with connection. I see that in other people’s darkest moments, I’ve brought out the bear… the big bear hug of love and compassion that knows how to feel what they’re feeling and seeks so much meaning from wanting them to know they’re not alone. I’ve grieved their losses alongside them, in solidarity with them. But in my own darkest moments, at times when my jar has been more than broken… it’s been completely shattered, the bear has been busy and left me instead with my internal gazelle. That springbok of survival has peered down, told me it’s not that bad and offered me a snack.
Oh… it all makes sense now. I’ve made the absolutely humungous assumption that because I’ve worked so hard to empathise with other people, that I must know how to show empathy towards myself. But I don’t. Or at least I haven’t.
Beth asks, “how do you treat people when they’re in distress?” Then, “how do you want to be treated?” And I feel it tight in my chest and in my stomach. I crave just being heard… and don’t trust for a second that I’m allowed to be. I crave just being seen but the gazelle (or maybe a less cute character) says, “you know better than that. You know that being invisible is safer. Lose your marbles quietly.”
So I stay in the shadow. And I stay silent.
But it’s ok this time. My silence takes on a different quality because there has been a breakthrough and small shards of light are making this place friendlier. Someone… not the present me, not me from the past, but someone I might be learning how to be, my mama bear, awakens from hibernation and says, “it’s ok to want to be seen but feel safer in the shadows. It’s ok to want to be heard but feel unable to speak. It’s ok to have adventure in your soul but be afraid of what might be outside. You’re allowed to have these feelings. There’s room for all of them here. It’s ok.”
Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.
All things break. And all things can be mended.
Not with time, as they say, but with intention.
So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.
The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.
~ L.R. Knost