#024 - Growing up tough and the art of softening

I grew up wanting to be tough, strong, and independent. I placed high value on getting through pain and not showing when I hurt, I have the tattoos to prove it! My greatest fear was to show my softness, my vulnerability, to another or even admit it to myself. In my early 20s I cried for the first time, while sober, in years. This was a real accomplishment for me! I was kind of excited to feel something besides anger, anxiety, and hopeless depression. Now days I probably feel some welling up of tears or emotion daily. While I continue to reprogram my relationship to tenderness, the old patterns do stick around. Most of the messages running through my head are old tapes like: “No one cares how you feel.”  “You should be able to get through this alone.” “You are going to get hurt if you show this.” And my most favorite… “If you feel this you will die!”

While I have yet to die from feeling vulnerability, tenderness, and softness it has sure felt really bad. I imagine that part which dies a little death whenever I turn towards my vulnerability is this protector part that was created very young to, as I said, protect me at all costs. So much of my journey over the years has been to turn towards that which is most vulnerable and soft within me. The benefits of developing a relationship with these vulnerable parts, and softening, are a greater capacity for love, a greater confidence in my fundamental okness, a healthier body, and a larger capacity to be of service to others through my therapy practice and other service avenues. 

If those benefits sound good to you, and/or you grew up trying to keep up a façade of strength and control then check out these tips below:

1.     Get a good look at what you are facing: If you have been trying to be strong, and “keep it together” for decades give yourself some time and growing pains. Walls that took decades to erect cannot be smashed down in one day with a sledgehammer. Try first to get a good look at what you are facing through awareness and acceptance. Then the appropriate action will present itself. Check out my blog post on the Three A’s: Awareness, Acceptance, and Action.

2.     Develop softening practices: Practices that develop tenderness with yourself are necessary in long term recovery from the wounds of your past. Here are some of my favorites:

a.     When scared, anxious, or confused place on hand on your chest and one on your belly and say “I know you are scared (anxious, confused, etc.) and I am here with you.” This is directed to the part feeling these big feelings. With practice you will be able to take in the nourishing self-touch and compassionate words.

b.     Get a stuffed animal and hot water bottle. These are totally key! Hold your bear when you are scared in the morning. Put the hot water bottle on your belly to calm down that tightening fear in your belly. 

c.      Take yourself for walks. Not a run, this is to all you over achievers out there! Walking slows you down and helps the nervous system regulate which will allow for the safety to soften.

d.     Hang with people who are soft with you, and with themselves. These are the true gems. Find someone who shows you, through example, how to soften and let in nourishment. They will be truly valuable and you might even teach them how to be a bit stronger with their boundaries. A total win-win situation.  

e.     Be around water. Any water. Lakes, streams, the ocean, baths, showers, hot tubs (the best!). The ultimate softener, water. Just look at those smooth stones on the beach with all their roughness rubbed off, you might take some hints from them.

3.      Trust the process: You really don’t know where you are heading when you undertake a transformative process around embracing your vulnerability and softening to yourself and life. It won’t look how you think it should or feel how you think it should. And it will probably take a hell of a lot longer than you would like. Know others have gone before you who can offer invaluable assistance through the challenges that lie ahead.

I have found that those toughest of people are probably the most tender and vulnerable. They are the ones with huge hearts that put up barriers in hopes of keeping their tender hearts safe. Unfortunately this technique does not work as well as we would like it to! We are being asked to open and soften daily by the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows of just being alive. Maybe, just for today, you could let some of this life touch you and open you up!