Self-Compassion

Scars and Open Wounds

A few months ago, someone said to me: “Wow Ryan, you always share SO MUCH on social media.”

I remember responding with a bit of a reactive clapback, because something familiar had been triggered: shame. Not necessarily my shame for sharing what I share, but the shame this person thought I should feel for doing so. I could sense it in the tone of voice, in the emphasis of the words, in the body language and look I received. It came from a place of hostility. Which, really, came from a place of their own shame, and ultimately, fear. You see, we attack from a place of our own wounding. I don’t know what that person was feeling in that moment, or why they felt the need to tell me something like that, when we barely speak on a daily basis, but I know what I felt. And as Maya Angelou used to say, we never forget how people make us feel. In that moment, I heard all the voices that had ever told me that I was “too much” something. Too emotional, too sensitive, too this, too that. But in that split second between feeling and remembering all of this, and the reactive, aggressive tone that manifested from it, I managed to say that I really only shared what I wanted to share. That I was, in fact, still very much in control of what people know about me.

Something very interesting happened when I became a therapist – and I’d love to think that every therapist has experienced this, but I also know that this is not the case – which was this: the more time I spent encouraging and supporting people to open their hearts to themselves, others, and life, and the more I did this in my own life, the more I experienced a very counterintuitive dynamic. In fact, I explored this with a client recently, who is beginning to experience this same dynamic. It goes like this: the heart opens, despite fear of pain, despite past experiences, despite the crazy world we all live in. There is a realisation of freedom, of joy, of peace, which emanate from the very conscious choice that we have to make to open our hearts. We experience love, both towards others, and ourselves, and, if this process is carefully guided and held by someone you can trust, we begin to really experience love for ourselves. We begin to see all the ways in which we can actively do this, for love is a verb, and its maintenance and growth requires continuous and consistent action, no matter how small. As the heart opens and love for the self increases, we begin to realise that we may have let ourselves down the priority list of important things in life. And as the effort grows to allow ourselves to move up that list once again, and give ourselves the rightful first spot, we may come to a confusing place: we are capable of great love to ourselves and others, but the love we give to others may need to be regulated, in its intensity and regularity.

For instance, through this process, I learned that I can’t be a full-time therapist. Which was an annoying realisation since I’d spent so much money studying to become one, only to realise that I couldn’t do it for enough hours to be able to regain financial stability. Another thing I noticed was my willingness to spend time with people who expressed doubt or negativity towards my life, in whatever form. I can sit with uncomfortable feelings in therapy, I don’t need to do it at dinner time, or when I’m trying to have fun, thank you very much. As I began to value myself and understand my worth more and more, through daily, weekly, monthly, and annual actions of self-care, I began to discern who and what deserved to be included in this wonderful thing that I call my life. As the song goes… thank u, next!

The process of opening up my heart through therapy, both as client and therapist, also showed me the different ways in which I had been sharing things with the world, and how I’d like to share them moving forward. Nadia Bolz-Weber, and Glennon Doyle, speak about the difference between sharing from our scars and sharing from our open wounds. A scar takes time to close. It is a biological process by which the body protects and defends itself. Even though a scar originates from a wound, once it’s formed, it usually means that the wound has healed. Sharing from a scar is the same: there has been some time to heal. The time it takes to heal something enough, allows for distance between now and then, allows for insights, reflections, and “aha moments”. It allows for hindsight to show us how some circumstances manifested themselves. It allows for the processing of emotions, feelings, thoughts, sensations. It allows for us to look into the now and hopefully shape our futures differently. Ultimately, the time and all the insights allow – if it’s done properly – for the creation of healthy boundaries. Do you know how some physical scars don’t heal very well and we may need medical attention? The same happens with emotional scars. One of the great purposes of therapy is to help you heal your emotional wounds in a safe, balanced, and healthy way. If we have healthy boundaries, we are able to discern if something has already healed, or if it needs more time.

I’ve been trying to write a one-man show for about two years now – why has it been so long? Every time I think I’ve healed enough to write about what I want to write about, I realise that there are still some aspects of that experience which are very much still raw and open. The wound is still open, and so if I was to share that with others outside of my trusted circle, I would probably be putting myself at risk of further harm and wounding. When I studied Autobiography & Performance at Glasgow University and created a series of one-man shows, I was quickly led to quitting performance altogether, because I was constantly performing and sharing from a place of open wounds. I had no distance, no insight, no reflection. It was pure pain, and I couldn’t actually deal with any of it at the time. When sharing from an open wound, we are susceptible to being hurt by other people’s reactions to our personal stories. We may take a misunderstanding or disagreement as a personal attack, which may further feed into whatever negative narrative we may have about ourselves. Sharing from a scar means that even though people may have an issue with the message you are sharing, you have enough distance to understand that the issue lies within that person, rather than with the message you shared.

This is how I judge my sharing on this blog or in places that may be more public: has there been enough time for me to heal? Will I take things personally? Do I care what people think? Depending on my answers to these questions, I decide whether I’m ready or not. The same principle applies to sharing intimate and vulnerable aspects of myself with the people I spend time with on a regular basis. Because, ultimately, it is okay to keep things to ourselves. Traumatic, difficult, and challenging events in our lives, sometimes need their own time to be processed internally, before they are shared with others. This applies even with therapy. Sometimes a person goes through a bereavement and it’s assumed that they need support straight away, but actually, in many instances, therapy would be better at a later time. It’s a delicate balance, really, because at the same time that we should hold personal information in sacred spaces inside ourselves, there is also the danger of that internalisation becoming dangerous and harmful. At the end of the day, the only way to know, is to practice. We might overshare at times, and then learn to wait a bit longer, or we might hold things in for too long, and then learn that we could’ve expressed it sooner.

Be caring, kind, and patient with yourself as you learn to navigate these dynamics. No one has the answers, every single moment of the day. Allow yourself to learn, and to be loving enough to allow for mistakes along the way.