The Act of Vulnerability That No One Talks About

When we think of vulnerability, we all too often think of sharing our insecurities, anxiety, and stories of shame.

But that type of sharing is only one out of the 5 ways to be vulnerable with others. It’s certainly important to deepening relationships to know we can reveal what we fear is our worst and be reminded we’re still loved and accepted; but it is such a limited definition of vulnerability.

Relational vulnerability, in general, is anything that exposes more of who we are to others; and specifically, the actions we take to share life more widely and deeply with others.

Perhaps the Scariest Act of Vulnerability?

And while I teach 5 different pathways, or acts, of vulnerability in my book Frientimacy; there’s one of the acts, in particular, that I think could drastically improve our friendships, our self-esteem, our contributions in the world, and our joy, if we practiced it more regularly.  But not only do we not engage in it often enough with our friends, the truth is that most of us don’t even know we should be!

What is this secret act of vulnerability, if it’s not bringing our skeletons out from our proverbial closets?

It’s the act of Shining in Front of Each Other.

frientimacy_quote_7

 

One of the most undervalued acts of vulnerability is supporting each other’s success in this world. Being willing to shine in front of our friends by sharing what is going well, why we are proud of ourselves this week, and what we do like about ourselves. It takes courage to be willing to shine fully in front of our friends, and take in their affirmation, cheers, and love.

And it takes just as much vulnerability to encourage our friends to shine in front of us!  Why?  Because often their shining may trigger our own feelings of insecurity or envy. It can be hard to cheer for her pay raise if we’re barely paying the bills, and painful to celebrate her new boyfriend in the midst of our break-up.

But we’re called to feel that vulnerability–both of sharing and cheering–and rise the occasion of being women who can shine in front of each other.

When we talk about feeling safe and loved by others we often say, we want to be accepted for “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” but most of us actually feel more practiced and comfortable whining about the bad and the ugly, and not being as forthcoming with the good.

5 Ideas to Practice Shining With Our Friends

  1. CHERISH YOUR LIFE: While we want to be honest about the fact that some areas of life aren’t ideal, we also want to actively identify the areas that are good—and be honest about them. Practice saying, “I’m really fortunate that I don’t struggle with X, but I’m sensitive to those who do. And while I certainly struggle in other life areas, in this one I want to appreciate what I do have.”
  2. AFFIRM HER LIFE: Whenever you think of it, affirm everything you can think of about your friend. The number one value of friendship is to boost positivity by communicating acceptance—so cheer for her parenting style, her work ambitions, her beauty, her big heart. Everything.
  3. INVITE HER BRAGGING: We need to practice owning our strengths and joys, but we’re all scared to do it, afraid people will think we’re arrogant. So help encourage it in her by asking her questions that invite her to share what she’s proud of. (“When do you feel most powerful at work?” “What makes you feel the most beautiful?”) Encourage her to really feel her successes!
  4. INVOKE HER GRATITUDE: Women are known for brushing off compliments or dismissing praise. So, when our friend deflects affirmation, we can gift our friendship with positivity by playfully making her say “thank you” or by saying, “Wait, that was a huge thing you just accomplished; are you taking it in and really feeling it? Because you deserve it!”
  5. REVEAL YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Our friends should be those with whom we feel the safest celebrating our successes, so we need to practice sharing those successes—without being asked. Text her, “Just wanted to share: X just happened!” Or tell her, “I’m feeling more scared than excited that I just bought a house. Any chance you’re free to help me step into celebration mode? Takeout at my place?”

Why We Have To Shine

The biggest reason of all is that this vulnerability leads to greater intimacy and feelings of love with people because we’ll feel more expressed, more seen, and more celebrated.  Sharing our woes, bruises, and disappointing circumstances can only take us so far– it’s when we start whispering out loud our biggest dreams, the difference we want to make in the world, and the personal growth we see happening in our lives that we become more of our best selves.

But honestly, another motivation for me is because our world desperately needs more people willing to shine!  And if we can’t practice it with our friends, then what chance do we have of feeling more comfortable doing it in this world that desperately needs the best of all of us?  If I can’t admit where I think I’m amazing, to the people who claim to love me, then chances are high that I won’t be able to fully own that amazing-ness and shine it to a world of strangers and doubters.

This holiday season when you see twinkling lights and shiny stars– I hope it’ll remind you to think of something good in your life that you can share with someone!

xoxo

Shasta

P.s. I’m also teaching a 1-hr class called “Vulnerability: The 5 Pathways to Deeper Connection” (complete with a bundle of friend-u-vulnerabilityresources, such as a personal application worksheet and monthly challenge) for all members of GirlFriendCircles.com this month so feel free to join us (for only $20!) and access the class with your membership!  In a month where we can feel inundated with busy-ness and people, it’s ever more important to practice adding Meaningful Moments to our interactions!

 

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Posted in Feminism, Happiness, Holidays, Personal Growth/Spirituality, Practical Ideas, Vulnerability | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Tips for Deeper Holiday Conversations

For as many of my friends who have confided angst at the idea of sitting around a holiday table with family who voted opposite of them in the recent election, there are also those who have just shrugged and said, “I can only wish my family talked about something that actually mattered!”

Two Ways to Go Deeper

Whether you’re gathering with those who you are struggling to love and understand or those who tend to stick to small talk, here are two of my favorite ways to invite more sharing and love:

 1) Feature Affirmation: 

With a tendency for family members to feel judged, misunderstood, or left out– let’s make sure that no one leaves our tables not feeling valued!

My favorite way is to put table-tent name cards at each place and ask every family member to write one quality they admire and love about each person inside their name card.  During the meal, leave time to go around the table and have each person read their words out loud.

Here's one of my name cards from a previous year... a gift of love to take home!

Here’s one of my name cards from a previous year… a gift of love to take home!

 

2) Go Past the Updates:

Whether you’re gathering with family and friends you see often, or people you haven’t seen in ages, ask a sharing question that allows everyone to go around and share a bit about their lives.

My favorite open-ended questions are those that invite vulnerability while allowing the person sharing to pick specifically what they feel comfortable sharing.

Examples:

  1. What has been a highlight (something you’re proud of, something that felt good) and a lowlight (a stress, a loss, a disappointment) in your life in the last year?
  2. What is one big thing that has happened in your life recently, and how did you feel about it? And one thing coming up in your life, and how do you feel about it?
  3. What is one thing that has changed in your life this last year, and in what way(s) are you grateful for it?

I always suggest that after each person shares, the best response from everyone else is simply, “Thanks for sharing!” so that we can acknowledge each other without risking advice-giving or getting off track from our sharing.

And bonus for doing this activity as soon as everyone has gathered so it helps set the tone for the whole day/weekend!  Maybe gather everyone around in the living room for an hour during morning coffee or appetizers?

What If It Feels Forced or Awkward?

But it’s usually not for lack of actual ideas that we don’t facilitate these conversations as much as it because we feel stupid, silly, or awkward leading them.

Chances are high that if your family doesn’t typically gather and connect in these ways that you’ll get eye-rolls from those who think it’s “cheesy” or sarcasm from those who are uncomfortable.  But I’m of the mind that just because something is awkward doesn’t make it bad.

I really do believe that everyone wants to be seen.  Sometimes we’re afraid of it if it doesn’t feel safe or if we fear rejection for who we expose ourselves to be.  But that doesn’t take away the need and hunger to belong, it simply reminds us that one of the requirements of healthy relationships: “being seen” (vulnerability) has to be in tandem to another of the requirements: positivity. (You can order my book here for more about all 3 of the relational requirements and how they work together.)

Our family can trigger us like no other because we have a lot more “consistency” with them– meaning we have history.  That history can lead us to assume more about each other, take things more personally, or not show up with as an open of a mind about how people might be different.  We have expectations and patterns and norms.

Therefore, the only way to get a different outcome after our time together is to change those patterns and norms, a bit.

So, yes, it will feel weird, awkward, or uncomfortable.  But that’s only because it’s not normal. Yet. And just as we go to the gym and expect to sweat and be out of breath because we value the outcome of being physically healthy; so, too, do we show up at the emotional gyms and push ourselves a bit because we value deeper relationships.

It is my hope, that one week out, you will make a decision to be someone at your holiday gathering who helps everyone share deeper, learn more about each other, and affirm each other in meaningful ways. Whether you’re in charge and can set the tone, or perhaps talk to the host/hostess ahead of time and see if they’re open to you helping facilitate something, but either way, you can be someone who shows people that they are seen and valued. It’s simply a muscle to be strengthened– you can do it.

May your presence at any gatherings this holiday season help foster more love, depth, and gratitude.

xoxo,

Shasta

 

 

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How Important are Shared Political Views to Friendship?

“I can only get along with people who have a similar worldview as I have,” I’ve heard a thousand times. Or other variations have included statements similar to “I could never be friends with someone who votes for ________.”

Because we’re on the eve of one of the most divisive presidential elections in history, it seems a good time to remind us what does and doesn’t bond us to each other.

What Do We Have to Have in Common with Friends?

Not only are we increasingly convinced what we need to have in common with someone in order to like them– be it age, life stage, or political party preference; but we’re also sounding more likely to have devaluing and disrespectful feelings toward those who aren’t like us.

friends feeling divided over politics

But what does the research say about what we need to have in common in order to bond with another human being?

In fact, hard data tell us that it doesn’t matter which particular parts of our lives are similar to those of our friends, only that we end up finding those similarities. The Brafman brothers, who co-wrote the book Click, share research that reveals people bond more deeply over the quantity of perceived similarities than over the quality—the number of similarities matters more than their content.

They wrote, “Sharing a strong dislike of fast food, for example, was just as powerful a predictor of attraction as favoring the same political party.”

In other words, what we consider as the “big” thing we think we need to have in common isn’t as effective at bonding us as having two or three “small” things in common.

The Brafmans further explained, “You’d think that people who share the same religious convictions and political views, for example, would be more likely to hit it off than those who share only similar tastes in films and music . . . but it didn’t matter at all which topics underlay the similarity—it was the degree of similarity that was important.”

What might that mean to those of us who are at risk of thinking half the population is disqualified as being someone we might like?  It reminds us that we need to engage in more conversation with people who don’t share our political views so that we can eventually bond with them because we took the time to find out that we have both traveled to Japan, both love green smoothies, and both enjoy reading sci-fi.

Why It’s Important to Find Those Commonalities

Understandably, similarity matters.  We not only feel closer to the people with whom we can find commonalities–be it fans of the same sports team or voting for the same presidential candidate; but experiments actually show us rating those who we’re told agree with us (even if they don’t!) as more attractive and better people than if we have to rate those same people but are told they disagree with us. Indeed, we have a bias toward commonality.

In fact, in one study at Santa Clara University, participants were more likely to double their small financial donation if the person asking them for money shared their same name.  In another study, people were twice as likely more likely to sacrifice a couple of hours to help a stranger with a task if they discovered that they shared the same birth date with them; and 80% of them agreed to help if they were told they shared a rare fingerprint pattern!

The truth is that once we accept certain people as “like us”, we start to see them differently.  And when we see them as similar to us in some way, we treat them better: we are more kind, more generous, more accepting, and more loyal.

I, for one, don’t want to live in a world where we focus more on how we’re different and unlike each other if we know from research and personal experience that our inability to find commonalities tends to put up walls, create defensiveness, increase paranoia, and decrease our kindness and generosity.  The answer to feeling safer isn’t pushing “others” way, but rather the peace comes when we step close enough to see what we do have in common. (And there is ALWAYS a lot to be found if we’re willing to explore!)

Examining Why Some Commonalities Feel More Important

I will not minimize how bonding it can be to any two people to find commonalities and feel closer and more trusting of those individuals. But just as few of us would insist that we can only bond with others who share our names, our birth dates, or our finger print patterns; as hard as it is to believe, who we are voting for is no more important to whether we can bond or not. I find it hard to remember that truth when I’m scanning my Facebook news feed, but just reminding myself that simply finding out someone is voting for the other candidate doesn’t prove we couldn’t be friends.

And note that in all these studies the bond wasn’t actually because of the similarity, but because of how we felt about the similarity.  In other words, participants gave bigger donations not because that person’s name was really the same as theirs, but because they were told it was the same as theirs.  They rated their classmates as more attractive or not, not based on real agreement that impacted real people, but because the psychologists simply told them they had more in common, or not. It was all in their heads.  Their kinder actions were based on the belief that they had something in common, even if they really didn’t.

When I am reminded of the research, I feel a genuine humility. I am reminding myself how easy it is for me to create an entire narrative or story about people (and how attractive or good they are) based largely on my perceptions of whether they’re like me or not. I am reminding myself of all the people I love whose vote I don’t understand and am refusing to view them in any way that diminishes them down to just this one difference. And I am reminding myself that while I can’t control how someone else votes, I can control whether I’m willing to look for something I have in common with them.

A presidential candidate is going to win and about half our country is prone to feel dismay, disappointment, fear, anger, and/or paranoia. The only way to heal is to practice connecting with each other.  We can do that one relationship at a time. One conversation at a time.  One commonality at a time.

Any tips you’ve tried that has brought your stress levels down when conversing with others who are voting differently than you are? Anyone willing to try to be someone who repairs and connects people together after the election? Anyone else up for the challenge of reminding yourself that you could still bond with someone even if they are voting for the other side?

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Posted in Conflicts with Friends, Difficulty & Challenges, Judging Others, Politics, Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Moving and Making New Friends: Embracing the Change

When we want to make new friendships, we’re often dismayed at how challenging it can feel. Katrina Emery, a GFC member who lives in Portland OR, recently interviewed Maggie Chang about how she ended up seeing a move as the best excuse to start over with greater intention!

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by Katrina Emery

Maggie Chang had lived in New York City all her life. Her big move had been from Queens to Brooklyn, and that was far enough. But moving to California? Terrifying.

“My husband made me do it!” she laughs. At first she had scoffed at his suggestion. She was perfectly fine, had family and friends nearby, and California was so far away!

Maggie Chang-- thank you for sharing a glimpse of your journey with us as you continue to develop the friendships that matter most to you!

Maggie Chang– thank you for sharing a glimpse of your journey with us as you continue to develop the friendships that matter most to you!

Gradually she warmed up to it, though, and two years ago she, her husband, and her then-9-year-old son found themselves new residents of San Bruno, right outside San Francisco.

She tackled the move by pursuing new interests and passions, which was also a way to make new friends. After adopting a dog, she started volunteering at SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). She’s gotten outside more: hiking, beaches, dog parks, camping, exercise, yoga.

Her yoga passion actually led her to a deep friendship journey, in a roundabout way. In researching a yoga retreat, she ended up at Shasta’s New Year Retreat (“Reveal: A weekend where good friends dream up a great year.”). “It definitely wasn’t yoga!” she laughs, but she ended up loving the chance to delve thoughtfully into her own wisdom and intuition. The retreat offers women a beautiful place for guided personal reflection and facilitated group connection designed to reveal the themes and feelings that will best lead each person in the year ahead.

Shasta's Reveal Retreat at Mayacamas Ranch in Calistoga, CA

Shasta’s Reveal Retreat at Mayacamas Ranch in Calistoga, CA

Maggie used the intention created at the retreat to focus on her relationships, and it was there that some realizations about her life in Brooklyn came up. “I was not actually happy in NYC,” she says, “not very connected to the friends and family I had there.” She hadn’t realized it at the time, but there was a distance growing in her old friendships that wasn’t being addressed or augmented with new ones. She discovered she had been suffering from a lack of meaningful healthy friendships for a while, even before moving. The research that shows we replace our friends every 7 years was especially striking to her. “Nobody teaches us these things!” She had been stuck in past versions of friendships that had changed. “There was some shame connected to it,” she admits, noting that since she claimed she had current friends (even though the dynamics had changed), she felt uncomfortable searching for “new” ones.

It wasn’t until the move forced her into new relationships that she suddenly felt ok pursuing them. Now, she was new to an area and had practical reasons for making new friends. The need to reach out made it ok to try. She joined GFC as a GFConnector last December, and committed to facilitating events for a period. “That’s helped. Not that it’s been easy or I’ve made a lot of friends, but it’s like I’m strengthening that muscle.”

Since moving to California, Maggie describes herself as being more intentional and more mindful of friendships. Her son, now 11, has his own friendships at school. “I’m now encouraging him, making it an actual goal.” she notes. “I want him to know that it’s important enough to work on.” She hasn’t found the perfect way to be vulnerable to him about her own friendship struggles, but hopes she can keep working on that. “One new struggle that has popped up is: Should I be making friends with moms of kids his age?” she wonders. More requirements for hopeful friendships (that they live close, that the kids get along, etc.), though, just ends up adding extra layers of complications.

Two years in, and Maggie still feels she’s in the middle of the transition. Her advice is to embrace the uncomfortable: “You’re going to learn and grow from change, so let it happen.” With the freedom of a new location, the pursuit and opportunity of new relationships is an important part of her life. “I’m not saying it’s easy or doesn’t take work, but I’m starting to meet new people and start new relationships.” She sounds hopeful. And proud of herself.

And she did find an actual yoga retreat to go on recently. An intense camping-and-yoga experience, the women there naturally bonded, and Maggie is hoping they can continue to form some meaningful friendships. She’s also already signed up for Reveal Retreat again this January, looking forward to connecting with other personal-growth minded women!

**By the way, if you’re interested in more information on the next Reveal Retreat, January 20-22, 2017, in wine country, CA, check it out here! http://www.shastanelson.com/retreat/ There are still a few spaces left!

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Posted in Exercise & Yoga, GFC Member Stories, Guest Blogs, Importance of Friendship, Making Friends, Personal Growth/Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

How to Say “Not Interested” Nicely?

I’m often asked “What do I do if someone wants more of a friendship with me than I want with them?” Or, “How can I tell someone, without hurting their feelings, that I’m not interested in spending more time with them?”

Most of us need more community in our lives, but some of usShasta Quote need to say no to some people in order to say yes to others.

I’m not gonna act like this is an easy question to answer… I still struggle with it and sometimes find myself sitting on a coffee date simply because I found myself agreeing before I could figure out how to decline the invitation.

In romance, we tend to eventually find a way to say, “Thanks, but no,” but rarely do we give that gift to other women.Most of us just play nice or just go MIA.  There has to be another way.

Simply ignoring women or continuing to act interested even when we’re not isn’t being honest with them, isn’t leaving us feeling aligned, and it’s contributing to our collective fear that if someone isn’t reaching out to us that it means they don’t like us, which isn’t always the case.

Principles for Saying No to Others

Our goal in life is to live as aligned as possible: having our insides (feelings) match our outsides (situation/circumstance). Which leaves us with the options of either saying yes and truly being open to it, or saying no instead of just ignoring someone.

Here are my guidelines to practice saying no:

  1. Always affirm.  Affirm how much it means that they invited us; acknowledge how much you admire them.
  2. Then say no. Then check in with yourself so you can clarify your no. “Is it not now?” Or “Not as often?” Or “Not ever.”
  3. End with thanks.  Thank them for having thought of us, for reaching out, and encourage them in any way that feels kind.

In most areas of life I encourage women to simply practice saying “no” more often as a complete sentence without needing to explain or justify. But because in these situations it feels like we’re often saying “no” to a specific person and because everyone’s greatest fear is rejection, I think we can err on the side of showing as much value to the other person as possible, while also gifting them with our honesty so they aren’t left wondering in uncertainty.

Sample Scenarios

Of course this is a hard question to answer because there are so many levels of friendships and varied reasons why we’re saying no, but hopefully if I can give a couple of examples of how I’d say it, that might help get the ball rolling…..

  • To someone we don’t know well, but we don’t feel like we have time for more friends.  “That is so sweet of you to ask me and typically I’d be quick to say yes as you are definitely someone I’d love to get to know; but unfortunately I feel like I am barely making the time to give to my current friends so I’ve been having to say no to other fun people in order to love those people well. But tell me what kinds of relationships you’re trying to build and maybe I can help introduce you to people?”
  • To someone we’d consider a casual friend but we’re not convinced we want to invest more time than we already are making.  “I’m always so impressed with you for reaching out and inviting me to things– I know that’s hard to do and I really respect that gift you’ve given.  And I feel like I’ve had to say no a bit, and while I don’t see that changing anytime soon, I wanted to make sure you knew that I appreciate the friendship we do have when we see each other at x (church, work, MOPS). I used to think every friendship was supposed to become a best friend as though it had to be all or nothing, but I’m learning to really value that while I can’t be close and intimate with everyone I like, I can still be happy they’re in my life. Thanks for being such a positive person when we do see each other.”
  • To someone we’d consider a casual/close friend but we don’t really want to connect with much anymore. Basically if you’re thinking about “breaking up” then I invite you to read these posts about The Five Questions to Ask Before Ending a Friendship, this post about how we can decrease the frientimacy in a friendship by decreasing consistency and vulnerability without having to break up, or this post helping identify if this is a friendship rift or a drift might help, too.  Because ultimately, we have to ask ourselves: is this a relationship I want to completely end (in which case I am a strong believer that we owe it to them to explain why) or is this simply a relationship I don’t want to keep investing in a ton but am more than happy to still see her at parties or at the places we both frequent and keep up with her here and there? Knowing our desired outcome will help us shape that conversation where we can communicate the value of what we have shared and hopefully help establish expectations for both parties.

I often compare these conversations to going to the gym.  We don’t get physically healthier by avoiding sweat, exertion, and stretching; and neither do we practice being our best selves (which includes honest communication and expressing value to others) without it feeling awkward, unfamiliar, or uncomfortable.

Let’s become women who value each other so much that we’ll line up our words to match our actions rather than just keep saying no or avoiding phone calls….

Have you been on the receiving end?  Do you prefer them just neglecting you or do you prefer their honesty? Have you had a conversation with someone you consider a success?  Share with us!

Posted in Break Ups, Conflicts with Friends, How To?, Personal Growth/Spirituality, Vulnerability | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments