Insecurities & Finding Freedom

Photograph by nina konjini

Photograph by nina konjini

When I think about the times I feel like I’m embodying my most authentic self, I immediately think of when I've led a large yoga class. Even though I usually still feel nervous beforehand, once the class begins, this big burst of joy washes over me and I step right into confidence. It may be seeing so many people participating in a practice that has changed my life. It might be that I feel like I’m living my dharma of spreading healing to the masses. It may be the thought that at least a few people will come out feeling better than when they first walked in (and I want to think that it’s more than a few!) It’s likely a combination of all of that, but for me, it holds a deeper significance...

~

When I was in middle school I was the most insecure little girl you’d ever met. I was really small, thin as a rail, had giant teeth, with a spacer that gave me a lisp and a huge gap tooth for months. I had really nasty experiences with girls who constantly excluded me, either through not inviting me to things or saying secrets I couldn't hear right in front of my face. I got teased for being flat-chested — by boys, which just reconfirmed my belief that I was completely unattractive to the opposite sex. I even had one boy tell me the only reason he dated me was because of a bet with his friends (ouch). I went from being an energetic, outspoken little girl, who at one point had been told she was TOO talkative in school, to one who’d hide in her room reading or drawing to try and drown out the deep insecurity she was feeling. At family gatherings, I’d never want to talk to people, much less dance or sing (and with a giant Mexican family, you can guess how that went over with everyone). I receded into myself, and was silenced by my peers and a culture that kept telling me that who I was was not even close to worthy. I was lucky enough to have a family who always encouraged me to be me, but it wasn't enough to break through the other messages I kept receiving every time I walked into the classroom or the party or the girl's bathroom.

I found my voice again in high school, thanks to an incredible group of female friends. We were each other’s biggest supporters, always by each other’s sides. We laughed hard, knew how to have the MOST fun, yet also held each other during our times of pain, heartache, boy troubles, and even really intense loss. I was made to feel like I was valued again for who I actually was, and I re-found my voice. These girls encouraged me to be myself (they still do!) and so I slid back to that original Me -- the big, loud version of myself. 

Only this time she was fueled by a lot of bottled-up anger.

Yes, I was bubbly and opinionated again. I was super-social and unafraid to speak my truth (I was voted Most Spirited in high school, and wasn't even a cheerleader, if that's any indicator to my energy levels at the time lol).  I was the first one to plan the parties, make the playlists, and mix up the vodka Gatorades. But I also had no idea how to moderate it. My temper would explode out of nowhere, usually with those I loved the most, like my father or my boyfriends at the time. And when it wasn't anger, it was hysterical sadness. Giant fits of crying that would make my mom think her daughter was losing it, and that would sometimes end in fruitless attempts at self-harm (thankfully). Every emotion was BIG. And I had no clue how to reel it in.

So, as one does, I kept growing up. I naturally matured out of some of this, but for the most part, still had an incredibly difficult time managing my anger and my insecurity. I would still believe that I wasn't pretty, smart, or cool enough, and then that would make me angry. It was a volatile cycle that reared up any time I'd feel less than great or my capabilities were questioned -- which in your twenties, you can imagine that's quite often.

Enter yoga. This won't be my "How Yoga Changed My Life" story, that's another blog post, but needless to say, the practice (and I mean much more than just the asana) began to give me new perspective and insight on how to find self-acceptance. Coupled with the education I was receiving in my counseling program, I began to find tools to help find the REAL me:

Self-inquiry and exploration of my patterns.

Questioning my belief system (especially the negative ones).

Writing my feelings so I could transmute them into something healing.

Treating my body in a way that reconnected me to its power and beauty.

Practicing self-love every single time I looked in the mirror. Practicing it more when I least believed it.

Spending time with people who loved me, valued me, and who taught me how to better myself.

Cutting away those who didn't.

Reading books that reconnected me to my dharma.

Praying. Meditating. Singing. Dancing. Chanting mantra.

Silence.

Being of service to others.

Trusting that I am capable.

And countering the self-critic with self-compassion as often as humanly possible.

So, I slowly began to find the Real Me. Not the quiet, shutdown me. Not the giant-ball-of-fire me. But the one that lived somewhere in-between, that didn't allow insecurities to sway her like a tiny boat in the ocean. Yoga and therapy (my own work, and my work with others) helped me figure out what my most authentic Self is. It also has taught me how to work on peeling away the old layers that no longer served in my journey to connect with her. This version of me did have something to say, but oftentimes the middle school part still felt terrified to share it. Or the angry part of me wanted to blow people away with it.

Now knowing this, I learn every day that stepping into this work of finding the sweet spot between the two is the only way I am going to set myself free from these old stories, and from identifying myself to one or the other. 

I know my work is to stay in this place of letting myself be seen for ALL THAT I AM: energetic, opinionated, outspoken, and yes, sometimes loud. But also, kind, knowledgable, peaceful, and definitely fallible.

Because living the opposite of that would be living at my very lowest vibration. One full of fear and insecurity and self-deprecation and squeezing myself into a box that wasn’t designed for me. And who the hell wants that? 

~

So how does this tie into teaching a big yoga class? Because I want my middle school Me to see current Me doing what I do now, and to be proud. To see how I am putting myself in a position where I am FULLY seen and heard by hundreds at a time, and that I’m not scared anymore. I want her to see how far we’ve come. That she doesn’t need to be afraid anymore. That our worth doesn’t come from external validation or how other people see us. That she can breathe easy knowing that I will keep being strong for the both of us. That the only way to tear apart those old stories is to step into the fire of discomfort with courage and trust in myself.

I want to tell her, "Look! I'm doing it!"

I still get really, really insecure. That little girl is still there, worried we’re going to be judged or excluded. But doing more of the things that push me to be courageous, to be seen and heard, to trust my own knowledge and talents, and to know it’ll always be okay no matter what, is how I've learned to move through that fear.

It’s daily work. It’s hard work. Its overwhelming and messy and sometimes makes me want to go hide in my room and cry, just like when I was eleven. And sometimes I do. But with every time I choose to meet this insecurity with understanding rather than criticism, I have a little win. 

So my goal isn’t to be a person free from insecurity — I’m human after all. My goal is to have as many little wins a day as possible. To step into my authentic self, even when I’m terrified. To meet that fear with compassion, then step into courage. 

And to make sure that little girl knows every day how incredibly valued and deeply, deeply loved she is.

Vulnerability: The Doorway to Healing

As part of the collective community of human beings, we all share the same repertoire of emotions. The part that is different and unique for each of us is how we hold and express them. Through our experiences with our parents, friends, and lovers, we begin to shift the way we look and feel about particular emotions. Sometimes, a certain emotion can become so painful and scary to look at, that we decide we are done acknowledging it. We distract and avoid this emotion at all costs, choosing to keep busy with anything that will keep it far, far away from the forefront of our minds. 

Through my daily work with people’s emotions, I noticed that by far one the most difficult feelings for people to acknowledge is vulnerability. In therapy, people will run circles around confronting vulnerability, like it’s a burning fire they are trying to keep a safe distance from. Admittance of weakness, fear, and sadness is very rarely done with ease, and mostly met with a whole lot of resistance. 

So, why is it so hard for us to admit we’re in pain? Or that we are scared, lonely, weak, and sad? If these emotions are so common, so present in every single one of us, then why is it so hard for us to let our shield down and say, “I need help”

One theory is that most of us grew up with parents from the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps generation; the Baby Boomers who were used to hard work and getting their hands dirty to get what they needed. There wasn’t time to be sad — there was work to be done and a family to feed. The luxury of having time to acknowledge painful emotions probably wasn’t something most of our parents had. And if they did have the time, they might have been met with resistance to express it. As children of this generation, we may have been taught the same lesson: stop crying and get over it. 

Those that are part my own generation were the first to experience the internet, the nuances of social media, and the expression of opinions in a way that reached the masses with one click. We grew up in the age of blossoming mass communication. With this progression, came a sharing of human emotion in a way that had never been able to reach so many people, so very quickly before. As a result of this wave of shared experiences, we began to acknowledge each other’s pain. We began to realize that we are not alone in what we are feeling.

Now more than ever, I see people embracing their emotions, seeking help for themselves or their loved ones who are in pain, and being able to admit and share their hardships with others. We are more open to reaching out and touching others with our stories, hoping that through this connection of the human experience, we might be able to help one another. 

But despite this amazing progress in emotional openness, so many of us still struggle to admit that we feel helpless or lost. My clients know that their hour spent with me is safe and private — they are protected from outside judgement here. Yet some of the hardest work done in that room is helping people realize that it is okay to drop the armor, to let someone be witness to their pain. Some people have been holding their shield up for many, many years, and you can see how the weight is crushing them. This armor can take many shapes:

“How can I allow myself to love? I’ll only get hurt.”

“I can’t tell them how I feel. They’ll only judge me or use it against me.”

“I can’t let this person in. It’ll only end in pain, like it always does.”

“What good does it do to connect with others? They’re only going to leave me.”

“I’m fine. It’s only when I stop and think that these feelings come up. I just have to stay busy.”

“I don’t like to admit I feel this way. It feels pointless and like a waste of time.”

“I can’t tell them about my messy past. They’ll judge me and think I’m damaged goods.”

“It’s not a big deal — people breakup every day. I’ll get over it.”

“Being sad is a waste of time. What good does it do me to sulk and throw a pity party?

Any of those thoughts sound familiar? All I have to say to those responses is ouch. If I was hurting, and someone responded to my pain with any of the above statements, I would feel completely shut down and deflated. Wouldn’t you? So why do we approach ourselves with these responses? If a dear friend came to you in a lot of pain, asking for compassion or reassurance, would you approach them this way? I hope not. That would just be mean and pretty dismissive. So then why is okay to tell ourselves to “get over it” and “buck up” and “just forget about it”? Why do we not hold ourselves in a way that is understanding and loving, like we would our dear friend? 

The mind likes to be dismissive of problems it can’t solve, and vulnerability is just that. Your brain sees sadness and weakness as unworkable and unsolvable, so it says, “let’s just go ahead and move onto something else!” Our brains our trying to be helpful, but in reality they are ignoring a growing infection that needs desperate care and tending to.

I often ask my clients this question: If you had a deep cut in your arm, full of dirt, bleeding and painful and stinging, what would you do to heal it? Most say they’d clean it out, put some sort of ointment on it, bandage it up, and then likely check on it later, replacing the bandage and ointments as needed. This is a pretty logical and healthy way to approach physical healing, right? Emotional healing works in just the same way. In order to even begin the healing process, we need to LOOK AT THE WOUND. How would we know if we need to clean it or what type of ointments to use or how big a Bandaid we need, if we are constantly looking away from it? This is what we do when we turn away from our painful emotions: we are refusing to acknowledge a wound is even there. We drink, smoke, eat, clean, browse the internet, work, exercise, party, do anything in a desperate attempt to not look at the damn thing. And we all know what happens when a wound gets ignored — it gets infected, more painful, and even harder to heal. This is why the first step towards our emotional healing is to really look at our wounds. You can begin by asking yourself these questions:

What is this pain I am feeling? Can I give it a name (loneliness, anger, depression, grief)?

Where is it in my body and what does it feel like physically (tightening, pressure, gripping)?

What experience or person may be triggering this emotion?

Have I felt this emotion before? How long has it been around?

All of these questions turn us towards our wound. By being introspective with our pain, we are exploring the wound, seeing what it needs to heal. Once we have a few answers about our pain, we begin the cleaning process. Just like with physical cuts, the washing out is the hardest and most painful part. The “cleaning” continues with more exploration into your pain — therapy, journaling, meditating, talking with friends, anything that helps you confront your damaged heart. This is where it becomes hard to stay present. It stings and burns and brings up memories of what caused the damage in the first place. But, if we are able to stay with this pain, we can begin to cross over to true healing.

This excruciating process may take months or years to complete. And even then, if the wound is very deep, we may have to come back and regularly clean it back out. But this is part of what I like to call our “emotional maintenance.” It’s just like the changing of a bandage. One day, the gauze may come off clean, and you may start to feel like that damage has finally left your soul. Or maybe the bandage will always come off with a tiny bit of blood on it, and that’s okay too. We can acknowledge that some wounds may always be tender. They may leave emotional scars that will feel a tinge of sensation when something arises in our lives that reminds us of what caused it. This doesn’t mean you are broken or damaged. This means you are a human being that has the strength to endure pain and come out alive on the other side. You are the opposite of weak and pitiful — you are strong, courageous, and had the power to look pain in the eye and say, “I refuse to live with this anymore.”

It all begins with vulnerability. It starts with saying, “I am not okay.” At some point in your life, you may begin to see that the barricade isn’t keeping you safe anymore — it’s keeping those who may be able to help you out. Drop the sword, the shield, the armor, and accept that pain is a part of this one-act show we call existence. Trust that opening this door and allowing help, love, and support in is all part of tending the wound. Seek out ways to heal, but most importantly, give yourself the same comfort and compassion you would give the friend in need. Pain is a common thread that is woven through each and every one of us. The more we come together by opening up and admitting we are hurting, the more opportunity for us to unite during times of deep suffering. 

And after all, we could all use a little help to make this journey a bit less heavy and a lot more joyful.

Ferny.

I'm Sorry.

Forgiveness is a tricky subject -- one that digs up a lot of different opinions, a lot of strong emotions, and oftentimes a lot of bruised hearts. Most of us have been on both ends of forgiveness. We have likely been in several situations where we offered our apologies to someone we caused pain to, all of these times looking a little different from the rest. We extend our sorry’s in small bursts, laughing at our embarrassment. Or maybe through long conversations, punctuated by tears and hard embraces.  We may have had to swallow our pride in order to get our relationships with people we love back on track, or write long, heartfelt letters when our words wouldn’t come out or weren’t enough. Some may argue that the act of asking for forgiveness may be one of the toughest tasks a person may have to do. But what about the one who is being asked for forgiveness? The act of forgiveness itself, of truly letting go of anger, revenge seeking, and harboring ill-will may be one thousand times harder.

For some people, forgiving might be a sign of weakness – a way of saying that what the person who hurt you did was okay. And so people hold on to their anger, harboring this resentment and feeding it every time they think of their offender and what he or she did. This sounds unhealthy of course, but what about actions that are, in many people’s eyes, unforgivable? I don’t want to write them out because they are different and unique for every human, but almost all of us can think of something, that if done to us or someone we loved, would be impossible to pardon. What then? Does that condemn us to a life of housing a poison in our bodies that is impossible to eradicate?

I don’t think so.

I think that forgiveness can manifest itself in different ways. The most obvious way is to communicate it – to verbally say to someone that you are willing to move forward, and thus not seek revenge or continue to dwell on his or her wrongdoing. And you can tell them that you will begin to take steps away from having this eat away at your insides, that you will not feed the anger monster. That you will at the very least try.

 But I don’t think words need to be spoken or written directly to experience the cleansing effects of forgiveness for the one extending it. After all, forgiveness is much more personal and individual than we make it out to be. It really is a one-person show. Maybe you can never physically confront someone who wounded you deeply because simply seeing that face would tear the cut open again. The healing effects of the scab that time constructed would be painfully ripped away. Pain like this feels raw after years and years of space and distance. Yet, I still believe that healing can happen in these instances.

Question what it does to you when you let the anger, the resentment suck you down. When you sit with these thoughts, what happens? Your mood likely sinks, maybe you have fifty different imagined conversations with the person, going back again and again to recreate what you would say if you saw them. Each time you think about them, something gnaws at your stomach. Something grips at your throat. And you end up feeling worse.

Next time thoughts arise about this person, or the situation they were involved in, I challenge you to ask yourself what it does when you buy into these negative thoughts? What does the anger turn you into? And most importantly, is this who you want to be, once you’ve let it completely consume you? I hope the answer is no.

Now, ask yourself this: “if I wasn’t scared or paralyzed or ready to rip their throats out, what would I do or say? If I had the patience of Buddha, the compassion of Jesus Christ, the non-jaded heart of a child, what would I tell this person?”

Then write it down. Every word. Coming from this place of compassion, of love, of ultimate forgiveness. And once you’ve exhausted your hand and likely covered your piece of paper in tears, burn it. Tear it into tiny pieces and light it on fire. And as you watch those embers burn out, know that the part of you who is capable of ultimate forgiveness exists. Even if that part is never manifested in the real world, those words that you wrote from that incredibly compassionate place came from somewhere. From some part of you, no matter how deeply hidden. It is my hope that knowing this will help you let go of some of this pain, and will allow this wound to be metaphorically bandaged, and in turn allowed to heal.

As humans, we are all capable of forgiving immensely painful actions. This is true because, as much as we may think we have our shit together, we are all fallible and imperfect. Every single one of us, one day, will be on the receiving end of forgiveness. Be a perpetuator of compassion and understanding. Forgiveness can be a wonderful thing for the receiver. But for those who give it, a transformation can happen: cleansing, releasing, letting go. It is a purging of poison in order to move forward in a more peaceful and sane way.

As a final thought, ask how forgiving you are of yourself. How often are you self-critical, chastising your actions, calling yourself dumb or incompetent, or self-deprecating due to a mistake? We are all so very guilty of this. Try to see if you can come from a place of compassion when dealing with your own mistakes.

Again, we are all human. Tell this to yourself often. Tell yourself that you will grow from any misstep. You will try harder and do better if confronted with the same situation. But refuse to be your own biggest bully. It is a commendable thing to forgive others, but forgiving yourself is an action that takes much more patience and strength. But really, if there is anyone in this whole world worth forgiving because you love them so much, shouldn’t it be your own Self?

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”

-Mark Twain