The closest definition is vulnerability. But emotionally naked actually goes deeper than that. When I wrote the newspaper article about our family’s tragedy that went viral, “vulnerable” wasn’t enough to express how exposed I was. I had bared it all, stripped away the facade, and laid bare my soul in public.
It had taken me five months to write those 1,200 words but when it first published, I wasn’t proud, I was terrified. Because at first, that’s how it feels to be emotionally naked. So how do you know when it’s the right time to tell your story? When you are past anger and bitterness. In the months it took to write it, versions of that article sounded like an angry manifesto.
That meant it wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready.
I’ve often thought it took me that long to write it because I was such a mess after my son’s suicide. That I was incapable of writing or putting two sentences together. And now I think it’s more that. I had to grow through the writing and re-writing. It was still too cloudy and uncertain in the early months after.
Once it published, I went through an inventory of fears, quieted a panic attack with breathing exercises, and faced up to each worst case scenario of going public and decided that none of those were enough to push me back into the closet of secrecy. The feeling of freedom was euphoric at a time when the best way to describe my life was chaotic despair.
Charles’s death inspired me to move forward and lead a more authentic life. I have had moments of terror since then. One of them was right before my first book published. I quieted the roar of doubts and walked into my new life that would include incorporating grief into my life.
Strangely, I’ve had some people object to the phrase emotionally naked as if it’s “dirty” or sexual in some way. But it is a process that has felt more like cleansing or a baptism.
Some have pointed to the word naked likes it’s some kind of sin.
So let’s unpack that.
Babies are born butt naked, right? I’ve not seen any of them squirt out fully dressed in cute Gap brand clothing. Then after they take their first breath of air on earth, they have a visceral, piercing cry. We can call that a strong emotional response to being squeezed through a canal into chilly air with blaring lights after months suspended in a warm womb.
A pure, sweet baby is born into the world and their response to it is emotionally naked. So conceptually, how can the phrase itself be anything but pure and authentic?
What one teen told his school counselor was so perfect. He saw the title of my book for educators, Emotionally Naked: A Teacher’s Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk, and the teen kept contemplating what he thought it meant.
And then he said, “I know what emotionally naked means. You got to expose all your feelings to someone and you have to strip down and express everything how you feel and what’s going on in your mind. I had to tell all my feelings, my story, all my emotional stuff. I had to expose myself.”