courage to relate

I know what my flaws are. Like, I’m soooo crystal clear on them (when I’m analyzing them, anyway—in the moment, not always so much).

I’ve…
gone to workshops for my flaws,
read books to fix my flaws,
gone to therapy to fix my flaws,
received coaching to fix my flaws,
journaled about my flaws,
paid psychics and had card readings and consulted astrology to gain insight into my flaws,
apologized for my flaws after the fact,
apologized in advance for my flaws,
prayed to spirits unseen to lift away my flaws,
beat myself up over my flaws in the hopes that they would scurry away,
cried deep tears of pain and grief over the ways that my flaws were limiting my life,
begged to spirits unseen—“No, really, please, help me; please, please, help me, I can’t figure this out”—to lift away my flaws…

Thousands of hours and thousands of dollars have been poured into trying to fix my flaws. Serious, debilitating depression has resulted from the time spent in self-recrimination because I have flaws and I was practically clawing my own skin trying to truly “get it”—why did I keep doing this flawed thing, over and over? When was I going to finally understand? When was I going to stop? (And in the interests of not giving randos on the internet ammunition for trolling, nope, I’m not going to say what said flaws are).

The first time anyone ever suggested that perhaps the thing that was so flawed about me was also a source of strength, my face visibly blanched and I recoiled. Impossible.

But of course, that’s it—the very thing that people most like about me is the exact same thing that people can’t stand about me. The only difference about the times when it’s a “flaw” instead of a “strength” is that the volume is turned up.

Let’s rock a metaphor: any music, even your favorite, sounds awful when the volume is so loud that it hurts your ears to hear. My music is great when it’s at the right volume. Turn me up too loud, and my strength becomes my flaw—difficult to be around, painful to hear.

The Paradox of Relationship

We all want to be in relationship, or at least we say we do. Here’s the paradox: you cannot truly be “in relationship” with someone if the only parts you are willing to relate to are the parts that are comfortable for you. You cannot truly know someone if you only know them when the volume is tuned to an acceptable level. Real relating will be messy. The volume will get really loud, at times.

Every day, for as much as most of us say that we want to let go of perfectionism and believe we are enough and post endless scripty quotes about unconditional love and acceptance…still we can unconsciously collude with perfectionism by either editing ourselves so that the volume is never too loud, or expecting those we interact with to always show up at an acceptable volume.

We can’t say, on one hand, “I’m letting go of perfectionism,” and then give the silent treatment to someone who doesn’t behave according to your standards. To do that would be to expect perfection of them and punish them when they aren’t perfect. (Or of course, you can do that, but it isn’t actually a behavioral reflection of what it means to let go of perfectionism.)

We can’t say, on one hand, “I want to accept myself as I am,” and then edit ourselves when we are around others, always aware of our flaws, always reigning them back for fear they may come out. (Or of course, you can do that, but it isn’t actually a behavioral reflection of what it means to practice self-acceptance).

The Courage to Relate

The courage to relate means understanding that when we truly relate, we truly show up as ourselves and we allow others to show up as themselves. We will love each other, support each other, listen to each other—and—we will behave badly, put our foot in our mouths and say the wrong thing, get defensive. No one is perfect. Where love and relationship are concerned, it will always be a mixed bag.

This isn’t the call to be endlessly accepting of everyone around you. Abuse enters the picture when you tell someone that their volume is too loud and the impact it’s having for you, and they just don’t care. They throw no effort at seeing if a shift can happen or a compromise can be worked out, and they amplify their behaviors over time. In those cases, there’s little value in trying to relate with someone who has no interest in hearing what your volume is—in other words, there’s little value in trying to relate with someone who has no interest in relating.

If you edit yourself so that you’re never showing your flaws, never letting your own volume get too loud, no one gets the gift of truly knowing you. If you expect others to always keep their volume (their flaws) at a manageable level, you never get the gift of truly knowing them. Your relationships will always be experienced at surface level where everyone sticks to what’s comfortable and hides out once it isn’t.

The courage to relate is to accept that no one always likes what they see, when people are being authentic. There are wounds, and sometimes those wounds will cause pain, and it’s what two people decide to work on, together, and co-create, together, that will bear something beautiful in their own wabi sabi way.

That’s the true courage to relate—to actually be in relationship with the sum of all the parts, not just those that are easy.

Given this messy/beautiful picture of what it means to be human, and taking into consideration my own flaws, I decided some time ago that I was always going to be in the game of true relationship with anyone else who was also willing to be in the game. If I was going to truly stop the madness of colluding with perfectionism within myself, then I had to to show up, and I had to stop expecting perfection of anyone else.

No one is perfect, but the perfect people *for you* are those who are willing to truly relate.