One of my favorite childhood stories is The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams because it is the story of becoming authentic and allowing yourself to be worn through the trials of being human. It is the story of how vulnerability can change us; breaking us open, so that we can truly enjoy others because we have embraced our busted seams, tattered fur and threadbare paws.
The Velveteen Rabbit, once a beloved shiny stuffed bunny was loved so deeply for a short time by The Boy, who began to see the Rabbit as real, that all of the wear and fear from allowing himself to be vulnerability stripped him of his shininess and his un-realness. When the boy finally "moves on" as children (and all people) can do sometimes, the Rabbit was heartbroken, feeling discarded and diminished.
In his deepest moments of despondency, after crying his first real tear a beautiful fairy in a flower came to make him into a Real rabbit, where he could hop and jump and skip with the other rabbits (who had once been discarded). The Velveteen Rabbit could never have enjoyed the beauty of being Real had he not experienced being vulnerable and open.
The story is a beautiful metaphor for the value of authenticity and vulnerability. While it can be quite sad to see the rabbit discarded after being so open to the love of the boy it is a stunning example of how our flaws and apparent imperfections can be transformed when they are integrated and fully accepted. When we allow ourselves to be deeply effected by someone we are in essence, becoming more "Real" through our openness. And as the Skin Horse wisely tells the little rabbit sometimes becoming Real hurts.
If someone has the power to effect us deeply then they have the power to hurt us deeply as well. However beyond our human interactions we may truly be afraid of letting in the Divine (as in our relationship with the Self). If we truly let in the intimacy we all claim to crave from others then we begin to recognize that all human interactions are merely Self meeting Self. We start to recognize that others are merely a mirror.
They are a perfect reflection of that we don't want to see, address or deal with. Nobody truly knows anyone else until they recognize that everyone is them. It cannot be any other way. So when we are vulnerable we see ourselves staring back at us; comforting, recoiling or pacifying us, and we realize that what we crave from the other person is what we're unable or unwilling to give ourselves.
“Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'
'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.
'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'
'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'
'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”
-Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit
We project our need for love and acceptance on the other and expect a certain response. Some people make a habit of doing this with many people (spreading the expectancy around) while others reserve it for only a few (or maybe one...or none) but ultimately we are all seeking a mirror. The difficult lesson to integrate is that no matter what the other person reflects back to us it still self informing self.
Perhaps If we think of showing vulnerability as the self seeking comfort from the self (in another person) it can take the sting out of it when apparently our needs don't get met. And if it still terrifies us then we can practice being vulnerable to ourselves first. Love yourself until your fur rubs off and your seams pop, and then the terror of being vulnerable to another is lessened because you're already well-love-worn. However, if you're like most of us, relationships are the quickest way to get a little wear and tear on our fur.
If we can't admit or show our vulnerabilities to ourselves than being vulnerable and open with another will feel like the ultimate death when we aren't fulfilled. We will feel "unreal". It will register as self rejecting self. There is no way to be rejected, ridiculed or dismissed if you can accept, comfort and welcome yourself.
If another person does it to you, they are merely confused, and have yet to realize that their response to you is only a response to the part of themselves that have yet to see. They're treating you the way they would treat themselves. It's not personal (but it can sure feel that way.)
So even though you may not be ready to run out and spill your stuffing to everyone you see try doing it to yourself first. Be your own fairy in the flower, or find someone safe (your own Skin Horse) who can remind you that Real is a process. If you find that you still reject, dismiss, admonish or patronize yourself, than you know where your work is. Wouldn't it be hypocritical to expect someone else to treat you in a way you can't even treat yourself?
So like the Skin Horse says to the little Rabbit, "real isn't something you are, it's something you become." We become Real through experiencing the full range of ourselves reflected in others, and recognizing it is but a reflection of our own state. With practice we can accept what we see and love ourselves anyway. Only then can we truly be open to loving and accepting someone else. All the wear and tear is the sometimes agonizing beauty of this human condition. And just imagine how wonderful it would be if we could all let our threads show, knowing that this is what makes each of us so very Real.