Our brains are so fascinating. They'll do almost anything to keep us out of pain. But sometimes, finding the strength to go through discomfort and painful emotions is what is needed to heal, to grow, and to recover.
In this week's show, we are going to talk about something that we perceive as a significant weakness, vulnerability. And by the end of the show, I hope to have shown you that vulnerability is not only not a weakness but a tremendous strength.
When you can overcome your brain's resistance to get into a vulnerable place, you'll find a passageway to deepening the connections and releasing painful emotions that keep you at a distance from knowing yourself, becoming your authentic self, and being even closer to the people that you love.
Read the transcript below:
#98 Why being Vulnerable takes more strength than you think.
Hello, I hope you're all doing well and staying safe.
I know this pandemic and all the unrest that's going on around the world is starting to take its toll on a lot of people so I encourage you to take the time you need for self-care and connection to others.
I don't know that there's ever been a more important time to stay connected to each other than now and I think today's show will be helpful with that as well.
Before I get into this, I just want to thank you for your support of the BCRC podcast. I hope you don't get tired of hearing that but your support really does mean everything to me and to the success of this show so it can go on to continue helping other survivors.
So, thank you and I'll keep doing everything I can to make it worth your time to listen in.
Okay, let's get into this.
If you listen to this podcast regularly or you've been to any of my webinars you know that the foundation of my coaching is the 4 pillars of breast cancer recovery and one of those pillars is Regroup.
It's an important pillar because when we get through the surgeries and the radiation, chemo, immunotherapy, hormone therapy or whatever your treatment consisted of, the bottom line is that you faced your mortality and that changes you. At some level in some way, it changes all of us.
An article on surviving cancer published by Stanford medicine put it so well. It says "It doesn't matter if there is a 50 percent chance of a cure or an 80 percent or a 95 percent. If there is even a 5 percent chance that the cancer is incurable, the emotional turmoil persists and the need to learn how to go on living in a purposeful way, despite the fear and worry, remains."
It goes on to say, "The role of loved ones and friends is especially important. They must give you "permission" to share your worries and fears. They can do this by encouraging you to tell them about your problems rather than turning off communication by trying to simply cheer you up. Giving blanket reassurance by saying "Everything will be okay" sends the message that they want to hear only good things. They have to affirm that they are terribly interested in you as an individual going through perhaps the most critical time of your life."
I wanted to quote those parts of the article to you because they resonated so deeply with me and they align perfectly with how I coach.
Because in trying to protect our loved ones from worry we "stay strong"
And to save themselves from worry and protect us from thinking they're scared of losing hope they "stay strong" too. I call that rating the protective barrier
So, at the end of treatment, everyone has stayed strong, which we think means suppressing vulnerable emotions which we also refer to as weakness. And that's a shame.
Vulnerability is defined as
So understandably that's scary right...yeah of course it is...But it's anything but weak...in fact, the definition of brave is, ready to face and endure danger or pain, and courageous is not deterred by danger or pain…
So, to allow yourself to be vulnerable is a brave and courageous thing to do.
That's why it's so hard...not because it's a weak thing...it takes a lot of strength to be vulnerable and to face that everything isn't okay...and that's okay too.
It's okay to admit that things aren't okay… isn't that freeing?
It's such a relief to know that you can be happy you're alive, grateful for every moment, and still need to work through some things that happened to you and some things that just aren't okay anymore.
You might cringe a little when you hear that depending on how you were conditioned to think.
Because we learn from an incredibly young age to behave in certain ways. To be a big girl and don't cry or whatever else our parents, teachers, relatives, and friends teach us when we're kids. So, when the tears start to come, we ALWAYS say, "I'm sorry" as if showing emotion is a bad thing.
But the thing is that you're not a kid anymore and now you get to choose to think differently.
If what you were taught as a child doesn't serve you now that you're a grown woman, if it doesn't result in you feeling the way you want to feel and creating the results you want to see in your life, you get to leave those thoughts behind and think in a way that serves you.
Think about it, holding in your emotions is like holding in a sneeze, you know when you're sitting in a meeting and you don't want to disrupt the speaker, or make people wonder if you have COVID these days….but if you let that sneeze go…it feels great...it's a release
Same thing happens with being vulnerable. You get to drop that really heavy shield and that's a relief. But it also lets you get curious about what you're feeling and create space for change.
Brene Brown, author and research professor at the University of Houston said in an interview published in mindful magazine, "Where there is no vulnerability, where there is no ownership, that's where [people] keep making the same mistake because no one's willing to dig in and talk about it, shine some light on it, pull it apart and figure out what's going on." she says, "The easiest way to think about vulnerability is the willingness to show up and be seen when you can't control the outcome."
That's so important when it comes to recovering from cancer...what the heck is going on? Everything feels different and you cannot control the outcome, that uncertainty is just in your face.
And you're feeling things bubble up but you think strength means keeping a lid on it and being the warrior ... I'm here to tell you sister...the lid will blow at some point if you don't allow yourself to be vulnerable...even just with yourself privately...start there.
Permit yourself to feel the pain and the fear and shed the tears and just figure out what's there... it's okay.
You know we women feel like we have to take care of all the things...I mean for most of us, especially if you have children in the house, that's true. Not the part that you have to, but you are telling yourself you have to.
So, when you're not feeling up to all the things, you start to feel guilty that your partner or your kids or someone in your life has to pick up the slack.
So, you try harder to keep it together or even to make up for it when you're in recovery. Think about that...you're trying to make up for the fact that you felt like crap while you were being treated for cancer...what the what??
I love this story that Dr. Michael Gervais tells in the article, Why Vulnerability is Your Superpower. He says, "There’s a Zen principle that uses carrying water as an analogy for relationships. It says that there are two people, each carrying two buckets of water. It’s okay for either person to put down one or both of their buckets at any time. But, if they do, the other person has to pick up the buckets they put down and carry them along with the two buckets they already have. And this exchanging of one or both buckets goes on as long as they agree on who is able to carry what in that moment.
Essentially that’s the nature of any relationship, it’s not that everyone carries an even load at all times but that partners pick up where the other one leaves off, and we juggle the burdens of life as we go depending on the capacity we have to carry at that time.
In that same article Brene brown shares how she and her husband depending on what they’re going through will say to each other I have 40 today and the other might say no worries I can get the other 60 or there are times when they admit that each can only carry 20 percent of the load and when they say that out loud they each understand to slow down and to be more gentle with each other.
I thought that was a beautiful example of vulnerability and of true balance in a relationship.
So, it’s not that someone has made up to do or that anyone should be afraid of letting the other know that they’re just not up to carrying an equal share right now. I think it’s definitely more realistic than saying that everything is 50/50. And telling yourself the expectation is that it should be 50/50 can lead to a lot of disappointment and guilt.
But it’s not only the idea of shifting whatever responsibilities exist between you and your support people…even if those support people are kids...kids that are old enough to understand and help out of course.
But when it comes to vulnerability it’s the way you think about strength and the fear of opening yourself to someone and being rejected or dismissed when you let them know that you can’t keep carrying all the buckets…. that’s where the courage comes in, the bravery.
This stuff isn’t easy.
But here’s a couple of important keys to allowing yourself to be vulnerable and to take that brave step to open yourself to another person.
First, it’s helpful to get some clarity on your own feelings.
You really have to practice allowing yourself to feel and understand what you’re feeling.
One of the best ways to do that...write stuff down! I know I’ve said it so many times and it seems so simple, but it makes all the difference in the world.
Writing down what you’re thinking and experiencing might first cause your brain to put up some resistance because when you write it and make it real, then you have to face it.
You also have to be present, really at the moment. Because it’s just sitting with you figuring out what you’re feeling.
I also like to offer that one phrase is off the table when you’re doing work on self-discovery. And that’s I don’t know.
I don’t know is a dead-end, so when you’re having trouble getting clear on your feelings or your need and you hear yourself thinking or saying I don’t know why I feel like this, or I don’t know what I need, stop there and try another approach that leaves some space for curiosity.
For example, replace I don’t know with I’m working on getting more clarity. Or even starting with what you don’t want and working from there. At least that’s eliminating things which are better than throwing up your hands with an I don’t know.
When you feel confident in your own feelings, your vulnerability comes more from a place of sharing what you’re feeling rather than seeking some kind of solution or resolution or even soothing from someone else. You don’t need someone to validate that you’re okay.
Also, once you’re confident in your own feelings, it’s easier to ask for what you want or let someone know what you need.
When you can do this, it can diffuse a lot of fear because you don’t leave someone to tell their own story about what’s happening with you. It also doesn’t leave them holding the burden of how to fix anything.
You just open the space for connection by knowing what you’re feeling and being able to confidently say what you need.
And you also don’t have to go all-in right from the start. You can practice being vulnerable with small things to kind of test the waters. Have some empathy for other people’s fear of change, the trauma they may have gone through with you, and your ability to connect with them over the little things you need as you lay the foundation for the bigger stuff.
So many things are a process and I think that going through the process of easing into strengthening connections and revealing your most authentic self is awesome. All those little 1% victories, small shifts add up over time to create big change.
Then one day you look back and you see how far you've come and it’s shocking because you can remember when you weren’t even sure what you were feeling or why you were feeling it and then you find yourself on the other side of clarity and it’s a cool place to be.
It’s just a matter of you doing the work on the way you think and the stories you tell yourself about what’s happening and what to expect from life and from others.
The article I mentioned earlier on surviving cancer by Stanford medicine says, “When a... potentially fatal illness is not dealt with effectively by patients, family, or friends, emotional problems will inevitably mount and social fears will continue to fester. But if the threat to life by disease is accepted, understood, and dealt with, life, not death, will be the winner.
I love that. So many times we don't want to talk about the hard things, the deep tear-jerking things because we’re afraid of what might come up but think about it in terms of processing things for yourself and with your loved ones so that life is the winner, that’s motivating, that’s worth the risk don’t you think? Https://www.thebreastcancerrecoverycoach.com/BCRC