During challenging times in life, opening up and showing vulnerability doesn’t always come naturally to everyone. It has become abundantly clear that the main component needed is a sense of safety that allows you to enter into a place of vulnerability without judgment or friction.
Someone who I know has walked this path is Emily McDowell. I had a total fan-girl moment when she came to our retreat and sat down with me for an incredibly open conversation for the Lean In Podcast.
Emily is a creative artist and entrepreneur that designs quirky greeting and sympathy cards with a twist. Not only are they witty and funny, these cards are brutally honest and offer people a simple yet effective way to connect with one another when experiencing serious illness and loss. Filling that little awkward space when you don’t quite have the right words.
With these colourful cards splashed with lettering that contain realistic sentiments like, “When the going gets tough, the tough cry in the car,” and “I know there’s no normal to go back to, but I’m here to help you build a new one (and I’ll bring snacks)”. These tiny gestures of realness resonate to our very core. That’s probably why Emily’s business has gone from at-home-DIY-stationary company to a multimillion-dollar brand in a few short years.
As I gushed and threw every ounce of love I have at this woman, the one element that kept coming up through the conversation was vulnerability and the role it’s played within her life.
It’s no secret that my family has experienced our fair share of vulnerability over the years. When Emily spoke about her own experiences with cancer and uncertainty, the thing that has become abundantly clear is that expressing vulnerability in a healthy way can be hard for everyone – really, really bloody hard.
From this conversation, she had so much wisdom when it comes to laying yourself open to the world in your vulnerability, that it only seemed right that I share it.
Feel Your Feelings
Quite often, we end up thinking about our feelings rather than feeling our feelings.
We pinpoint them and stick a label to our anger or jealousy without really acknowledging and feeling it within the body.
The sad fact is that we can all create a negative narrative within our heads. Particularly when we hit a time that is unpleasant or challenging. The stories that we weave end up spiralling out of control and there comes a time that we’re convinced that we’ll live for eternity with this damaging conversation rattling around.
Emily has been in this space multiple times and found that there was a proactive way that helped her ease her through this loop and tap into the real feelings that she was experiencing.
“The way to actually feeling a feeling is when you start to go into that story saying ‘wait a minute, stop brain,’ and actually focusing on the physical sensation in your body that is brought up by that feeling.”
Emily suggests taking a stand and mentally naming the sensations, and call them out for what is occurring within your physical body, “My chest is tight, my heart is cracking, my throat is doing this.” Taking stock and acknowledging the physical feeling can help you to begin moving through. “That process to me has been so invaluable in not getting stuck,” explained Emily.
To really go into that deep layer of vulnerability and respond to life by taking the gloves off, letting your fingertips touch the pulse of whatever it is you’re going through; it just creates a deeper experience.
Mindfulness and Breath Work
Meditation isn’t for everyone, and Emily lays testament to that. She, like many people, find sitting still and clearing the mind a task and a half to contend with. So she’s turned to more physical activity to take her through the harder times.
“I started doing breathwork a couple of years ago which has really changed my life,” she revealed, “It’s similar to meditation, but that physical component of it puts me in my body and connects me to my body and my heart.”
Breathing exercises focus on the conscious awareness of your inhales and exhales using deep, focused breathing.
For many who haven’t mastered the practice of meditation, breathwork can build a stronger connection between your head and the rest of your body. “That extra physiological component of the breath gives you the physical benefits of meditation, but it also has an embodiment part that has been so important for me in terms of my own healing.”
Vulnerability and The Sacred Space
When we’re processing the things in life that are often hard to contend with, we need to enter into a sacred space. Allowing someone else to enter into that space can often be difficult. Particularly when you get a cross-connection of two opposing energies.
People can infiltrate your space with their energy – often unintentionally – and that doesn’t certainly doesn’t help. What usually comes next is unsolicited advice and I think we can all agree that that’s the last thing you want particularly if you’re trying to fully open yourself up.
Build a trusted network and external environment that allows you to comfortably have those conversations. It can be friends or trusted family members that will listen without judgement and allow you to express.