In her own words
Harriet, a teen coaching client, wrote this op-ed essay about how coaching helped shift her perspective on her struggle with over 3 years of pain and health problems. Her pain derailed her flourishing dance career at age 12 and got in the way of her schoolwork, family time, and friendships to such an extent that she "didn't know which way was up" anymore.
Vulnerability equals bravery, not weakness
It's a regular Tuesday: I walk into class, sit down, and start to take notes.
My expression is blank, my posture just a bit too rigid, but everything seems normal.
I seem fine, I would tell you I’m fine, but I’m not.
On the inside I feel like I have been hit by a bus. I feel lonely, overwhelmed, angry, anxious, and depressed. However, class is no place for all those messy, complicated emotions, so I push them down.
I have chronic pain, but you could never tell. All I feel is numb, I put up a wall and wear a mask constantly. There are many reasons why emotional repression is necessary for me to cope with my condition. I do it partly because the same areas of the brain, the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex, activate when a person feels emotional pain or physical pain (Fogel).
When I ‘numb’ my pain, I also numb my emotions. But mostly, I repress my emotions because I am afraid of being hurt, rejected, pitied, and misunderstood. I am afraid of being vulnerable. My phobia is a common one. I surveyed my classmates, and over 80% of them said they are scared of vulnerability.
For many people, being vulnerable is like stepping in front of a loaded gun. However, if we close ourselves off because we are scared, we will not find comfort, acceptance or understanding either. Though it is largely viewed as a weakness, there is unrivaled bravery and strength in accepting, embracing, and overcoming vulnerability.
We are not born scared of vulnerability, but rather we learn to fear it.
As small children, we are often open and carefree. We learn to be afraid of showing our emotions. That the world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows as first glance.
Over time, we build up defenses, put barriers around our hearts, and convince ourselves that not caring equals never getting hurt again. While in some ways, this is a natural defense process, it is also detrimental to our emotional and mental health.
Since there is such a wide stigma against vulnerability, against any perceived weakness, many adults will shut off their emotions just to avoid being vulnerable. But young kids do not. We pride ourselves on being mature, but how can we make that claim if we refuse to feel the depths of our emotions?
It is all too easy to become trapped behind the walls we put up to protect ourselves, unable to give or receive feelings, whether they are positive or negative (Fritscher and Gans).
People with this fear, like myself, can also inadvertently cause others pain. We push people away, and keep them at arm's length. We do it because we think we don’t need anyone, that we are better off alone. We think it is weak to reach out and ask for help and maybe it is.
But no one can be strong all the time. Everyone, from time-to-time, needs to lean on other people, have a support system to fall back on, whether that be a close friend or just someone who lends an ear. I admit it is out of my comfort zone to be that dependent on others, but that is how I know that sometimes the bravest thing you can do is ask for help.
Sometimes you will be the person who needs someone to rely one, but other times you will be the support for someone else. If you want to help someone who is suffering, you have to be able to be empathetic. In order to achieve empathy, you have to know how to be vulnerable.
To make that connection with someone else, you have to admit that you have also been at your own version of rock bottom. You may not have experienced the exact situation, but that doesn't mean you don’t know the feeling; sadness is still sadness, and loneliness is still loneliness.
Before I explain empathy, I need to differentiate it from sympathy. Sympathy is seeing someone hurt, depressed, sad, lonely, etc. and feeling sorry and pity for them. Sympathy is saying: “At least you do not have cancer,” or ”At least you are not starving in Africa.” While people mean well, sympathy holds nothing over empathy.
Empathy is seeing someone who is struggling, sitting down and saying, “This sucks, and I know how it feels. I am here for you.” In a video on empathy by Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly and The Power of Vulnerability, she says, “Empathy is a choice, and it's a vulnerable choice. Because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.”
Sometimes, empathy is no words. Sometimes all you have to do is be there for someone like you would want someone to be there for you.
All this talk of sharing feelings, breaking down walls that have protected you from harm, seems daunting, and it is. Doubt may be creeping in your mind. You may be asking yourself questions like: What if no one understands me? What if no one cares? What if I get hurt again?... And yes, it is true, if you close yourself you will not have to feel. But you’re not only keeping yourself from the bad, you are also ‘protecting’ yourself from all of the wonderful, crazy, good feelings too.
My health + life coach and personal hero Dr. Julie Granger once told me, “We can’t push down the dark feelings without pushing down the light ones as well, and it leads us into a life of numbness.”
Who wants to become like a cold emotionless robot, just going through the motions and not feeling anything? I cannot guarantee that you will not get hurt if you let yourself be vulnerable.
Notice that I have not once said that I used to be sacred of being vulnerable or I used to close myself off. Vulnerability still scares me. The fact that you are reading this scares me. But if I can inspire someone to try to let go of their fear, it is worth it. I am constantly struggling not to stay in my comfort zone, rebuild my walls, and put on my mask. Becoming okay with vulnerability is not a one time thing. But I can promise that you will be much better off if you at least try.
Fears are hard to overcome, especially the fear of vulnerability, but you will be a braver, stronger version of yourself if you do. At risk of sounding cliche, I know it is not easy, but then again, nothing worthwhile is.
It is okay to be sacred, but don’t let that fear stop you from experiencing joy in life. We can relearn how to be open and carefree. We can relearn how to let people in. We can dismantle the walls around our hearts and instead build bridges, make connections.
You don’t have to be alone anymore, because you have a choice. You can either feel numb, closed off and cold or you can choose to embrace your emotions. If I can find so much good from letting go of my fear, you can too. So be brave, be strong, and have the guts to be vulnerable.
“Brené Brown on Empathy.” Performance by Brené Brown, Brené Brown on Empathy, The RSA, 10 Dec. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw. Accessed March 11, 2018
Fogel, Alan. “Emotional and Physical Pain Activate Similar Brain Regions.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 19 Apr. 2012, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/body-sense/201204/emotional-and-physical-pain-activate-similar-brain-regions. Accessed March 13, 2018
Fritscher, Lisa, and Steven Gans. “How to Overcome the Fear of Vulnerability.” Verywell Mind,
https://www.verywellmind.com/fear-of-vulnerability-2671820 Accessed March 1, 2018
Schreiber, Katherine. “Yes, Being Vulnerable Is Terrifying-But Here's Why It's So Worth It.” Greatist, 6 June 2016, https://greatist.com/live/fear-of-vulnerability Accessed March 1, 2018
What results did Harriet get from working with me?
Reduced unnecessary time, money, and stress spent at medical appointments that weren't getting her results
Transformed her lingering sense of 'never quite healthy or good enough' that plagued her on a daily basis
Eliminated the power struggles between she and her family over healthy nutrition, rest, exercise, and mindfulness choices
Let go of body image issues and shift into a self-loving mindset
Shifted attitudes about exercise and physical activities from defeat into empowerment
Embraced empowered and sustainable choices for community involvement and friendship building
Reduced chronic pain and health problems to manageable levels
Ready for the girl you know to step into the driver's seat of her health, like Harriet, so she can thrive in school, sports and her life? Let's chat!
"As a health coach, Julie knows how to get to the root of a problem and how to identify and comprehensibly explain what I can do to get better. However, I know that both my mental and physical health are important to her, and this shines through in how she talks with me as a life coach as well.
Julie encouraged me to start a journal to
record workouts, meals, etc., a practice that has
promoted mindfulness and organization in my life. She also suggests a practice of goal-setting that is both rewarding and motivating, and always talks to me about what little steps I can take to become a better athlete and person. Julie’s holistic and specialized approach to coaching reflects a passion for her job and her clients’ wellbeing. I am so thankful for everything that Julie has been able to do for me, and I know that she can do the same amazing things in the lives of many others!"
— Anna Thompson, teen cross country & track + field athlete
Maybe you've felt this way before...
Your 'tween or teen...
has a busier schedule than you (which is a feat in and of itself)!
prides herself on being perfectionistic or type A (maybe just like you!), and pours her heart into school, sports, friendships, and activities...sometimes at the expense of her health and wellness
works so hard...but it doesn’t always pay off - or causes more stress, upset or anxiety
makes inconsistent self care & nutrition choices
throws a tantrum or eye-rolls one moment... and the next, totally adores you (which you love)
feels like adults often “just don’t get it”
wear all the hats: chauffer, nurse, doctor, drill sergeant...
lay awake thinking or worrying about her
feel like you just can’t do anything right for your her
fret about her health, nutrition, sports & school performance
feel like medical providers aren't helping you
want to help her be healthier, but don't want to feel like you're or judging / criticizing her
wish that keeping her healthy and active didn't have to be so hard...and expensive
wonder why it seems so easy for everyone else
Ringing any bells?
I have great news. It doesn't have to be so hard!
I love helping girls step into the driver’s seat of health and life, which give parents back their much-needed FREEDOM and worry-free life.
My programs have been created with girls in mind. I get what girls are stacked up against these days. I cultivate a space where they feel comfortable sharing their stories. I help her (and you!) redefine and redesign her life in ways that honor and serve her health while promoting meaningful success in sports and activities, contribution, connection, joy, love and well-being in her life as she transitions from child to adult.
I'm so passionate about it that your first 30 minute chat with me is totally on the house.
It's that easy. You've just gotta show up.
Let's chat. I can't wait to hear from you!
Psst...I've got secrets to share...
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Fueled and Fabulous
Master the #1 simple health practice that can make or break a girl's sports and school performance...without paying more for private lessons, tutoring, medical appointments, or all the other things that can drain your energy and your bank account.