Perfection and invulnerability in relationships
shatters intimacy

By Lisa Merlo-Booth

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Growing up the youngest of five children, I quickly learned that one way to get attention was to excel. If I could be the best at something, then I would stand out. So I learned to hide and stand out at the same time. I would hide all my imperfections behind a wall of invulnerability and I would make sure my performance was top notch so I could stand out in the crowd. Not a bad plan… or so I thought.

These past several months I’ve been a part of many group experiences. What has struck my about these experiences is the intimacy created when a person chooses to be vulnerable and share his/her imperfections. For someone who does not do this readily, this was powerful for me to see up close again, and again.

Not surprisingly, I also noticed how it felt to be on the other side of someone who was more walled off, invulnerable, and/or more prone to telling others how he/she was doing everything well. The impact, I saw, of putting on a façade of perfection and invulnerability, was… distance. I watched as the group gravitated to those who shared and left the others to themselves. This wasn’t out of anger or upset, it was just a natural response to someone who is more walled; walls tend to be cool and hard and not much fun to try to relate to.

When I was younger I saw crying as a sign of weakness; sharing your fears, imperfections, and weaknesses, was a crazy notion that would result in you getting hurt.

This was hard for me to take in since I can definitely be in the invulnerable group. When I was younger I saw crying as a sign of weakness; sharing your fears, imperfections, and weaknesses, was a crazy notion that would result in you getting hurt.

As I get older, I can see more clearly that not sharing your vulnerabilities, difficulties, and humanness, in a situation where it is safe and healthy to do so, can render a person as unapproachable (even if that is not his/her intention).

For those of us who were taught, either by experience or words, to be strong, look like we have it all together, hold our emotions close to our chest etc., it’s important to note that this choice comes at a price.

The price is lack of intimacy and often poor health.

Personally, holding things in takes a toll on our bodies. Pretending we’re not stressed, doesn’t take the stress away. Unfortunately stress has a way of beating us up. Cancer, depression, heart problems, stomach problems etc., can all be linked, in part, to stress and poor self care.

Similarly, being ”strong“, perfect, and invulnerable, also wreaks havoc on our relationships. Intimacy is about sharing yourself with another; it’s not about being an island unto oneself.

If you want to pretend you have it all together and not share your fears, struggles, vulnerabilities, hopes and dreams, then stay by yourself. There’s no need to share if you’re alone. Enjoy the safety of living in your head.

If, however, you want to be in a healthy, intimate relationship, then learn to share yourself in a moderate, intimate way. If you’re not sure what that looks like, below are some tips:

  • Talk about what’s in your head. What are your thoughts, fears, hopes, beliefs?
  • Share your past experiences as a way of helping your partner to get to know where you come from. What was it like growing up in your family? What was your neighborhood like? What were your parents like?
  • Share some funny stories. Intimacy isn’t about being serious; it’s about bringing the other person into your life. Share some fun and laughter.
  • Talk about what’s troubling you. Don’t say everything is fine if it really isn’t. Let your partner in.

In general, intimacy is all about getting to know one another on a more authentic level: no pretending, no façades, and no walls.

If you’re invulnerable, walled off, and/or perfect, you’re not real. It’s difficult to be close to a perfect, invulnerable wall; they’re just no fun to hug.

CHALLENGE: If you tend to be closed off, “perfect”, or invulnerable (i.e. never cry, don’t share your emotions—other than anger and joy—and keep your problems to yourself), then it’s time to decide whether you want to be in a relationship or by yourself.

If you want to be in a relationship then begin to let your walls down. Start by choosing one or two people you trust and begin to let them in. Begin to share a little deeper than usual and see what happens. If your partner or friend meets you, then continue to share. If not, choose another person to try this with.

Remember, being human means we are all imperfect, vulnerable, and wanting connection. Begin to embrace these characteristics.

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