For how long have you been told that vulnerability is a weakness? Synonyms of the word, “vulnerability,” include helplessness, frailty, and exposure. Looking deeper, another synonym is openness. Bingo.
Vulnerability with yourself is the beginning of a whole new inner relationship. When you can be honest with yourself, while holding the compassion for yourself that you would offer to your dearest friends, openness becomes safe. Rather than berating yourself with the same old stories of failure and unworthiness, vulnerability makes room for you to see yourself with grace and kindness, as those who love you can see you.
The hook: being honest and opening up can be scary. We all have parts of us that we’d rather keep hidden, previously written chapters from the past that are boxed up and locked away in our mental vaults. This is not a confessional and you are not required to spill your deepest secrets to someone else. What I’m asking you to do is simply this: go into your vault with a flashlight. When you shine a light in the dark corners and on the dusty boxes, you can see that they’re not nearly as frightening as you had imagined. Once you dispel some of the fear and begin to look around, it becomes simpler to see where to begin.
Take this opportunity to move things around in there and begin to deep clean your vault so you can make room for new perspective and fresh outlooks. How? By reflecting on your past chapters with compassionate detachment. Now is not the time for scolding and chastising yourself – what’s done is done. Remember, you’re opening some of your tenderest spots here. How would you speak to a dear friend who is baring her soul? Please give yourself that kindness. As you sort through the boxes, remind yourself that these are just old photos and dusty papers. They are not the present version of you.
If you find it helpful, try using one of these quotes as added inspiration while you do this work. Write it down. Put it on post-it notes all over the place. Make it your lock screen. Whenever you see it, read it. These little love bombs are great reminders.
“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” Brene Brown, The Gifts Of Imperfection
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.”
Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
By the way, if you’re not familiar with Dr. Brown and her fabulous work, please introduce yourself – you’ll be glad you did. You can find her 2010 Ted talk on vulnerability here, and a 2012 followup Ted talk on shame here. She also just published her latest book, Atlas of the Heart, which you can find more about here. She’s been breaking barriers with her research and writing for over twenty years, and I’m a big fan.
A gift for giving
A while back, in the darkest time of my life, I carried a lot of anger and resentment. A perfect storm of significant transitions brought all of this to the surface and I was flailing, thrashing, lost and adrift. One sleepless night, in desperation, I did an internet search of the question, “How do I forgive?” The first sentence I read in the article I chose was an eye opener for me: “Forgiveness isn’t something you do for the other person.”
We’re told as children to forgive and forget, or to turn the other cheek. The message is that it doesn’t matter how we feel about what has happened, it’s more important to keep the peace. People may even tell us to let it go, and then no one explains how to do so. And the more impactful the hurt, the bigger the load, which we then stuff down and brush under the rug. How often have you heard or said, “it’s okay,” after an apology, even when it’s not okay? And how often have you waited, silently stewing, for an apology that never came?
Forgiveness is not automatic and it’s not about letting someone off the hook after their action has hurt you, directly or indirectly. In truth, forgiving is a conscious choice. Break down the word and you get “for giving” – in other words, this act is truly a gift. Forgiving is a way to release yourself from carrying resentment, which is ultimately harmful to you. As the saying goes, resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die – not really helpful if you’re on a quest for your joy, right?
So now that you have an idea of what a gift forgiveness can be, how can you give that gift to yourself? Here’s a hint: if your path has led you here, you’ve already started. Through being vulnerable with yourself, and in cleaning out your vault, you’ve begun to peel away some of those moving blankets that were smothering your heart. Forgiveness will help you continue this shedding.
You may have found all kinds of uncomfortable parts of yourself tucked away in there: stories that make you cringe, actions that feel foolish and embarrassing, events that still hurt even after all this time when you thought you were “over that” – this work is not for the faint of heart. Remember, those moments have already occurred. They’re just old photos and dusty papers. We all have them.
Forgiving requires two simple-not-easy actions: acknowledging and accepting. Acknowledging is being honest with yourself about whatever it is that you’ve been hiding or holding onto. Accepting is wrapping your arms around that truth and allowing yourself to feel your feels. As much as you might wish your past to be different, what is, simply is. And when you’re being vulnerable with yourself, a lot of stuff will come up. Again, I ask that you be gentle with yourself – no berating or harsh criticism. Please regard your past self/selves as you would a dear friend who’s doing some difficult work, and who needs your love. Accept the discomfort as simply the story that it is and remember that you have always done the best you could at the time, even if you knowingly hurt yourself or another.
No matter how you see what has already happened, the point is this: everything you’ve done, said, decided, and endured has brought you here, to this very moment. So how do you accept your past? How can you turn and face what has hurt you by your own actions? By doing exactly that – turning and looking it right in the eyes. Shine your light on it and see it for what it really is: the past actions of someone who is human and fallible, as are we all, and who is making a conscious choice now to do things differently. Make a list, write a letter to yourself, draw a picture, put on some music that moves you and turn it up loud and dance that sh*t out! Really see you, again with compassionate detachment, with eyes of love.
And this is the most important: feel. Allow yourself to feel all of whatever rises up – our emotions are simply energy in motion. If you’re sad, be sad and clear the decks with your crying. If you’re angry, be angry – beat pillows with a bat, break some old plates, yell and shake your fists at the sky. One of the biggest barriers to forgiving yourself is the falsehood that you somehow deserve to feel miserable forever, simply for taking an action that was not in line with your truth, your essence. When you deny your emotions, you stop their flow; they get stored in your body where they can deepen depression and anxiety, contribute to insomnia and mood swings, and aggravate physical pain and illness. When you give yourself permission to feel, you allow your energy to flow like water and wash everything clean.
As you start to accept the uncomfortable parts of your story, and can see them with fresh understanding, the second part of forgiveness lies in acknowledging what you’ve learned from those experiences. In an amazing book called Illusions, Richard Bach wrote, “There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts.” In the honesty of your newfound vulnerability, and in the acceptance of facing your story head-on, you can begin to see the lessons more clearly. Those are different for each of us, and only you can know what wisdom you’ve gained. Embrace this opportunity and thank yourself for being brave enough to own your story, and gracious enough to accept its gifts.
If you find it helpful, try using one of these quotes as added inspiration and a love bomb as you do this work:
“When you forgive, you in no way change the past – but you sure do change the future.” Bernard Meltzer, radio host
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
Lewis B. Smedes, The Art of Forgiving
If you’re at all familiar with old-school Saturday morning cartoons like Bugs Bunny, you’ll remember there was always some sort of battle which escalated until one of the opponents, with stars and birdies swirling around his head, raised a white flag before face planting in defeat. Hilarious, right? It was at the time, trust me. And that, or some version of it, is the mental image most of us get when we think of the word surrender – giving up, backing down, caving in, conceding. Serve any of this with a side dish of humiliation, embarrassment, or shame, and once again you end up with the old stories of unworthiness, lack, and weakness, all of which are untrue.
When you surrender, whether it’s to your own higher self or to God or the Universe, you are not giving up – you’re giving in. Surrender is a letting go of the illusion of control, allowing yourself to relax and make way for your own energy to flow like water. We fight ourselves so often because we’ve learned to doubt the wisdom and knowing of our own higher selves; we’ve been taught to disregard that quiet voice of intuition and instead stick with the rigidity of logic and practicality.
Fighting with yourself is exhausting. You’re constantly on guard, always ready to lace up the boxing gloves and go another round – with whom? Your five-year-old self? Your teenage self? Stop a minute and allow yourself to picture this, and really feel it: Imagine yourself in the ring, pitted against any earlier version of you that feels stuck. Look your adversary in the eye and remember that this is you. What do you see: fear, pain, anger, fatigue? Will throwing more punches make that go away…?
Surrender shifts your position from that of resisting to one of opening. Rather than thrashing in a wild frenzy, when you let go, you float. Here’s the thing: surrender comes from a place of trust. Trust is simply consistent action over time – you can learn to trust yourself again. And trust fosters belief. When you trust and believe that you will be okay no matter what happens, and that we live in a loving and abundant universe, you can open yourself to the opportunities and beauty that are always surrounding us.
So how can you tap in to letting go? First, and possibly most importantly: don’t overthink it. Don’t worry about getting it right, which is a control issue in itself. There is no wrong way to do this. There is simply your way. And even by being here, reading this right now, you’re already taking action – well done! Simple, seemingly small acts can help you continue to step into trust and surrender.
Dr. Judith Orloff gave a Ted talk on the ecstasy of surrender and suggested you can start by just drinking a glass of water. The key here is to be present. Remind yourself of the sacred nature of this simple and yet life-giving liquid. As you sip, concentrate on the sensations – feel it on your tongue, in your throat, and then hydrating you down to your very cells. Think of everything that has happened to bring you this amazing gift and savor the act of self care. Be thankful.
Gratitude is a hot topic these days, and with good reason. Being consciously thankful is scientifically proven to boost your brain with feel-good hormones like oxytocin and neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. Here’s a bonus: the act of feeling grateful is self-perpetuating. Blissful benefits include better sleep, a more positive outlook, and a sense of ease which can help you keep your heart open and let your energy flow.
You may find it helpful to keep a gratitude list, or choose three things to be thankful for each day, or to make a simple mantra from any aspect of your life for which you can feel and give genuine thanks and appreciation. Tell someone how much you appreciate them; for that matter, step up to the mirror, look in your own eyes and thank yourself for continuing to show up. Throw love bombs into the crowd. Just like the notes you may be leaving yourself these days with some of the quotes in here, love bombs can give other people a little boost they likely don’t even recognize – and if they do, it’s even better. Offer a smile to a harried mother in line at the market. Send a mental heart balloon to someone while you’re on the subway. Make eye contact and give a nod to the traffic cop on your way by. These are beautiful reminders to each of us that we are truly not alone, that underneath our facades we’re all human beings, here together on the same planet. And when you begin to feel this and embody it, the compassion and openness allow your energy to flow in surrender to something bigger - this connection we all share.
If you find it helpful, make yourself some love bombs using one of these quotes while you do this work:
“Surrender to what is. Say ‘yes’ to life – and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.”
Eckhart Tolle, The Power Of Now
“Give up the thing you cannot give up. Unclench your hands; you don’t have control anyway. Let life live you. Let yourself be breathed. The conditions will never be perfect.” Laura McKowen, author
Simple, not easy
I lived almost half of my life wrapped up in stories – both my own and those handed to me by previous generations - of martyrdom, struggle, and self-deprecation. I believed they were all true, and lived a life of depression, anger, and resentment. When I compared my stories with those of other women in similar circumstances, it seemed that we were all in the same boat, and over time these feelings and beliefs became normalized: who was I to complain, when everyone had the same issues? I told myself for so long that this was “just how it is” to be married, to have kids, and to feel bitter about it all, that it fully became my story.
Remember, something doesn’t have to be true to be believed; it simply has to be believable. These three gifts – vulnerability, forgiveness, and surrender – opened my eyes and mind to an entirely new approach to life. As Einstein said, we can live as if nothing is a miracle, or we can live as if everything is a miracle. When you can open to the possibility, even the idea of possibility, that your life can be different, you’ve already sparked the miracle within yourself.
Are these ideas simple? Yes indeed, and they sound great on paper. Are these actions easy? Nope, not always. Here’s the thing: this work takes time – it’s not something you can do once and then brush your hands together with a, “whew! I’m glad I got that done – what’s next?” Life keeps gently (mostly) presenting these opportunities for your learning and growth, and you get to choose whether you’re going to step back into the dance. The key word here, beauty, is choose. Awareness is where it all begins – welcome to your awakening.
About the Author
Virginia L’Bassi is a certified life coach who helps women tune out the noisy world, turn up the volume of their inner voice, and from this place of power, transform their life. Drawing from a variety of approaches, she meets clients where they are and guides them as they learn to get vulnerable, forgive, and surrender to their truest self. Virginia offers individual coaching, group coaching, retreats, intuitive readings, and customized workshops in Massachusetts and virtually. She believes that each of us has all the answers within, and with the aid of authentic connection, we can learn to live more joyfully and resiliently. Learn more at www.vlbassi.com. Thanks for reading!