Interview: Ellie Guzman

What is vulnerability to you?
Vulnerability to me is revealing my true feelings. It is completely showing when I am upset, angry, or overcome with joy. It’s sharing my hopes and fears. It’s about being open and not hiding what I am feeling in that moment.

What vulnerability feels like to you?
Vulnerability feels freeing, but a little scary at times. It feels like letting go of thinking about what my facial expression is doing, or my body language, or my words. But it can be scary, especially if I’m not sure how the other person will respond to this.

Why are you practicing vulnerability?
I’ve learned through my life that keeping my strong feelings in is not good for me. Of course, I have to keep myself in check most of the time; we all do because of social norms. But I spent years trying to fit into a box: be quieter, be more agreeable, be neutral. I practice vulnerability now as a way to check in with myself and make sure I’m being honest with what I want and need from life.

What’s your response to a violation of you being vulnerable?
I feel it deep down in the pit of my stomach. It feels like physically falling. And then, of course, my face gets red and I get a lump in my throat. Part of it is embarrassment and shame, but it’s also anger. I trusted this person, so why are they throwing that back in my face? It’s extremely difficult to be vulnerable around this person again.

Was vulnerability encouraged growing up?
A bit, but mostly no. It’s my fault in a way. I was the model daughter; I had excellent grades and I was polite and nice and I learned early on that any overt display of my true feelings would be taken as some sort of rebellion. My parents would check in if I seemed troubled, and they would listen at the moment. But I knew that whatever I said would ultimately be used against me in some way. So I shoved it all down and would quietly explode every once in a while.

My friends along the way were the ones who first encouraged me. To be true to me.

Who is supportive of your vulnerability in your family? And why?
A vulnerability is not a good trait to have in my family. I don’t want to sound like I’m putting my parents on blast, and everyone has flaws. They’re incredible people. But I learned as a little kid that whatever I shared would someday be used against me in an argument. I once went to my mom crying that I got a B, and she was really comforting in the moment, but two weeks later she was yelling at me about something else and said: “This is why you cry over getting a B!”

So… yeah. I couldn’t tell her I’d had a fight with a friend because she’d bring it up at the slightest opportunity. I couldn’t tell my father my grades were slipping and I needed tutoring because he’d get intense about me dropping out and going on drugs and ruining my life.

I think they always wanted to push me to be excellent because they knew I could be, but unfortunately, they saw emotional weakness as a flaw. And I can see why, because they’re both highly emotional people and probably didn’t want me to live like that. It also doesn’t help that my mother was a teen when I was born, so they probably thought I’d get pregnant too during my teen years and so they were very militant about my life. It’s great now because they know I’m going to do and say and feel whatever the hell I want.

Any mentors along the way?
I had a theater class teacher growing up that always encouraged us to dig deep and explore my feelings. He was great. He could see that I was very in my head and he encouraged me to branch out and get to know myself. His class was like therapy.

What book(s) that helped with this?
I didn’t have many books other than Harry Potter growing up, but I remember I had this random book by Anderson Cooper called Dispatches from the Edge. I think a teacher gave it to me when I was thinking about being a journalist.

I was maybe 14 or so. So the book is about Anderson Cooper’s life and his work, and he delves into his feelings about events like Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Asia, and his brother’s suicide. I was blown away that this incredible, accomplished man could be so in tune with his feelings, and admit when he was feeling lost. It encouraged me to one day write with that level of vulnerability.

Any advice to a person struggling to be vulnerable?
Go at your own pace. If you get burned, try again. Remember that admitting weakness and persevering through it is a sign of true strength. And when you’re happy, savor it and treasure it.

By the way, I teach a 7-day free writing class, click this link to learn more.