The Vulnerability Remedy.

A few months days ago, while having a conversation with a good friend of mine, I crossed a boundary. I used a story which wasn’t mine to share, to illustrate a point.  Although the story fit with the nature of the conversation we were having, as soon as the words left my mouth I felt utterly disgusting. I knew, based on the physical reaction I was experiencing that I had made a huge mistake. I immediately went into shame mode. Narratives akin to “I am a horrible person” started to swirl in my mind. I felt that what I had done was in such stark contrast to my core guiding value (fierce compassion) that I couldn’t take it. I literally wanted to crawl out of my own skin and hide. Huge, huge shame.

I let a few more minutes of conversation pass.

The thoughts kept going. “What is wrong with you?” “How could you have been so careless?”  “You are a bad person.”  On and on. And, I knew that these thoughts would continue for days. I would punish myself in this way for hours on end until I felt that I had paid for what I had done. Interrupted nights, and days spent in a bad mood to follow. This cycle was all too familiar to me.

I desperately didn’t want to go down that road. So, instead of condemning myself for days, I decided to purposely break the cycle: I called on my self-compassion. I instantly knew what I had to do. I had to bring this up. I had to get vulnerable. And so, I brought it up. I told my friend, that I was very uncomfortable with what I had said and that I was experiencing some heavy shame about it. I told her about the thoughts that I had been having in the last few minutes of our conversation.  She listened, and I immediately felt better. I told her that I was fearful of her judgment of me, and that what I had done was out of alignment with who I want to be. The more vulnerable I got, the better I felt. She responded with compassion, and assured me that we all make mistakes and that what I had done, she believed was not a reflection of my character.

And, there it was: my ticket to freedom. It was in her speaking those words that I knew that the next few days would not be colored by self-punishing thoughts.

Healing happens in the space of vulnerability.

Yes, vulnerability is uncomfortable. That’s why it’s a reflection of courage, not weakness. But as uncomfortable as it may be, it comes with the greatest rewards life has to offer. It allows us to feel connected, reassured and united. Vulnerability is deeply empowering and enabling. It is the birthplace of freedom, because it is inherently risky, and what is risky is profoundly liberating.

 

 

 
 
 

 

Why it’s Okay if the Metaphorical Glass is Actually Half Empty.

 
 

We’ve all heard them at one time or another, those trite phrases of wisdom intended to uplift and inspire when we turn to others in times of pain. “Every cloud has a silver lining,” “You just need to start thinking more positively,” “Look on the bright side…,” “You need to see the glass as half full,” the list goes on.

Well intentioned? Most definitely.

Helpful? Probably not.

When we turn to others in times of pain and distress, we are not looking for the quick fixes offered by such words. In fact, such words can often increase our pain, and make us feel even worse. Vulnerability is risky, and often takes all the courage we can muster to reach out and let others in, because our most precious, and deeply held stories – those which require the most vulnerability to speak- are typically cloaked in fear, fear that others will not truly understand, will abandon us, and judge us as weak. That’s what makes vulnerability so incredibly powerful, because we know that when we are truly vulnerable, there was a whole bunch of fear that had to be pushed aside. That’s why bearing witness to someone’s most vulnerable stories and experiences is such a deep honor. It takes an immense amount of courage to expose oneself in such a raw and unprotected way. When we render ourselves vulnerable, we are essentially relinquishing control, and placing ourselves in the hands of another. We have no way of predicting how they are going to respond to us- will they nurture, love and respect us or will they disrespect, hurt, and shame us?

Our stories are abundantly powerful, and when they are met with quick fix phrases, it can make us feel that they have been robbed of their power and importance. Such phrases can be degrading and disrespectful because they fail to acknowledge the courage that is vulnerability. They dishonor the sheer valor it requires to let someone else in. Such phrases can make inspire shame and guilt, because they are wrapped in the implicit message that “negative” feelings are bad and therefore should be vehemently avoided. They send the message that we are wrong to have feelings that are not “positive.” Welcome disconnection, isolation and sometimes, self-loathing.

But here’s the thing, the idea that feelings can be labeled as “positive” or “negative” is a social construction. Feelings do not have a positive or negative value. They just are. They are all of equal importance. It’s okay to experience feelings of sadness, hurt, grief and so on because they are all part of the human experience, as much as happiness and joy are. We get scared. We get hurt. We can feel ashamed. We can feel lost. We can feel hopeless. And that’s okay, because it’s normal, and inherently human.

It’s okay that the glass isn’t always half full. It’s not supposed to be.

When we let someone see our pain, what we need is for them to truly honor our story and to meet it with empathy- a compassionate willingness to sit alongside us and delve into our experiences without judgment, as it is though this compassionate presence that connection is fostered. The walls of isolation are effectively shattered because we are made to feel “normal” when we begin to understand that all feelings are universal. We begin to understand that we are not weak because we are scared, hurt, grieving etc. We are in fact, just human, and that all we really need when we are in pain is for someone to sit with us and say, “I get it.”

 


 

 
 
 

Shame, Perfectionism, and Sacred Protection.

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Shame. That all too familiar urge to hide, and retreat, to lash out and attack in an attempt to protect and defend yourself in response to a cutting comment or an excruciating experience. Feelings of unbearable exposure and fear ridden vulnerability take over. The sense that you are completely alone in this world seems like an irrefutable fact.  Thoughts of self-judgement arise. You begin to believe that you are unlovable. Not good enough. A failure. That you will never amount to anything. That you have nothing of value to contribute to this world. That you are a waste of space.

Shame is universal.
We all experience it at some point in our lives, under various guises. Shame is often masked, hidden, and seemingly undetectable. Perfectionism is one of those masks. It is a way of staying hidden. Staying guarded and impenetrable. It helps us to defend ourselves against exposing the parts of ourselves that we believe no one could truly love and accept. We become consumed by the need to look and behave perfectly at all times, never allowing ourselves to falter- for that would be far too risky. We begin to believe that perfection is the prerequisite for acceptance. That people expect certain things of us and that we must abide by these expectations to keep the connections we have. The possibility of true connection is taken off the table, because we begin to believe that we can’t show our true selves to the world, without having it be rejected. The belief in the need for perfectionism becomes stronger and stronger and we become increasingly isolated, but appearances won’t let anybody know that. We live in the space of “I’m good!” while we are really just trying to keep everything from falling apart. Loneliness sets in, and shame continues to build. Layer upon layer. We begin to feel trapped- perfectionism severely limits us. We start to feel as though we are confined in prison cell. We begin to believe that there is no hope for escape. But, here’s the thing: we hold the key, and it is in our power to choose if we are going to use that key. Using the key though requires a great deal of risk… it just seems too scary, for the key is imperfection in all its inherent vulnerability.

Liberation is found in the embrace and acknowledgement of imperfection.

 Liberation is found in speaking your imperfections. Owning them and embracing them and having them be met with relentless empathy. One person to get down with you on that level to say, “yeah, I’ve totally been there too.” One person who will meet you on that plane of vulnerability. One person who will lovingly sit alongside you to peel back the layers.

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” –Brene Brown


Empathy remedies shame. At the same time though, we must be careful about who we choose our “vulnerability running buddy” to be. Not everyone can hold our story. That is just a fact.  And so, we must use our discretion.We must protect our hearts, but not to the point where they become inaccessible. It’s about living from the space of sacred protection. Living from the knowing that our innermost “stuff” is the stuff of divinity. Immensely precious. Immensely sacred. Living from the knowing that you are immensely sacred. Living from the space of remembering your divinity.

Openness is not about letting it all “hang out” it’s about operating from a place of recognizing your value and sharing yourself with those who have proven themselves worthy of hearing your story. True, authentic, raw openness requires sacred protection grounded in unfaltering acceptance and big love.

 

 

 

 

 

Remember Your Humanness.

 




I’m a bit of a compassion junkie. If you have read anything that I have written, you likely have figured out that for me, compassion is my core guiding value. I want my life to be a reflection of it, infused in all that I do and  in all that I say. For me, the practice of compassion is transcendent. It allows me to feel connected to life in an inexpiable way, and functions as a constant reaffirmation of my connection to a greater source. As I have developed as a therapist over the last few years, my relationship to, and interest in the study of compassion has only grown stronger. I have piles of books dedicated to the subject sitting next to my bed, and read nightly to end my day with a little burst of inspiration. Most of the literature I have read speaks about compassion as a deep desire to alleviate the suffering of others, and it is my best guess that this is the definition that most people hold in their minds- compassion is a trait to be focused outward. This is the definition I subscribed to for many years as well, until I read a book titled Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff. This book radically changed the way I relate to the concept of compassion. In her book, Neff asserts that while compassion is to be focused outward, it is also to be focused inward, toward ourselves.
 
Radical right?!
 
At first thought, the notion of directing compassion toward ourselves may seem and feel a bit uncomfortable- after all, the critic within each of us can give us a multitude of reasons why we don’t deserve it. It may tell us that the things we’ve done are far too shameful to warrant compassion- that although compassion is all well and good for those around us, we are the exception. That somehow, we should have known better. That we are disconnected, and separate from the rest. Welcome that all too familiar shame spiral born of self-judgement. Consequently, we often begin to believe that we must engage in self-judgement and self-criticism as a way to keep us from doing that (those) all too shameful thing(s) again. We become increasingly unhappy, fearful and emotionally paralyzed. We condemn ourselves to a life of discontentment because we begin to believe that that is all we are worthy of.
 
And so, here are my questions for you:
 
  •          What really makes you so different from everyone else?
  •          Have we not all made mistakes and done things we are not proud of?
  •          Could it be that you were doing the best that you could in that given moment?
  •          Could it be that you were simply trying to fill some underlying need or void? (i.e. a              need for belonging, acceptance, love, connection etc.)
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that self-compassion is a way to let yourself “off the hook.” Rather, I am saying that, yes, although you may have made mistakes, they do not define you. Imperfection is a part of being human, and past mistakes do not change your worth. Worthiness is to be claimed, not earned. It is a gift that comes with being human. It is unchangeable and constant. You are worthy of love, belonging, unconditional acceptance, compassion, happiness, connection etc. regardless of the things you have done or have not done. It is an irrefutable fact.
 
Self-compassion is a commitment to your long-term well-being, not short-term gratification.
 
The practice of self-compassion asks you to begin to relate to yourself with self-kindness when you have failed, made a mistake, feel inadequate and so on. It asks you to recognize imperfection and begin to speak to yourself more kindly.

Imagine a close friend of yours is going through the same thing you are. This friend has made a mistake, has failed at something, and is right in the depths of a shame spiral. 
 
  •          How would you speak to this friend?
  •          What would you say to this friend to comfort him or her?
Turn those words away from your friend and toward yourself, remembering that at your core, you are no different from your friend.
The practice of self-compassion also asks you to recognize the interconnectedness of all human beings. It operates on the core premise that we are fundamentally the same. Underneath all appearances, abilities and perceived differences, we are all looking for the same things in this life. We really are on this ride together. 
 
Finally, the practice of self-compassion asks you to be mindful of your feelings related to the various experiences you have had. It asks you to practice unconditional acceptance toward whatever feelings are coming up for you- even the ones that are immensely difficult and painful to feel, for it is in facing them that we allow them to dissipate.
 
 
How do you think your life would change if you were to treat yourself more compassionately?