The Beauty of Self-Revelation
by Nirmala Nataraj Jan 10, 2014
I have never known how much of myself it’s safe to share with a lover. Or anyone else, for that matter. I was raised with the implicit belief that any kind of sharing was over-sharing, and that revelation of one’s tremulous emotional state was indulgent to the point of being overwrought, ridiculous, and uncouth.
Much to the chagrin of my closest family members, I emerged from the womb with well-articulated emotional sensibilities. From an early age, I was a demonstrative, loud-mouthed, inquisitive, impassioned lover of poetry who wept openly during poignant scenes in films and covered monotonous landscapes liberally with the paintbrush of “I feel.” In other words, I was an artist.
Of course, while the artistic force was strong with me ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, the most incipient messages I received about love included bon mots like “shut up,” “be polite,” “don’t be so sensitive,” and, most insidiously, “if you want people to like you, don’t be yourself.” Gradually, I internalized the harsh rebukes. I learned that to keep my heart open and let people see the most vital pieces of my soul was imprudent and potentially hazardous to my health. Acts of self-disclosure felt both unsafe and unwise. Intimacy became the most implausible task at hand, and I was sure I’d die if I bared so much metaphysical flesh, covered as it was in tender wounds.
In the past, my tendency was to malign my partners for what I perceived to be their lack of desire to see me through to my very depths, but at a certain point I had to come to terms with the fact that I’d never really let them in. I retracted, I stonewalled, I hid behind a bulwark of excuses and intellectual sleight of hand. I perceived slights in actions that were, while perhaps unconsciously negligent, hardly unkind. All of this not only prevented people from seeing or knowing me; it impeded me from attaining my most fervent desire: to experience the vertiginous ferocity of deep love.
I didn’t want someone’s polite, half-informed attention. I wanted the most delicate, the most fragile and dangerous and inelegant parts of myself to be held and supported and revered.
The body wants survival, connection, and dignity. Usually, when we are children, it is easy to connect with others from a place of simple trust and openness. However, if we’ve experienced trauma or successive rejection at an early age, the body separates the idea of connection from that of safety, especially if we’ve been endangered in our earliest relationships.
There is nothing wrong with the desire for safety. Our experiences, after all, require a solid, reliable container for context. But I am also aware of all the times I chose to avoid conflict as an easy way out of experiencing true intimacy. And of course, true intimacy is tantamount to full engagement with the present moment—which requires a requisite amount of vulnerability…and what our reptilian brain might conceive of as the very real possibility of peril. But we have to get it out of our heads that connection is unsafe, especially given the evolutionary imperative to open our hearts and bodies to each other if life is to continue. We are pack animals; in effect, we aren’t that different from people who existed in caves thousands of years ago. It doesn’t matter if you’re a triple Scorpio or insist you’ve chosen to be alone and are quite content to avoid any pesky intimacy—if this is what you’re telling yourself, it’s simply a coping mechanism.
“When I finally admitted to my lover that I had successfully hidden my substance abuse problem for years and that it had cost me my friends, family, and a promising career, I was so scared that he’d react adversely,” a friend of mine recently told me when she was describing a breakthrough in self-revelation.
“It took a lot for me to get to that kind of sharing,” she remembers. “Not necessarily because it was a big deal but because I thought that in order for him to find me attractive, I had to be mysterious, or aloof, to make my private life this magical realm of smoke and mirrors. And let’s be real—you can’t enchant a man when you’re besieging him with all the particulars, especially when those details are painful or embarrassing. But he just reached across the table and took my hand. And there was true kindness and love on his face—not discomfort or pity or the desire to quickly change the subject.”
What we often forget is that self-revelation is sexy because it is completely extricated from false constructs or pre-programmed behavior. It isn’t the same as calculated sincerity or cautiously meted out tidbits of information. It is spontaneous, unpredictable and dynamic, just as orgasm is meant to be. Truly, mystery is not achieved by concealing who we are but by revealing the depth of our passion and longing, sacred and uncontainable instincts which couldn’t care less about arbitrary social mores or making a fool of themselves. A woman in her orgasm is impeccably attuned to what is real for her in the moment, and she never hesitates to share it. She feels no need to hide, obscure, deny, or manipulate her thoughts and feelings. Instead, she lovingly assumes the risk of sharing her truth. Rather than wasting her energy on clamming up or redirecting attention, she rides on the joy of being authentic. And all authenticity seeks shelter in the watery, turbulent, protean realm of the feminine.
“I knew I had to play the game 100% so that my life with my partner wasn’t just empty time,” my friend told me. The façades that people wear are part of their voluntary musculature, those parts of them that have been carefully sculpted by failure, rejection, and admonition. Unfortunately, when we are interacting with those facades, we are not coming in direct contact with the people beneath them. In intimate relationships, the tendency to put an approachable face forward is a tactic that can be completely undermined when things go haywire down the line. Our partner, who was intoxicated by the illusion, is surprised when pent-up anger, sorrow, or desire are cannonballed out into the open.
Instead of hedging our bets and playing it safe in the arena of intimacy, perhaps we should be pushing the envelope and getting our deal-breakers out on the table front and center. When we reveal ourselves, warts and all, we are not dependent on the fabrication of a tidy fiction to keep intimacy afloat; we know full well our relationship isn’t built on a “deal” that we’ve maybe unconsciously made, so we are never in doubt that desire is the sole thing that holds us together.
We need to be honest with ourselves and our loved ones. We don’t want to surprise them after the fact by demanding that they pay an exorbitant bill. We want to enlist them in signing up for the real deal, in putting our gloriously priceless selves on display without shame or reservation.
Of course, putting authenticity into practice isn’t a cakewalk. And sometimes we are too busy going for the easy thing to go for the real thing. Often, we are wary of sharing who we truly are with our partner because we can’t possibly know how they will react. But a woman in her orgasm knows that reveal oneself, fully and unreservedly, is an act of true generosity; it is too respectful of its recipient to sacrifice truth for the pale comfort of safety.
Of course, we cannot expect that revealing who we are will magically get us what we want from a connection. It may not. But even in the midst of tension or rejection, we can explore a wide range of sensation to which we can always be acutely available and receptive. We never have to compel or dictate the form a connection will take, even if we nurse a particular desire.
Think of what happens when two people relinquish all ideas of what must happen between them. Any decision or revelation that is made occurs freely, without guilt or recrimination. When we choose to stop wanting something from our partner, it becomes possible to understand the intimacy that already exists between is, which precludes the very idea of disappointment. And this very gesture of generosity is what true freedom—and therefore, the expression of genuine desire and intimacy—are built on. In being who we are, we (ideally) allow our partner the space to do the same. We open the portal of continuous discovery and feed a slow fire that is always building.
Every truly orgasmic woman knows that the ability to reveal herself isn’t about a protracted future outcome but about working with her own desire and the material conditions of the present to have the life she wants right now. It doesn’t mean she will always enjoy what she has or be happy every step of the way—but it does mean that she will be oriented in a willingness to live completely in the moment by being honest with herself and whatever arises.
The act of self-revelation can stir up some deep-seated anxiety in people when they get too bogged down in the extent to which complete disclosure is necessary. As always, it isn’t about the content you’re sharing but about the attitude the sharing is imbued with.
“The space between two people allows for the transmission of information that we don’t even realize is necessary, crucial, or accessible,” a psychotherapist friend recently explained to me. “If your partner truly has a fine attention, trust that they will notice what needs to be noticed. Opening up is more about being present and letting yourself experience your own vulnerability. It’s not about spilling the details of your life from a victim mentality, or showcasing your wounds for the world to see. It’s simply about engaging in an authentic, give-and-take conversation with the other person. This means you don’t have to worry too much; you can let them do some of the work.”
Ask yourself the following questions: What do I most want other people to know about me? Is it easiest to share myself with close loved ones, or with strangers? How often do I make space for myself to be free and open with others? How often do I make space for others to be free and open with me? Can I open to the people in my life from a place of vulnerability and the genuine desire to share who I am? Most importantly, am I willing to do so?