Stephanie Red Feather
Shadow Speak
Be Strong! Be Who You Are!

Group HugWhen I was in North Carolina at my 11-day intensive in February, I got to witness something amazing with the group of people in my training class: a new model of how we humans can relate to one another with compassion, respect and honor if we simply shift what we value in each other.

Our training was highly accelerated. Every single one of us got triggered, multiple times. What we were learning stirred up our individual fears, traumas and epiphanies. I remember two specific occasions - while Star Wolf was teaching - of huge gut-wrenching, life-changing realizations where I put some things together about my childhood and my mother. I didn't know how it would be possible to sob silently, but I just bent over and wept quietly as the emotions moved through me.

And here's what was so beautiful. Nobody judged me. Nobody reacted disapprovingly. Nobody even really flinched. The teachings continued, and not in a we're-trying-to-pretend-you're-not-here-because-we're-uncomfortable-and-don't-know-what-to-do-with-you kind of way, but like this was just the way of things. I felt the love and safety and complete acceptance created by the presence of these men and women.

Further, I trusted this acceptance and compassion because I felt it in myself towards the person next to me who broke down the hour before, and the person next to them who would break down an hour later. I didn't judge or dismiss them. I loved them even more. And because I knew my response was genuine, I could trust that their response to me was genuine, too. It was this lovely organic process of moving in and out of emotions, yet continuing on, with great compassion, presence, honoring and reverence. No one thought less of anyone else. In fact, we respected each other more because of the courage we knew it took to be that vulnerable.

New neural pathways were being created -- a literal re-patterning -- as we each continued to show up in whatever state we were in, while simultaneously experiencing being completely accepted and treated no differently. Happy and bubbly, exhausted from fitful sleep, deep in process, regressed, soaring with fresh insight, triggered and didn't matter. The light, the dark, no difference. We all loved each other equally no matter what state we were in. We got to practice with one another giving and receiving this love, honoring and accepting each other, and stripping off the masks of social appropriateness.

Too often, people who are emotional, sensitive, speak their feelings or act from their heart are dismissed as fragile, weak, unstable and unreliable.

I got in my bones, for the first time in my life, how it could be possible to live in a community -- not just for a weekend event or a spiritual retreat, but for the long haul -- where we accept and honor each person's state of being. Where we don't go into codependence or judge each other. Where we don't have to pretend. Where we know the other person will ask for what they need. Where speaking our truth is encouraged and honored and not just a novelty we then shed when going back to the "real world." Where we don't have to be ashamed of how we feel when we feel it.

What's more -- and what's REALLY meaningful to me -- was to witness and practice that being broken down, vulnerable or deep in emotional process HAD NO REFLECTION ON my strength of character, my worthiness, or my ability to be productive, creative or a good leader. ALL OF THESE CAN EXIST SIMULTANEOUSLY. In reality, all of them do.

But too often, people who are emotional, sensitive, speak their feelings or act from their heart are dismissed as fragile, weak, unstable and unreliable. I know this from direct experience.

It saddens me -- no, let me be honest -- it pisses me off that in our society we are expected to uphold such an artificial, one-dimensional face and call it "being professional" or "socially acceptable." That in order to gain favor, status, promotion or approval we must wear masks and stuff down what we really feel or what we really need for fear of reprisal.

"How are you today?"

"Oh, I'm great."

It's crap.

That way of being comes from a place where the head (really the patriarchy) rules the day. Where only the intellect and what is EXTERNAL is valued. Where only what you accomplish matters. Where constantly demonstrating force and bravado is required. Where you are EXPECTED to stuff it all down, act stoic, and avoid showing you are affected because that is good leadership.

In that world, being real doesn't matter. Having heart is considered a weakness. Slowing down is deemed counter-productive. Telling the truth is a strategic mistake. Talking about your emotions is tantamount to political/social/career suicide.

It sickens me to see how the world seems to value those who are cold-hearted, selfish, insensitive, even downright callous, over those who are warm-hearted, thoughtful, community-oriented and kind. Why is the former seen as strong -- "he's tough" -- and the latter weak -- "she's soft"?

Forgive me, but I hate that s$&@. I am SO done with that way of being.

No More Crying In The Rain

I want to surround myself with people (and I strive to BE one of those people!) who recognize that your value, gifts, talents and abilities are not at odds with your, well, your HUMANNESS.

Processing emotions, being vulnerable, showing how we feel, talking about our triggers, acknowledging our needs -- these are all things that we need the freedom to be able to do in every place in our life. And without fear of retaliation, dismissal or outright rejection.

So, let me be clear that I'm not advocating we become self-centered narcissists, or that we degenerate into crying heaps of human uselessness. There is a balance to be struck, and we are currently way more than half a bubble off plum. What I am saying is we need an overhaul of how we value one another.

In truth, those of us with the courage to plumb our inner depths and express our emotions are projected onto by this collective societal epidemic of repression. Too many people suppress and ignore their needs and emotions. Because they cannot accept or acknowledge these aspects of their own shadow, they project it onto those of us who do.

So indulge me for just a moment in a cleansing rant to benefit all of us. To the patriarchy and all who would dismiss me because I am emotional and sensitive (feel free to chime in here):

No More MasksI am tired of being someone I'm not just to please you. I am no longer willing to make excuses for who I am. I take back the power I've given you to strip me of my dignity and value because I cry, even in public. I am no longer willing to wear a mask. I choose to no longer participate in your skewed value system. I am in charge of my own worth. I embrace my sensitivity. I unapologetically stand in my heart. And I'm going to show others how to as well. I answer to me now.

Whew, that feels better.

I wish that was all there was to restoring balance, reclaiming our dismissed hearts and shifting the way we treat and value each other. But sadly, that's not all there is to purging ourselves of this heart-centered prejudice. The perception that emotion=weakness has seeped into our own psyches and we unthinkingly perpetrate the same violence on ourselves. Exhibit A: how you talk to yourself.

Through the suggested activities below, I encourage you to explore how you perpetuate this censorship upon yourself. A word of advice as you gentle with yourself. Uncovering and facing unwanted or destructive behaviors can be difficult. Don't beat yourself up because of what you might discover. That just continues the abuse. It's time to come out of the emotional closet and give yourself permission to feel. You are of no less value because you cry. It's up to us to break the cycle and show the world that emotion does not equal weakness.

Suggested activities:

1. Journaling question: When you feel emotional, vulnerable, are triggered, processing or need time to withdraw and go inward, what does your Inner Critic (your inner voice of judgment) say? Does s/he put time limits on how long it should take? Does s/he have strong judgments about you?

2. Journaling question: What are all the "shoulds" that come up when you need time to go inwards or process your emotions? (e.g. I should be doing xyz for the kids. My husband expects me to ____. I shouldn't be so ____. I should be more ____.)

3. Journaling question: Make two lists: "Qualities of strength I admire in others" and "Qualities of weakness in others I want to avoid." How much do these lists reflect your judgment of yourself? Hint: if how you talk to (judge) yourself is different than how you view others externally, then you have some inner work to do (it means a double standard exists in how you view others vs. how you view yourself.)

4. Journaling question: What would it look like (how would you act differently) to allow yourself the time you need to process, cry, go inward, take time for yourself or allow yourself to be vulnerable in front of others? What would need to change for you to make this shift in your behavior and thought patterns?

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