I’ve always looked to the person next to me to see how I should respond. This typically arises in situations that are uncomfortable, cheesy and emotional. We all grow up with some feedback loop, usually tied to our parents and how we obtain their love. For me, I would get negative feedback if I tried to be emotional or vulnerable. It’s like I’ve been wrestling myself all these years as a closet emotional. Time and time again I’ve brought my true self out of the dark and been pushed back in. This wasn’t just in my upbringing. When we step out into the world we have to remember that everyone is walking around with their guard up. I know that criticalness is a coping mechanism, one that gives us the delusion that we’re safe. It’s a false sense of security because ultimately it destroys us. It keeps us an arm length away and never allows us to really be “known”.
I look to my left; I look to my right to see how people are responding. I’ve never responded to something without fear. I’ve never responded to something without holding back a little. Whenever I have allowed myself to try, I’ve been pushed back under.
Johnny and I began our marriage encouraging each other’s criticalness. We used the guise of “social justice” to accomplish this. Our desires have always been incredibly pure; we want to bring healing and redemption into our community. I’ve always felt this draw. From a very young age I desired to live a life that carried grace and love. Unfortunately, I was given a lot of negative feedback when I tried to be raw and real.
At age 11 I found that a piece of paper was the most forgiving thing I had ever known. A piece of paper would take everything I had to say and accept it, no strings attached. This is how I became a writer. Years down the road I would read my poetry to someone while they stood in shock. I realized that my writing exposed so much more about me than I let on in person. People would say, “where did this come from?” and I would say, “It’s been here all along…this is me.”
Someone who always encouraged my creativity and emotional nature was my grandma. She was a safe person to express myself around because she, herself, was free. When she passed away un-expectantly I knew the only way I was going to process her death was through writing. I wrote her a poem that communicated everything I wanted to tell her and everything that she encouraged within me through our relationship. Normally standing up in front of a lot of people and being emotional is hard for me…not with poetry. Poetry is my safe place; it’s the thing that translates my thoughts into communicable words. It gives me a buffer.
I stood up at my grandma’s memorial and shared my heart openly with a room full of people. My brothers did the same. It was a moment where we all allowed one another to be vulnerable. But the most beautiful moment of the day was when the most critical person in my life was given a glimpse into who we were as people and responded, not critically, but emotionally, communicating that he was proud.
I watch people build up callouses over years and years so that finally when it’s time to be vulnerable they can’t bear it. This is when those detrimental coping mechanisms come out. Sooner or later others see us as our false self. We start to expect that person to be critical, or whatever it is, and no longer give them room to change and grow. This is a terrible and unfortunate cycle that I’ve felt stuck in myself. It’s hard for people to change and it can be an incredibly vulnerable time. We get so used to someone being a certain way that it’s almost just as uncomfortable for us to see them trying to change.
Tony Robbins has said, “We’re meant to grow so we have something to give.” Being steeped in critical feedback for so long has created a desire in me to push through fears and give others permission to be who they are with no judgments. It’s so easy for so many of us to make fun of people we don’t understand. How many times have you pointed out someone on the street or pulled up someone’s social media page with a friend so that you can make fun of it? We train ourselves to be judgmental and leave no room to learn from and grow with people that are different from us. We need to give people room and freedom.
We’ve all been told that people who are mean are usually people who don’t like themselves. Being “mean” is just putting up walls of protection. We’ve learned through feedback loops that being critical, mean or judgmental can protect us in the moment. Overall, it ruins our chance at relationships and growth. We have to play the long game and start practicing acceptance in small day-to-day situations.
We all want to feel free. A lot of us are drawn to nature for this very reason. Nature doesn’t judge us. When we hike to the top of a mountain and look out at the expanse we feel as if we can just be. When we’re around others and cultural expectations we feel stifled. There is a certain amount of catering to others in conversations and actions, we do need to learn to be people who don’t “over share” or expect everyone to “get it”. This would be where I was when Johnny and I were first married. Our perceived “vulnerability” was just us thinking we had figured it out and that we knew better than other people. My critical nature was still there; I just didn’t recognize it because I was pursuing “goodness” overall.
I don’t regret how I’ve acted in the past. These things had to happen for me to understand how my coping mechanisms were isolating me from others. I tried to act like I knew best, like I was more free and open, that I was living the most selfless life…but these things were all walls. I wasn’t truly being vulnerable. I was working off of perceived vulnerability. I was able to create a façade without opening myself up to too much criticism. If I did good things then people couldn’t judge me, is what I thought. That way I could look as if I was being vulnerable when in reality I was living in fear.
I’ve overcome these fears by practicing vulnerability when it was uncomfortable for me, by sharing my weaknesses, by coming to the realization that I am not the only one pursuing these things and that I am not “all knowing”. I’ve always been the person to “hold it all together” on the outside when in reality I am more emotional than people know. As I mentioned, when I expressed these things growing up the response to them was negative…and so I learned to hide them. When I married Johnny I knew that he was critical and somewhat judgmental but I also saw in him this desire to grow and change, which is ultimately what led me to marrying him. We both had the same story. We wanted to learn how to be free from our critical patterns.
It’s been seven years of growing with him and we are finally experiencing HUGE breakthroughs. I have never seen Johnny so healthy and light. I have never seen us this way together. Even last night as we were watching an emotional documentary I looked over to him to see if I had permission to respond to the documentary in the way I felt. This led us into that conversation. He told me that he had gotten teary as he watched it and I not only felt permission to be emotional myself but I saw him giving himself permission. Together we allowed each other space to respond how we wanted to.
Johnny and I both grew up in the church. I am so thankful for the beautiful qualities this upbringing instilled in us but also aware of the unintentional stifling it brought. Because we were already prone to being critical and “all knowing” as individuals, the church exacerbated some of those qualities. For those of you who know the stories of Jesus, you’ll recall that he did not approve of the Pharisees, AKA the uber religious men, who were judgmental and claimed to be “all knowing”. Do you see where I’m going here? Once I realized that Jesus came to bring freedom and the permission to experience God directly without having to jump through hoops it changed the way I thought about “religion”. It also changed the way I saw the world and myself.
We shame people into changing because we were shamed into changing as children. Putting shame on people and thinking we know best gives us this sense of control. And it does work sometimes. People will changed when shamed or criticized enough. We continue that loop.
I am realizing that this is my calling. TO GIVE OTHERS PERMISSION. Every time I find myself really drawn to someone I notice a common thread; they are someone who gives others permission. They create a safe space around them for every single person they come in contact with. This is who I strive to be but I need help. I need grace and understand from others when I mess up and don’t achieve that goal. Failure is okay and even beneficial as long as we’re striving and pushing past our fears.
GIVE PEOPLE PERMISSION.
LIVE WITH LESS FEAR.
Bailey Patrice & Jonathan David