Authentic Eagles: On Vulnerability

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our struggles in the constant quest to appear perfect. Embracing our  truths can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials and tribulations of being one’s authentic self at BC.

Alex Portelli, A&S '14

I believe in embracing vulnerability.

Something most people don’t know about me is that I grew up with social anxiety. I was the little girl who would hide behind her parents’ legs. Something as simple as ordering a pizza gave me so much anxiety that I made my sister call because I was too scared to talk on the phone with a stranger. When I walked into a room, I immediately clenched up because I felt like everyone was watching me. I was embarrassed to express any type of opinion; it took a long time for me to decide that my favorite color is green. In fear of being judged, I didn’t express my true self to even my closest friends and family. I was scared of them not liking what they saw and thus avoided situations in which my vulnerabilities might show.

On the outside I looked put together. I had a group of friends, got good grades, and excelled in co-curriculars. But, on the inside I felt lonely and unappreciated because I did not know if people liked me for my true, authentic self, flaws and all.

I was frustrated. Why couldn’t I just answer a question in class without having my cheeks turn a deep shade of crimson red? I dreamed of coming to BC and becoming a whole new person, one who had an air of confidence and composure in any social situation. I had it in my mind that once I got to BC, I was going to change. But, walking around campus for the first day of class, I immediately felt self-conscious. Everyone gave the impression that they were put together, had a clear vision for the future, and had friends they were sure to keep for a lifetime, all while being flawlessly well-dressed.

To say this was intimidating is an understatement. There I was, wondering what a chemistry major does with their degree, questioning if my friends were really friends, and unsure of how to build those deeper connections that most people seemed to already possess after one week; all while sporting a t-shirt with jeans. I was scared that if anyone else saw how much I was struggling, they would look down on me and use that against me. But, my motivation to overcome my social fears was stronger than my cautious and timid nature. I came up with a plan to test how to open up to people.

In a sense, I became Voldemort. I began to distribute my souls among different friends. One friend knew about the pressures I felt from my family, another about my hurt with past friendships, while someone else knew about my personal insecurities and anxieties. Voldemort divided his life into horcruxes; I, among friends. It was a way of shielding myself from hurt and manipulation. Dividing my souls was safe because to really get to me, one would have to configure all of my life pieces together. If I lost one friend, I wasn’t losing everything. Dividing my life was a way of protecting my vulnerability.

For two years, this method was perfect. As I began to dive in and open up to others, they also began opening up to me. I felt more connected with the people in my life. But, the perfectionist in me wondered if there was more. And then I met someone who made it their goal to slowly put all of my pieces together.

My worst nightmare had come true. Someone knowing almost everything about me? I was just asking for a disaster. But, I was also curious. Since portioning myself among others was going well, I decided I was ready to take that plunge, and I slowly began sharing different pieces of myself to this one person. They tracked their progress with me every two weeks, asking what percentage of me they knew. And to my surprise, as the percentage increased over time, they didn’t back away. Even more surprising, I didn't either. My friend saw me cry, listened to my vents, and was patient with my irrevelent stories. While I thought I was a burden on them, they loved me for my imperfections and quirks. Being vulnerable and sharing my flaws made me more authentic and genuine. I finally began to feel that they loved me for the human that I was, not for the perfect person that I thought people wanted me to be.

But, the person who really taught me my final lesson in the power of vulnerability was a stranger. One afternoon, I was having a tough discussion with my parents outside of Lower. Tears were streaming down my face, and as much as I tried to hide them, I knew they were visible to the people walking by. I was horrified. This could be my first impression to someone and they could forever think of me as that emotional girl outside of Lower. So, I was surprised when instead of just walking by and ignoring me, a total stranger stopped to talk. When they first introduced themselves, I was mad. Yes, you are correct; this is a bad time to talk. And then unexpectedly, I was handed a cherry ice. They had seen me having a rough time and wanted to make my day better. All I needed to do was take the ice, smile, and they would walk away. Here I was, at my most vulnerable in front of the entire BC community, and instead of judgment, I received kindness.

I realize now that the first day walking to class, I only saw the masks of those “perfect” students. Everyone has their own struggles and barriers that they are afraid to show and break down for the world. To be vulnerable is to be authentic. Expressing my insecurities has made me a stronger person and more genuine friend. I wouldn’t spill my heart out to a stranger in the grocery store, but there is a unique and humbling power in sharing personal struggles. Vulnerability is an uncomfortable but necessary aspect of human connection. We shouldn’t be afraid to show weakness. It is only through weakness that we have the chance to show our true strength and passion.

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