Growth Through Vulnerability

How to transform your fears and self-doubt into courage and clarity

By Dr Carlie Grindey

As the pandemic continues to drag on, we are compelled to keep adjusting to unfolding unknowns. We have all had to dig deep to find new reserves to cope with stresses beyond what many of us have faced before: separation from or even loss of the people we love, job uncertainty and loss of earnings, loss of freedom and fun, ever-changing controls that keep our lives safe and more. These stressors can rob us of much of the quality of being alive and impact our health and wellbeing too.

With the end not yet in sight, you may feel you don’t have the strength and energy to continue. What do we do when we feel we have nothing left?

We grow stronger.

At present, it may be hard to imagine that your experience could lead to growth. But, there is a gift in adversity: when our vulnerabilities come to the surface, make their presence known and we can no longer ignore them, we have to do something. We have an opportunity to strengthen and grow beyond where we have been able to grow before.

Resilience in the face of adversity begins with self-compassion

To be strong, be gentle with yourself. I know this can be hard: many of us are used to hiding our fears and what we don’t like to see about ourselves. We hold shame around being ‘weak’ or not ‘up to the job’. We think strength means being unyielding, hiding all of that better, and carrying on as if we feel nothing.

But we are human beings. We are all soft at our core, we all love, and we all can be vulnerable. Not weak, but vulnerable. This is key. Every human being is vulnerable at some time in their lives, beyond our vulnerability as babies, and even when we grow old. It is inescapable and also beautiful. It is not weakness; it is part of our humanity. In my experience, these times when we are most vulnerable, when we are most on the line, are the most precious in our lifetimes.

Because it is at these times that we know what matters most for us and who matters most to us. By connecting to those that matter around us, and accepting help to come through, we experience true connection and clarity. And at moments like these we can become clear what we want our lives to be about.

The only way through is to be gentle with your vulnerable self, have compassion for that of you that feels unworthy or weak or full of shame, and allow all of you to be, just the way you are: without judgement, without shame. This is where we grow strong. Embrace your humanity, don’t deny it. There is nothing you do that isn’t human, and therefore shared by millions of others, so what is there to resist about it?

Self-compassion: support and a safe space

I know that sometimes it can seem impossible to have compassion for yourself. It can help to see a professional like myself to provide a safe non-judgemental space and the listening to be able to work through what is happening with compassion to heal it at its source.

When I work with clients, we can use mindfulness to widen awareness, and let go of upsetting thoughts to see what beliefs lie underneath. Through heart-focussed breathing techniques (see below), we can defuse anxiety and emotional states to centre ourselves, gain stability and connect with our inner compassion.

Then we can look at the thoughts and beliefs that were not visible before, and find where they came from. Usually, it stems from an interpretation of life made at an earlier troubled time that was helpful then, but is limiting now and possibly causing distress.

Sometimes these thoughts are linked to physical feelings and symptoms in your body, which is why I work with both mind and body to help clients heal: your body stores emotions and give clues to what is unresolved in you as well as your mind.  I can work with either body or mind to help us get to the source.

Through talking, we can look at what happened then with the wisdom of adults now. In this way, you can then create new realistic and empowering beliefs, take actions to heal any distress, and create a life for yourself with more meaning than you had experienced before.

Through the body, a craniosacral treatment can help balance the subconscious nervous systems, counteracting stress and resolving anxiety, and bringing the body to a state of deeper relaxation and healing.

I recall one client of mine who was distraught after losing an unborn baby. I introduced her to mindfulness meditation and compassion techniques when she was distressed, and supported her during her darkest days. She found great comfort in having a ceremony to mourn for the baby she could have had. She began meditating and using the compassion techniques, and healed herself, later coming back to tell me she had become a trauma informed meditation instructor and was holding her first workshop to support other women who had lost babies. I will never forget how happy and proud she was to have turned her pain into compassion, helping others struggling at such a tender time.

In my experience, once you go through the layers of beliefs, thoughts, and meanings you have invented for yourself – even if some of the upper layers seem shameful – what is underneath is always fear, vulnerability and love: there is nothing to be afraid of.

When you have visited these places you expand your heart and grow as a human being, better able to face the challenges to come later in life, and stronger at your core. This is true resilience and transformation, and no matter what is going on, this opportunity is available to you even when you might feel like you can’t keep going.

As a human being you have limitless potential, and some of your biggest challenges are the best opportunities to realise the potential you have. COVID has been one of the greatest challenges the world has had to face in most of our lifetimes: we can use this as an opportunity to transform our fears and self-doubt into courage and clarity, better able to support ourselves and each other for the rest of our lives.

What is heart-focussed breathing?

Heart-focussed breathing is a very simple technique developed by the HeartMath Institute, which can centre us and comfort us even in extreme emotional states. It is scientifically proven to reverse the effects of stress on our bodies, and build emotional resilience.

Simply, slow your breathing down to 5-6 seconds in, and 5-6 seconds out, and build up a rhythm. Once you have a rhythm, imagine your breath is coming in and out through the lower centre of your chest. You can place your hand there to concentrate on that area, and just keep breathing. If you feel feelings of warmth and centredness, breathe into them and let them grow. You can do this whenever you feel stressed, and for 5 minutes at the beginning or end of your day, to develop a habit, so it will be there for you whenever you need it.

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