In the struggle to find a place for us in the world we sometimes fall into one of two categories – the push over or the dictator. The vulnerable or the strong. Neither energy or demeanour is wrong when we possess both. We need to balance these two energies.

A true sense of belonging and a sure sense of self comes from being both vulnerable and strong. As Brene Brown calls it – a strong back and soft front. This means that we are strong and forceful, yet soft and receptive. We can speak up for ourselves and set boundaries, but also humble ourselves and serve others. We can lead and follow. We are the polarities of strength and ease.

If we show a soft front to the world but don’t have the strong backbone to stand up for ourselves – we get walked over. We don’t speak up for ourselves, we don’t advocate for ourselves and we end up taking on too much, martyring ourselves for others. We care too much about what others think and put others needs above our own. Our self esteem becomes dependent on what others think of us. We end up being taken advantage of. Treated poorly, manipulated. The result? We feel weak, unloved, unseen.

If we have a hard front and a strong back – we come across as too forceful, aggressive. We close ourselves off to relationship, love and interpersonal communication. It’s our way or the highway. We end up always putting our needs first and neglect the needs of those around us. The result is we end up hurting our relationships and end up hard, lonely and isolated as others eventually step away from us.  Strong back, armoured front Brene Brown calls it. We have trauma, pain or some other self proclaimed weakness that we are furiously protecting with our harsh demeanour. We don’t want to be seen, we don’t want to let others in.

“All too often our so-called strength comes from fear, not love; instead of having a strong back, many of us have a defended front shielding a weak spine. In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence.” ~ Roshi Joan Hallifax

None of these examples are ways to live.  Neither allow for vulnerability. Vulnerability is the ability to feel and express those feelings. This is the birthplace of love and belonging. We have to find the middle ground between these two to have a good strong sense of self love and belonging in the world. We have to love ourselves so fiercely that we would never let others treat us poorly. We have to love ourselves so deeply that that love spills out onto others from a place of joy – not out of resentment or fear.

“Belonging is so primal, so necessary, the threat of losing your tribe or going alone feels so terrifying as to keep most of us distanced from the wilderness most of our lives. Human approval is one of our most treasured idols, and the offering we must lay at its hungry feet is keeping others comfortable.“ ~ Brene Brown

How do we find this balance? To be vulnerable means to be honest. To become in touch with our feelings and be able to speak them out loud. To listen to the needs of others and hear them out. To come to a common ground. We feel, we express, we listen….we are receptive.

Then we act. We act in accordance with this belief. We treat each other well and we treat ourselves well. This is how we can live in the world with other. Loving ourselves, and maintaining that sense of belonging. Take brave and courageous action.

We find our strength through action. It’s not enough to just feel and express. Action is the backbone. The strength. The desire to do what is challenging or hard.  There are so many suffering from mental illness in modern culture. We have created a vulnerable culture in response to a society that was too hard. We are now saturated with images and stories of suffering. We have access to too much negative information. We share our pain, our grief, our problems with the world. This is placing a heavy blanket on our shoulders. Some are immobilized by this heavy blanket. We identify with that pain in the world and internalize it. It causes many great grief.

There is a time to sit in all feelings. There is a time to grieve, to wallow, to hurt. A ceremony of tears if you will. There is no deadline or timelines around this. But there is also a time to talk, to share, to problem solve. Eventually…..there needs to be action for progress.

I was reminded of this during Bell’s Mental Heath Day. Heaps of people sharing their personal struggles of mental health urging others to get help. This day is meant to normalize seeking help. Its meant to normalize action. But what often happens is the audience misses that part. People end up sharing the wound instead of the scar. People sharing their pain without the understanding that at some point the healing will have to come from action. It creates a culture of vulnerability without the hope that healing could be on the horizon.

I speak about this because I’ve been here. I know what that kind of pain can feel like. Crushing. Immobilizing. Fear. Despair.

There was a time for me to ignore my feelings. To numb. To protect myself. There was a time when I wallowed. There was a time when I overly expressed myself and was vulnerable. When I shared my story again and again. There was a season for each stage.

All were a part of my healing but I never got out of that hole until I rose up. Until I summoned my strong back and took action – even if I didn’t feel like it. My vulnerability was the first step. My strength is what carried me through to the end. Both were necessary.

There are more depressed and anxious kids, teenagers and adults than ever in the world and I believe its from the culture of sharing the wound – but not the scar. A culture of enabling without encouraging action.  If we are already feeling down – then only hearing about how others are suffering will paint a pretty bleak picture and increase those feelings of loneliness and fear.

We need more people sharing the scar. Here I am putting my most vulnerable story out there – and the brave action steps I took to overcome it (or even the things that I have started working on). That is a story that will help. That is a story that will heal. Even if they haven’t figured it all out yet.  Healing is a long and complicated journey that requires us to initiate action steps along the way.

I worry that some are just waiting. Waiting for the healing to miraculously come their way. Maybe in some cases it does. Maybe time is the cure. But for many – we need to actively seek out this new way of being. Vulnerable and strong. Feeling our feelings then creating a plan to overcome them. We need to encourage this. Feel your pain, share your story……now act. Just like a parent would encourage their child who’s learning how to walk to keep getting up. After every fall we say “you can do it!” We don’t suggest they stay down.

How do we support others in this? Give them space to sit in whatever stage they are currently in. Maybe they need to numb, maybe they need to wallow and grieve. Offer your support to them here. Simply let them know you are there for them. Then at some point can you encourage them to act. To be brave. To step forward into change as scary as that can feel sometimes. Can you encourage them to share, to be vulnerable, to share their truth, then offer them alternatives to their pain.

Change is scary, action is scary – but necessary for growth. Be soft and receptive enough to feel the pain that requires you to change. The painful emotion you feel is the necessary jet fuel you need for action. Then use that jet fuel to step into a new way of being. Be strong. Take action. Stand up for what you need and do what can seem scary…….taking action and responsibility for your one precious life.

The only one who can change your life for the better is you.

There are many routes to self love and belonging. To the absence of fear. But all involve action. Whether that’s through relationship, medical interference, therapy, yoga, meditation or any type of healing modality – know that there is a way. There is a place for you in this world where you can give and receive love. Where you can be receptive to all that is good in this life, and stand up for what is right. Where you can be soft and strong. Where you can heal and have good loving relationships with other. Where you can belong again.

With Grace and Grit

Karla Treadway