If we want to truly heal our emotional wounds, we must first learn to access, embrace, and nurture our vulnerability
While on a walk with a dear friend recently, I was taken by surprise when some deep wounded feelings began to come up. Fortunately, I let myself share and have a big ol’ cry right where we stood. As it turns out, those particular feelings were connected to challenges I went through with my father when I was a child. Once I was done sharing, it occurred to me that I had been carrying those specific feelings around inside me for decades.
By the end of our walk on that sunny, clear morning, I was grateful for two things: (1) that I have friends who are willing to offer loving support when I have an emotional need, and (2) that I have already spent a great deal of quality time teaching myself how to feel safe with vulnerable experiences.
I think these perspectives are important to share because I don’t believe most people truly feel safe with vulnerable feelings. We live in a world that has been operating with a primitive emotional education in many ways, and it seems to me that neither men nor women tend to trust the beautiful process of acknowledging, sharing and releasing their feelings — particularly when it comes to wounded feelings.
To understand why this is so, let’s look back to our early lives.
If we didn’t receive a nurturing education that championed our feelings when we were young, we learned some version of fear, shame and self-doubt.
What may not be so clear is that once we learn to associate fear with feelings, we tend to shut them down going forward, burying them with the hope that they will somehow magically disappear.
How often, when referring to some challenging event from their past, have we heard people say, “Oh, that occurred such a long time ago. Thank God that is over and done.” Important to understand is that emotional energy doesn’t just ‘go away’. When we suppress and bury our feelings, that energy literally becomes trapped and stored in the cells of our bodies — hoping for a time when we will finally feel safe to acknowledge, express, and release.
I am quite clear how many years I spent suppressing feelings. That is what I learned to do in a family dealing with divorce, alcoholism, and a lack of understanding about how to communicate. Like most family dynamics, even though each of us had wonderful potential, we spent many years surviving as five wounded people on five separate islands.
One of the core challenges I had to negotiate growing up was having a father who never said anything to me, other than occasionally barking orders like, “Go mow the grass.”
Even though we lived in the same house for thirteen years, I don’t remember a single time he asked me how I was doing or took the time to share anything of himself. I only remember feeling desperate to get his attention. And none ever came.
With no real guidance or modeling about what it would mean to become a healthy man in the world, I began searching for all the ways I could achieve and impress. Certainly big accomplishments would get my father’s attention. I was hoping that having him proud of me would become the answer to the pain and self-doubt that I carried.
I quickly became a super-achiever. By the time I finished high school, some of my accomplishments included being the senior class president, the valedictorian, the drum major, the lead in the school play, and being named the ‘Outstanding Student of North Carolina’. I then moved on to a career performing over 60 leading roles in Broadway shows and on opera stages around the world. Despite all of those efforts, I still felt like the same wounded little boy, doing my best to keep people distracted with my talents while I hid the wounds and fears that plagued me on the inside.
The fact that this approach was never going to work was never clearer than when I was in Monte Carlo doing a world premiere. Surrounded by some of the world’s greatest glamour, blessed with opportunities like dining with royalty, yet all I wanted to do was throw myself off the balcony of my hotel into the ocean.
Soon I will share an extremely helpful process for resolving wounded feelings, but for now I will just say that I know I’m not alone in having early experiences that left me with wounds of self-doubt. That is because most of us grew up without a clear emotional education. As a confirmation that this has been true all over the world, let’s look at some of the wounded symptoms that have been coming up over the last decade.
When the energy of wounded feelings and self-doubt build up inside us, they become toxic to our bodies and quite often become triggered and are then acted out.
This is what I believe has led to such a surprising number of school shootings, an alarming rise in serious diseases, an unprecedented number of individuals becoming dependent on anti-depressants, and disturbing new levels of suicide — from troubled teens to well-known celebrities, like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.
We have governments who seem more interested in winning and opposing than they seem determined to find solutions that serve the good of the whole. There has been a constant stream of leaders caught in wounded, self-serving choices that prioritize the almighty dollar, rather than standing up for principles and values that are simply fair and humane.
We have become a world more immersed in our gadgets and technologies than we have typically been investing in one another’s lives. In the name of convenience and progress, perhaps we need to admit that we’ve been getting lost in distractions while we have simultaneously been losing the art of connection and value.
I believe that each of these wounded manifestations is a ‘cry for help’, coming from a wounded world that has never learned to trust the kind of nurturing guidance that provides clear solutions to our inner challenges.
At the same time, once we identify the nurturing guidance that has been missing, we create a distinct opportunity to make adjustments that can slow down this runaway train.
What I have discovered in my search for solutions is that we all have nine levels of nurturing that needed to be introduced in the first eight years of our lives. When our caregivers didn’t provide those specific levels of nurturing — because no one taught them about nurturing when they were young — we didn’t learn to trust that we matter or that our individual needs can actually be fulfilled.
With such gaps in our inner trust, we have been a world trapped in distinct limitations. This is why most of us have felt unsure how to respond to the accelerated cries for help that have been taking place in the world around us.
What we now need to realize is that until we invest in a nurturing education and learn how to resolve the wounds that we have carried around inside our bodies, we risk becoming numbed out to these accelerated crises.
And if that is what we choose, these rising numbers will simply become our ‘new normal’.
Having brought focus to the wounded challenges that we all face with our inner self, I’ll now share the empowering process I’ve formulated for healing the fear and shame that most of us hold.
I’ve had the chance to share this unique process with thousands of people around the world over the last 22 years. In that time, people have created consistent, powerful transformations by investing in a clear emotional education that is centered around nine nurturing needs: safety, connection, affection, acknowledgment, acceptance, compassion, clear guidance, support and encouragement.
You learn most powerfully from what you experience, and it is never too late to introduce new experiences into your life.
When you learn how to give yourself these nine nurturing experiences, now as an adult, you are still capable of building a deep sense of trust in the fact that you are an individual who matters.
More good news is that as you begin to integrate these nine nurturing investments, you will become a clearer part of the solutions that are so desperately needed in our world. By simply becoming an individual who models nurturing and self-value, you will inspire others to make similar choices.
There is also comfort in the fact that we are all in this learning curve together. We all have challenges and we all need to learn how to treat ourselves well.
We cannot resolve the issues in our physical world by only addressing the outer challenges. We must learn how to connect and nurture ourselves on the inside.
That is because It is what we hold inside that determines our actions and choices more than any other thing.
To find out where you are at present in the process of self-awareness and self-nurturing, I encourage you to ask yourself a few questions:
- How comfortable do you feel to open and receive?
- How aware do you feel of your own feelings?
- How often do you allow yourself to share your feelings with others?
Quite often, our inner challenges are not even a part of our most intimate conversations. However, I am grateful to be able to stand in the midst of all of the wounding and fear to offer a solid option for healing. I know that solutions are entirely possible and accessible. I have now dedicated my life to passing on a clear map of self, including the specific potentials that we all hold, supported by set of nurturing tools that make a real difference.
While we are here exploring together, let me share one with you now. This exercise will also give you another way to discover how connected you have typically been to your own body at this point in your learning curve.
In a moment, I’m going to share a specific word with you. When I do, I don’t want you to shift a single thing about what you are already doing. Merely bring your focus to the word that I share and pay attention to what you discover.
The word is ‘breath’.
Without changing a thing, bring your focus to how you were already breathing for about 15 seconds.
If you are like most of the people I have taken through this exercise, you will likely discover that you were breathing in a very shallow way, stuck in what I call ‘survival breathing’. What I suggest you consider is a return to the natural breathing that you did when you were just an infant.
If you look at a sleeping baby lying on its back in a crib, the only thing that moves is the infant’s belly. That is the starting place I would like to suggest for you. The reason that most of us stopped breathing in this natural way is that the belly is where we hold our wounded feelings. And in an attempt to avoid shaking up those feelings, most of us unconsciously shifted to a much shallower survival breath over time.
Even more powerful than the natural breath of an infant is what I call a ‘proactive breath’. This breath will allow you to not only nurture yourself with more oxygen and energy, it will also send a clear message to your nervous system that you are safe to receive and that you are safe to assert and share yourself more authentically as well.
The breath determines many more things than most of us have ever been taught.
So, let me encourage you to place one hand on your belly and then to breathe IN as fully as you can through the nose, filling up the lower belly like a full balloon.
Now proactively send your air out through an open mouth, imagining that you are sending it to the far side of the room. Then pause for a couple of seconds and repeat this pattern for two or three breaths.
Don’t do more than that to begin, as you will be moving much more energy and can become dizzy otherwise. I suggest that you begin practicing this exercise for up to one minute, several times a day, so that your body can get used to the new connection and flow of energy that this will begin to inspire.
I will now leave you with these few things to ponder and practice. We all carry a great deal of wounded emotional energy that needs to be acknowledged, expressed, and released. When you prepare that process with the breath, you will take your place as a proactive part of the healing that is so needed in our world.
Learning to nurture yourself couldn’t be more essential to finally healing the wounding you have endured for so long. There is an endless world of possibility awaiting your arrival. Are you ready to lay these burdens down once and for all?
You may also enjoy reading Dancing with Life in a Time of Global Challenge by Ron Baker