If you’ve been on social media lately, you’ve likely come across some variation of the phrase “mortifying ordeal of being known.” Sometimes used in earnest, sometimes in jest, the phrase comes from the essay “I Know What You Think of Me” by Tim Kreider. He opens it with an anecdote about an email a coworker accidentally CCed him on an email about Kreider. A reply-all tragedy we all live in fear of that had a few less-than-nice things to say about him.
The portion about the mortifying ordeal of being known comes at the end. He describes a dream his friend relayed to him once. A staircase to descend and, as you did, what people said about you rang out. The catch? The worst of it came first and you had to get through it all to get to the good. Kreider writes, “There is no way I would ever make it more than two and a half steps down such a staircase, but I understand its terrible logic: if we want the rewards of being loved we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.”
The rest of the essay talks about the way we talk about others. The way we live in fear of hearing what people actually think about us. The way we sometimes bond over mutually making fun of someone else. We humans have a hard time acknowledging people can faults in us and love us all the same. (Even as we do that exact thing with other people.) We shrink away from being known that closely. We flinch.
Getting past the flinch, though, is the only way to get those rewards of being loved. Here are a few book recommendations to help you get a little more comfortable with the mortifying ordeal of being known.
I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough” by Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW
Brené Brown is a staple in the genre of vulnerability. Anything by her is sure to nudge you toward the edge of letting someone in. I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) walks you through the ways in which perfectionism and shame bar you from connecting with others. Through this book (with some exercises for self-reflection), Brown shows you imperfection is okay. Good, even. And opening up about the ways in which you are imperfect, flawed, or shameful are the best ways to find deep connections with yourself and with others. The mortifying ordeal of being known isn’t only about other people. It can also be about your feelings toward yourself.
Your friends are an important, and often overlooked, group of people that really sees you. That is, if you open yourself up to that. Friends can uplift you, validate you, and give you unconditional acceptance in ways others can’t. If you’re struggling with finding those deep friendships, or want to learn how to deepen already existing friendships in your life, give Frientimacy a read. Especially if you struggle with the urge to pull away when things aren’t perfect all the time. Friendships take work just like romantic relationships do. Nelson is sure to give you advice and tools to help you put in the effort.
You Belong: A Call for Connection by Sebene Selassie
I think all of us, at some point or another, experienced a sense of not belonging. Of being an outsider looking in. Of not having a place in this world that feels right. You Belong is full of ancient philosophy, storytelling, and research on the topic of belonging. How it hurts to not belong and how we can change our perception of what that really means. It is difficult to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known if you don’t feel like anyone is even listening. Selassie’s warm, often humorous, writing and mediation background can soothe you right into feeling like you belong again.
While we’re on the topic of belonging, Belong is essential reading in this world of, as Agrawal puts it, “community of confusion” due to the volume of people we interact with on the internet daily contrasted with the lack of people we feel truly connected to despite that. Full of quizzes, writing prompts, charts, and other ways to inspire reflection, Belong is broken into two parts. The first is focused on looking in, all about self-reflection. The second, then, is focused on branching out, finding a community and connections for yourself. In easy-to-follow steps, Belong is sure to ease you right into putting yourself out there and being known.
Romantic relationships are just as frightening for a lot of us, especially in the age of online dating. Deeper Dating is a push against the typical list-of-hobbies kind of profile, instead encouraging honesty and vulnerability from the start. By looking back on past dating history or patterns you exhibit while in relationships, this book helps guide you to recognize both your flaws and your strengths and welcome new relationships without hiding and without shame. It’s not an easy read, but neither is vulnerability. It’s worth it, in the end, when you open yourself up to love.
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach, PhD
“Believing that something is wrong with us is a deep and tenacious suffering,” writes Brach at the beginning of Radical Acceptance. And, it’s true. When we think something within us is faulty, it causes doubt, isolation, anxiety, and shame, all of which hinder us from opening ourselves up to connection. A combination of stories from her personal life, from her patients, wisdom from history, and good old fashioned advice, Brach guides the reader to be more accepting of themselves, no matter their flaws.
Happy reading and happy vulnerability. Of course, it’s going to be hard work when you start working on yourself. I never said vulnerability wasn’t scary. So, here are some self-care books to soothe you. And here are some escapist reads if things get to be a bit much. Then, get right back to it!