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Unexpected Ways to Wholehearted Living

Smiling woman standing in front of the beach

What is wholehearted living, and why does it matter? Today’s blog dives into this mystery term, and the secrets it holds about living a full and happy life.

Wholehearted living is about living from a place of worthiness. Sounds doable, right? Yet, when we look at the examples of individuals that exemplify this worthiness, it’s the stories about times they have not felt worthy that we usually hear. These are stories of not quite meeting the mark, times of failure, of big mistakes, of not fitting in, of rejection, letting someone down, of acting in a way that wasn’t aligned with our values or who we want to be.

These stories are riddled with pain, disappointment, fear, guilt, and shame. If this sounds familiar (and it probably does), you're not alone. Life is full of intimate experiences of feeling like we haven’t been enough in some area of our lives. These feelings of not being enough are difficult to sit with, so many of us will take on different behaviors in order to protect ourselves from emotional exposure and to ensure that we don’t feel shame.

However, the same behaviors we use to avoid vulnerability and circumvent the risk of feeling shame can also lead to a less full life. Numbing ourselves to emotions might work in the short term but it also comes at a high cost. Refusing to face our feelings could mean missing out on meaningful connection and intimacy, blaming others for our insecurities or shortcomings. It can limit our growth, lead to isolation, and can also contribute to more clinical issues such as anxiety and depression.

Where Does Shame Come From?

Shame is a universal emotion among all people, all across the world. Developmental researchers say that the feeling of shame develops as early as one and a half years to two years old. At this milestone, it’s important for us to feel a sense of competence and independence; a feeling that “we can do it” and that we can overcome difficulty and challenges. If we don’t successfully overcome these challenges and build confidence in ourselves, the natural result will be to feel shame. We want to achieve our goals and be successful. We want our core needs of belonging to be met. When either of these needs are not met, we falsely interpret from these experiences that we must not be good enough.

Shame is described in research as “a feeling of unworthiness” and a feeling of “not good enough”. It is a feeling that deteriorates connection and is rooted in the fear of not belonging. Shame begs the deeply uncomfortable question, “Is there something wrong with me? Is there something about me that, if other people knew, would make me unworthy of connection?”.

So why bring up shame in a blog about whole-hearted living? Simple, vanquishing shame is the key to wholehearted living. However ironic, when we tell our story about the times we failed and moments when we felt we weren’t good enough, it is this vulnerability—this sharing with an empathic other—that snuffs out shame.

Smiling woman standing in front of a surf board

How to Live Wholeheartedly

Brene Brown, a best-selling author, professor, and researcher has studied shame and vulnerability extensively, and we have her to thank for the term “wholehearted.” In her research, she used this term to label an emerging subgroup of people who had a strong sense of worthiness, love, and belonging.

“True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are. It requires you to be who you are.”
– Brené Brown

What wholehearted people had in common was one simple thing: they believed that they were worthy of love and belonging. They didn’t let shame and the fear of vulnerability get in the way of showing up as their true selves. Inspired by the wholehearted, she developed ten guideposts for navigating life wholeheartedly:

  1. Authenticity | Letting go of what people think

  2. Self-Compassion | Letting go of perfectionism

  3. A Resilient Spirit | Letting go of numbing

  4. Gratitude & Joy | Letting go of scarcity

  5. Intuition & Trust | Letting go of the need for certainty

  6. Creativity | Letting go of comparison

  7. Rest & Play | Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth

  8. Calm & Stillness | Letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle

  9. Meaningful work | Letting go of self-doubt and “supposed to”

  10. Laughter, Song, and Dance | Letting go of “cool” and “always in control”

Cultivating Courage and Compassion

As you can see, cultivating these guideposts requires a lot of letting go. Surrendering in the face of fear is incredibly difficult, and it is incredibly brave. It takes courage to allow yourself to be seen in all your imperfections. Being willing to let go of the person you should be, or what you think you should be doing, and to instead show up authentically as you really are can feel like a free-fall, especially when you are used to using some of those safety behaviors described above.

Wholehearted living also requires the practice of giving compassion to yourself and to others. It means being patient with yourself when you didn’t do that job perfectly, or you didn’t say quite the right thing. It’s about practicing acceptance and understanding that sometimes your best changes from day to day, and that is okay. That is enough. Just as you are enough.

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