I recently re-read Stephen Crane’s Civil War classic, The Red Badge of Courage. As I was reading, a passage jumped out to me. My inner therapist got excited, reached for a pen, and marked the paragraph, writing in the margin, “fear of openness and vulnerability”.
The passage describes young Henry Fleming as he anticipated his first battle. He is full of fears and insecurities. What if, in the heat of battle, he ends up proving himself a coward and runs away from the fight? He wishes to share his thoughts, in hopes of finding that he isn’t alone in his fears, and to be encouraged regarding his capabilities. But he also fears admitting to having those worries. And so he scanned the group, hoping that someone else would be vulnerable and express their fears first.
“All attempts failed to bring forth any statement that looked in any way like a confession to these doubts which he privately acknowledged in himself. He was afraid to make an open declaration of his concern, because he dreaded to place some unscrupulous confidant the high plane of the unconfessed from which elevation he could be derided.”
He desperately wanted connection and validation. But he feared being rejected and derided. His thoughts were human. Rather than being about doubts of succumbing to fear in battle, these same insecurities could describe someone who is about to say “I love you” for the first time. It could describe a spouse admitting to their partner about their fears concerning becoming a parent for the first time. It could describe any disclosure of feeling afraid or inadequate.