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Building Resilience Through Vulnerability

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Published on May 31, 2019

Being vulnerable is sometimes associated with negative connotations, but it is a critical aspect of building emotional resilience. How can embracing vulnerability benefit cancer patients and care partners? What does vulnerability mean to you? Join yoga therapist and resilience coach Raquel Jex Forsgren for a guided vulnerability session to help uncover intense thoughts and feelings evoked by a cancer diagnosis and develop emotional strength.


Transcript | Building Resilience Through Vulnerability

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

Julie Lanford:

Hi, everyone.  My name is Raquel Forsgren on behalf of Patient Power welcoming you today to the third in our six-part series on building resilience. 

Today's topic, vulnerability.  I'm sure for most of you, including yours truly, when I even mention the word vulnerability that can trigger physical reactions, mental reactions, all sorts of reactions because, let's face it, being vulnerable has often carried with it some negative connotations.  But today's discussion, I'll talk a little bit about it.  I'll encourage you to write a little bit about your own experience as we go along.  There will be a couple of practices where you will open your eyes after you've done a short bit of imagery or something like that where I might have you write down what you're thinking or feeling.  And we'll kind of go from there. 

You guys know the drill that have done these sessions with me before.  I'm going to ask you to be present, keep an open mind, and really, really be curious about what's coming up for you.  So vulnerability, quite a topic, right?  I have studied vulnerability for many years, and one of the persons out there in our world who is a thought leader and amazing inspirational speaker is Brené Brown, and she has, to me, really taken the cake when it comes to understanding vulnerability.  And had her Ted talks and her books got me through some really tough personal and professional times over the last several years. 

And one of the things she talks about a lot is that we build up all this armor around ourselves to protect ourselves from feeling what we feel, and the bottom line is our emotions are there for a reason.  Our emotions really help us get through life.  They're built-in survival mechanisms and all those good things.  So when we think about vulnerability, as a yoga therapist and as a resilience coach what I see when I work with people who are living with a cancer journey or with those that are walking by the person on that journey, there are some common themes that show up, that every single person has their own unique way of how vulnerability shows up. 

So just to get started, let's go ahead and close our eyes.  You guys know that I'm going to have you come to your feet—just bring your awareness to your feet, not stand up, rather.  Bring all your awareness to the bottoms of your feet.  Just take a nice inhale, nothing too deep, and then just exhale as long as you can, just to center, ground.  Bring to mind just the word vulnerability, visualize it, actually visualize the letters, vulnerability.  See it.  What does it mean to you?  What does being vulnerability mean to you?  How does it show up?  Do you feel it in your physical body when vulnerability makes its presence?  What thoughts come into your mind? 

And just take a moment now just to blink open your eyes, and if you do have a piece of paper and you’d like to write any of that down, go for it.  You don't need to even think about writing a dissertation.  It can be just a few words or phrases that might have come up for you during that short practice. 

So let's talk just a minute about vulnerability itself.  So when I think about vulnerability, either in myself or with someone I work with, either a nurse that's working with many of you, whether it's you going through treatment, or whether it's those of you who are on this session that are sitting next to the infusion chair with your loved one.  Vulnerability to me is guts, straight up.  It's the courage to show up, express yourself, express your emotions, your thoughts, your feelings. 

And I think why it is so gutsy to me, especially in our world, those of us who are on this session, is because, let's face it, having a cancer diagnosis changes everything.  It changes our life, our body, our minds.  Those of you that get chemo fog, any of those, to me that's where the courage and the guts come from.  And in those moments when you might be even in the chemo chair, what comes up then?  Is it sometimes beating yourself up, thinking you did something to cause it?  I hear that a lot from different patients.  What did I do to cause this?  Did I not eat well?  Did I not exercise enough?  Did I not sleep?  Did I smoke?  You name it.  Shame goes hand in hand with that because it's thinking we did something.  Fear, fear of dying, vulnerability, right?  I don't know that you can get much more vulnerable. 

And even if you flip it on its head and go kind of away from those negative, intense emotions, feelings of joy or happiness or experiencing gratitude can really bring up someone's vulnerability.  I know for me personally joy and gratitude can often do that.  I feel my most vulnerable when I'm very content and peaceful.  I think, based my life's experiences, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.  So I work really hard in my own practice to embrace vulnerability because I feel that if I don't I kind of wall myself off from the people that I'm connecting with, that I'm working with, that I'm trying to help, like you.  So just think about that, what could be coming up for you. 

And let's close our eyes again.  Settle back in.  Settle back into the seat.  Come to that vulnerability, that word.  And I would like you to bring to mind a time in your journey, can be from the time of diagnosis or any time in your journey that you feel you felt your most vulnerable.  Visualize it.  Really feel it.  Visualize who might have been around you, where you were, how you felt.  Now, right in this moment notice any physical sensations coming up in your body, most notably around your belly or your chest or your throat, somewhere in there, and remember in these moments of self-introspection don't judge it.  Just kind of analyze it a little bit, be aware. 

Now I'll ask you to take a nice deeper inhale, expanding the ribs.  As you exhale, send the breath to that place in your body that you identified you feel vulnerability shows.  Take another inhale again.  Exhale into that place in your physical body, that emotion, that feeling that's coming up for you.  Inhale again.  As you exhale, really send the breath there.  Lean into that emotion, that feeling, that sensation.  Do it one more time.  Take a nice inhale, then an exhale, lean into it. 

Simply keeping your eyes closed just for a moment.  Go back to that original vulnerable feeling, the time that you identified.  What changed as you analyzed it, as you were curious it?  What changed?  Did your breath change, the sensation in your body, the feeling, the emotion?  What changed? 

Go ahead and softly blink open your eyes, and you're more than welcome to take just a few moments and write down what you might have experienced.  Awesome.  You guys are doing great.  I can't even see you, but I can visualize it. 

So just to go over toward the end what we can do when we think about being vulnerable, and how does that help us build resilience.  So when we think about vulnerability and the resilience component we don't have control over anything that's coming at us right now, especially when we've been given a diagnosis where we're on that journey of healing or wherever that journey is taking you.  We don't have control over that.  And we've talked about before on Patient Power the power of using the breath, using the mind to be curious about what you're thinking and feeling, both emotionally and in the physical body. 

And through this process it allows us to ebb and flow with what's coming at us more often now, that it could be a different stage.  It could be progression.  It could be side effects.  It could be a loved one telling us that they're afraid.  It could be embracing us being afraid, all those different kinds of things that just allows us to meet what comes at us with a little less resistance and a little less rigidity. 

It strengthens our bonds with our loved ones because think about how you feel if someone confides in you or tells you something they're feeling that is really weighing on them, and you're that person that they chose to talk to about it.  How does that feel?  It feels really good to me when someone I work with or a close friend or a family member feels like they can talk to me about what's going on. 

So what I'll ask you to do is as you go along your journey be really honest with yourself about how you're showing up and maybe even try rewriting your story about how you show up.  And what I mean by that is when something is really affecting you emotionally or mentally and you're kind of pushing it away and you've created this thing in your mind about why you're feeling that way and it can't go great for me, it's only going to be bad, rewrite the story.  Rewrite it on paper.  Say it out loud to someone.  Set milestones for yourself.  Find someone today that you feel like it would really help you, maybe even help them to just say, hey, you know what?  This has been on my mind.  I want to talk about it.  Or I've had this dream, this milestone that I want to do before anything else changes with my disease.  Can we go do that?  It scares me if we don't go do that.  Just be open.  Be honest, and find someone to share that with.

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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