I have poured myself into aspects of my life. When I hear the phrase “heart in my throat”, I feel that viscerally.
This used to be my default. Even when I have been defensive or guarded, my entire being was right there at the ready. Does that make sense? There wasn’t even a part of me I walled off or withheld. All of her, all of Alli, was present through every interaction, even if my behavior didn’t immediately disclose everything she saw or felt.
In the last couple of years, I’ve been learning how to hold a piece of myself back.
This seems contrary to popular opinion and advice. “But Alli,” you might be asking, “Isn’t it better to actually bring more of yourself forward? Why not just ditch defensiveness altogether?”
In some situations, I think that’s absolutely true. And I think it’s important no matter what to learn how to be authentic to myself, even if I have some defenses up. But I don’t think bringing every fiber of myself to the table is always necessary, or healthy.
What happens for me when I do that is my identity gets caught up in one facet of interaction or life. I’m talking about me at my core. I want to be careful with that core, generous with feeding it and giving it room for expression in the world, but also safe from things that might damage it. My core self is not my thinking, rational being that can decide whether to let information in, and if so how deeply. She’s more vulnerable. If I bring her too far to the surface, I risk getting hurt by all of the crap that life is constantly throwing my way. So, I’m protective. I decide what to let all the way in.
What learning this slight removal of “core” self from the world, with judicious exposure, has taught me is that I actually perform and learn better when I have less than my entire being at stake. Since my very identity is not wrapped up in every interaction with the world, I can play more. I can fail more, without risking my essence, and therefore I can more readily learn from experiences. Counterintuitively, knowing that me, at the very heart of my being, is simply and straightforwardly a good thing that deserves care and protection in the world, and holding her back a little, helps me lead a better life.