Awakening your inner strength: A journey to empathy

Deep within us is a sacred space—where our true self lives, where our empathy, authentic strength and love live. When we struggle, we forget it is even there.

Think back to being a kid. Do you remember the freedom we felt as we played? How was the tree always climbable? How was the wave that knocked us over always so much fun? Then ultimately, as we face failure, this faith in ourselves fades. Each time, we create beliefs that protect us from the pain of a future failure. Over and over again, we limit ourselves with thoughts that we are not good enough to try. 

For me, there are two that stand out. At five, I decided that I needed to be strong, no longer relying on anyone but myself because I was invisible. At twelve, I decided that I was not lovable, and people would leave me so I couldn’t allow them in. There are many more moments just like these, and the decisions I made about myself in those moments have become the identity that I have spent 40 years living.

Origin story

My first belief happened as I stood in the living room of my childhood home. Surrounded by turmoil, the family I had believed in is crumbling around me; I am terrified. Standing frozen in my fear and while my immediate family surrounds me, I am alone. No one sees I’m scared, and no one comforts me. With all the experience a five-year-old has, the only way I could make sense of it was that I was invisible, and the only way to be safe was not to have needs that could be unmet.

My second, the belief that I’m not lovable and people will leave, was my reasoning for why my grandfather left our family. Just twelve years old, when I first heard that his car had been found on the side of the road by the Michel Creek hotel, he was gone. After the dust of the search had settled, the clues to his disappearance began to come to life. He had chosen to leave. It would take five years for us to know what had caused him to make this choice. We had been the best of friends, and he had chosen to leave me. That was all I needed to blame myself, to believe he had gone because I wasn’t loveable, and I could never trust myself to feel loved again. Even after my grandfather returned and told us his version of the truth, I still believed it was me. No matter what he said, I remained stuck in my belief.

Releasing my limiting beliefs

How do you stop believing something after so long? I started by looking at when I thought, what happened, what meaning I had added to it, and why.

First, I needed to recognize that I created these beliefs as an upset, scared, and hurt child. I didn’t have the experience or capacity to understand what was happening, let alone process it. Nor did I have the questions to ask. Through the wisdom of experience, only now could I see how alone I felt. At five, my parents were too focused on their argument and what had just happened with my sister. Then, again at twelve, I was surrounded by adults in unimaginable pain. Now, so many years later,  I could understand that they hurt too and acknowledge I still needed help I did not get. 

Until choosing to work on my beliefs, I had never realized that I was mad at myself. For being weak, for letting myself get hurt and for not being strong enough to do anything about any of it. I couldn’t stop the fights in our home or keep my grandfather with us; I had blamed myself for all of it. Then, as I got older, my anger turned to loathe and then hatred. I had also never allowed myself to be angry that I didn’t receive the comfort I needed. 

Awaken our inner strength

What I had always needed was to let myself feel my pain. Along with acknowledging that I had the right to be protected, cared for and comforted, I needed to process the anger of feeling so alone and so scared and not getting angry at those who didn’t help me. 

I couldn’t unlock my inner strength until I acknowledged the pain with me. That’s the thing about embodiment; we can avoid feeling the pain. We try to hide it and pretend it doesn’t exist, yet it persists in our bodies. But we must acknowledge our experiences. Yet all too often, we will continue to try to reason with them, diminish them, or avoid them. 

So what is the inner strength we need to awaken? It’s empathy. 

I need to love her, releasing the expectations I had carried for so long of things she was never capable of. To understand that she had always acted to protect herself. And forgiveness for my adult self for still wearing these beliefs as armour, to never be hurt so deeply again. 

Letting go of these beliefs has not been easy, and it has been the most rewarding struggle I have ever faced. At first, it seemed impossible; I’ve believed these as facts for almost my whole life! But, along the way, I have found tons of “proof” that these beliefs are true. That’s the thing about being a human; we can make anything mean anything. 

The effects of empathy

Empathy makes other things possible, especially curiosity. Now, looking at my adult life, I began to look for and find evidence that I was safe, loveable and comforted. What shocked me was it was everywhere. In my childhood friendships, relationships, marriage, and even my relationship with my grandfather. What made his leaving impacted me so profoundly that his choice had nothing to do with me. Before he left, I was grampa’s little girl; we were together constantly. While our relationship couldn’t return to where it was, I could see the love we had shared. 

Through the lens of empathy

Now I got to begin connecting with the real me. To see that I was lovable all along, and the essential love was self-love. This part of me that was always waiting to be acknowledged.

The change has been incredible! Finally, I can recognize how fiercely my husband loves me. To see how he does little and big things every day to show me. I can see lovable in my friends, the ones that always have my back and be authentic through the good and the challenging. 

Most importantly, I can now see the light of empathy has been within me all along—my very own Dorothy moment.

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