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: