Community and Vulnerability


Yesterday I finished the book "Rethinking Narcissism" by Dr. Craig Malkin. I highly recommend it and am planning a full "book report" later this week.

There's a chapter on the healthy use of social media - it covers how to use the various platforms of Twitter, Facebook, blogging, Spotify, and all the rest in healthy, life-giving ways. If we're not intentional about it, Dr. Malkin posits that social media can be a place where narcissism runs wild. We can become obsessed with our appearance and the quality of our photos. We can become consumed with constructing the narrative of our lives and the lives of family members in whatever ways will appear most "together" or "stable" or "loving" or "perfect." Makes sense, right?

Dr. Malkin says in the book that all this pretend narrative constructing isn't so healthy on either end. For the constructor or the people viewing it. When we spend time on Facebook and other platforms looking at other people's lives, there have been actual studies done that reveal we often end up feeling worse about our own lives and physical appearances. And that's because we're comparing our ACTUAL lives to someone else's carefully publicly constructed life. This doesn't mean people should vacate social media. It just means we need to be intentional. It's great to post happy stuff. But what about the rest? Where does the rest go?

In general, no one is living into this reality out of spite or maliciousness. We're not trying to be fake. We're not trying to falsely construct our lives. We're all just attempting to lean into this world of living in the public sphere. We're trying to figure out how much to share of our real, Authentic Self, and how much to construct. We're figuring out how much to edit. That's the bottom line. We're all editors of our own public story, so we all discern for ourselves what we want the rest of the world to believe.

And believe me, I recognize my own participation! I do it all the time on all the social media platforms that I utilize.

Dr. Malkin says in the book that if a person wants to use social media without leaning too far into the narcissistic sphere, that there are many ways to do so. There are many opportunities to use social media in life-giving ways. The key: community and vulnerability. He invites the readers of his book to think about whether there is an actual sense of community behind the social media platforms that they utilize. He also invites readers to think about whether they can be real about the ups and downs of life on their social media platforms of choice - or are they trying to manufacture a false reality.

I've been thinking about those two "requirements" of healthy social media use. Community and vulnerability. I've been thinking about my goals for this blog, Instagram account, and Facebook profile. I have long-aspired that this blog would be the space that most reflects my actual reality. Why even have this public forum if I'm not going to be my actual self? What am I trying to construct? And for who?

Lately, the writing process has felt more authentic than it had in a long while. I like to click the "Publish" button because I feel like overall, I'm being me. Not all of me...and that's okay. But a general representation of my thoughts. Instagram has served a similar purpose as of late. A place to post photos with quotes and ponderings. For whatever reason, I find it feels more safe to be vulnerable on Instagram than it does on Facebook. Maybe because the pool of participants is smaller. Or maybe just because.

So last night I posted something on Instagram. And I took it down after about 22 minutes. I suddenly panicked that it was "too honest." I was afraid it would be uncomfortable for people. *gasp* What would they think? What would they feel? What if someone misinterprets what I say?

But this morning, I'm rethinking that choice to take the post down. I'm thinking about what Dr. Malkin said about community and vulnerability.

I apologize friends. Sometimes I'm so tempted to construct a reality where I'm fine. But the truth: I'm not fine. The truth: I'm okay. That's the reality. I waiver between good, bad, and okay. On any given day. And it's normal. This is life. This is all of our lives. We all waiver between good, bad, and okay. And if I don't have the courage to admit that, what the hell am I doing writing at all? Why even have a blog or any other social media account? It would be better to live an authentic life without using any social media than to use social media and be inauthentic.

The truth: I'm going through a health crisis and I'm fresh into the end of a relationship that was really important to me. It's freaking hard. It's fresh. It's raw. And it hurts; it just does. I don't need to be rescued. I'm not blaming anyone or anything. I'm just admitting to myself and to my community: it's hard. Why am I so afraid to say that? 

So I posted this with a photo of the full moon...


That's just a straight-up true post.

So I'm going to leave it up on this blog.

I'm learning a couple big lessons lately. Lesson 1: it's okay/pivotal to a healthy life to feel real feelings. I don't have to pretend I don't feel feelings just because I went to seminary. I don't have to pretend things like platelet diseases and break-ups don't impact me just because I'm trained as a pastor. Reality still impacts me.

Lesson 2: it's okay/pivotal to a healthy life to admit that sometimes life, people, and reality disappoint me. This one is really hard for me. I'd prefer to never feel disappointment and just remain totally "okay and in control." But I do feel disappointment. It's hard to just let myself feel it because I want to put a bandaid on it. I want to convince myself that everything can be magically better if I just work harder. If I can keep the focus on me and what I could do better, I never have to feel disappointed in anyone or anything else. I can just feel constantly disappointed in myself. But this is not a healthy approach. Sometimes as human beings, we just need to admit that we're disappointed. That things didn't work out how we had hoped. And it's okay! I have a fear that if I admit that I'm disappointed, then people won't love me anymore. I fear they will become immediately disappointed in me for not holding it all together. For not being positive enough. Or smiley enough. Or pastoral enough. Or perfect enough.

But that's a ridiculous lie that I've been telling myself for 32 years. I've built a lot of my life around that one lie: that to express disappointment was to risk losing love.

But that's total bullshit. And I don't need to live in that shadow of that lie anymore.

No one expects me or wants me to be a perfect, positive, "has it all together" robot. And if they do expect or want that of me, then that really isn't a fair expectation. I can be disappointed. I can even express my disappointment. I will still be loved and lovable.

Getting in touch with all my feelings is scary. But it feels important. It feels like the only way I'm really going to heal. I'm going to heal when I learn how to feel the full range of human emotions, set boundaries, and love myself. When I stop trying to manipulate reality in a way that keeps everyone else happy. When I admit that I'm not superhuman and I do not have magical powers to change people or situations. When I learn to see actual reality not just the dream I construct in my imagination. When I discern what secure, attached love looks like and feels like. When I forgive.

I'm going to go one step at a time.

And I'm getting there.

And I know you are, too.

I hope that somehow, someway, any of this is useful in your own journey. Otherwise, I could probably just keep it all in a journal. But I have had a sense for a long time that writing would never be a fully private, individual act for me. That it would be something I would do in and with community. I don't understand exactly why. But I still feel the nudge. So I'm going to keep writing and keep sharing it.

Because in the moments when we most feel like we're on an island alone, it's nice to know we're not. We're never actually on an island alone.


  1. Thanks for sharing Emily. You are human and will have ups and downs just like the rest of us. as for your writing not being private, I feel that is what God is calling you to do, put it out there for us that need to read it. And love to read it! Hugs friend!

    1. Oh, Wendy! These words are such an encouragement to me. Thank you. Hugs right back at you.