There is a lot to be said for positive thinking, the ability to take whatever is happening in your life and see it from a more positive point of view, and moving on from hurtful situations with grace and compassion. But what happens when our attempts to live this way mean that we fail to recognise or purposefully ignore very real emotions that need to be felt, expressed, and processed for us to truly move on in our lives?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. The past few years have been pretty darn awful for my family and we have faced so many things that have changed who we are as both individuals and as a unit. I’ve often considered myself to be relatively open and honest with how I’m feeling, but the reality is that I have struggled with this. An eternal optimist at heart, whose largest pinterest board is by far the one filled with “inspirational quotes”, I have fallen into the trap of presenting a false face to both the world and myself. So ingrained has my belief been that there is a positive side to everything, I have failed to allow myself the space to truly grieve for broken dreams, shattered hopes, and lost friendships. And that isn’t healthy.
The other day I came across an image with words to the effect of “what doesn’t kill you, changes your forever” and it was a real epiphany moment for me. So often we are taught the usual adage that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” that we do not even stop to consider how incomplete this is… it may make us stronger in some ways, but in others it breaks us down and changes who we are at our very core.
I’m beginning to realise that one of the most dangerous things we ever tell ourselves is that we should never “play the victim” and that presenting a “strong front” is all that matters. We might fall apart once we are home, but to the rest of the world we share the strong, capable, happy people we’re expected to be. But what happens if we are not playing at all, we have been a victim, and refusing to acknowledge that leads us only to continuing to victimise ourselves by dishonouring our very real emotions?
I don’t think there is anybody who has not experienced some kind of trauma in their lives. Of course, some traumas are far more soul destroying than others, but regardless of the level of trauma we cannot ignore the fact that it leaves a mark. We would not expect a deep physical cut to heal without leaving a scar, so why do we expect a deep emotional cut to leave us not only unscathed but stronger than before? Over the past few years I have found that my resilience to each new difficulty we face has rapidly decreased and my ability to “bounce back” has reduced significantly, as my reserve of energy has been depleted.
I used to believe that if I could only rest for a while I could survive anything… and that may be true still, but rest is not something I afford myself these days. I am caught so desperately in the “fight or flight” pattern that it feels like my body is permanently poised to jump to attention, and that isn’t healthy. But far from being caused by the events themselves, the actual problem is my own state of mind. I have denied myself the opportunity to be truly vulnerable, attempting to be strong for so long, that this denial has put my entire being at odds with itself. And this has major implications, not just for me but also for my entire family.
You see, so strong is my intent to avoid feeling vulnerable, I find myself doing everything possible to try and avoid vulnerability for my family too. When Tim is struggling, I want him to find the positives to cling on to. And when WB gets upset, I want to ease his suffering rather than teaching him that pain, anger and sadness are all very real parts of life and should be honoured just as much as their more positive counterparts. In essence, my own discomfort with vulnerability is upsetting the balance for everyone.
Which is why we have been working on changing this recently. You’ll have seen how we’re beginning to express our emotions honestly through recent posts about the “I Am” Game and exploring emotions with kids, but there has been so much more soul-reflection going on in our house recently. I have been beginning to appreciate that rather than something to be feared, vulnerability can actually be a truly empowering experience. By facing our Shadow Selves, those parts that we have tried to hide through fear, guilt or shame, we remove their power over us and begin to realise just how strong we are.
So yes, positive thinking is an amazing thing, I don’t want you to think I am knocking it aside completely. But it only gets us so far. It is when we fully embrace our own vulnerability and that of others that we begin to see the balance that lies within all life – good and bad, light and dark, love and fear. The duality of life exists within all of us and just as focusing only on the negative can cause us to spiral into depression, so too can focusing on only the positive lead us to a life of fear – fear of “not being good enough”, fear of our own very real emotions, and fear of being true to ourselves.
So here’s to embracing duality and honouring our vulnerability. Who’s with me?