Can You Be Broken But Beautiful?
Some readers here might be confused or offended by my use of the word broken. Afterall, isn’t that being harsh and critical of ourselves? Isn’t being broken a bad thing? I hope to use this blog to speak to this very issue. I don’t see “breaking” as ugly, bad, or as a criticism. It’s what happens when our protective emotional armor cracks, when our heart breaks, or our coping seems to give way. This is all a part of being human.
We are taught to stay strong until we can’t any longer, thinking we’re supposed to always be strong and put forth the image of having it together. And then when we can’t any longer and we break, crack, feeling like we’ve failed or are weak. But there are times when breaking is exactly what we need in order to reconnect with the deeper and most intimate parts of ourselves. It’s an opportunity to let go of the veneer and look more closely at our own truths and parts of ourselves that are unknown to or forgotten by us.
Relationships end. We get fired. A loved one dies. Our body starts to break down or we get ill. We experience financial setbacks. At these times we might feel like we are a piece of china that has fallen and cracked into pieces, without function, purpose or beauty. We try to muster up the fortitude and determination we’ve been told we should have to just keep doing life anyway, so we bring in the reinforcement of hardening our outer shell. Overriding and minimizing our pain, anger, hurt and disappointments. Afterall being strong is a good thing, isn’t it?
But how do we define strong? Toughening up to spare others our pain? Ignoring our own pain? Is it not “giving in” to our feelings because we’re afraid we might never pull out of it? Following this line of thinking means we don’t allow ourselves time to catch our breath, reflect and understand what’s happened, discern what we can take from it, and then regroup. But this means we can’t get too close to anyone and their pain because it might trigger our own buried emotions. So, we become hardened to ourselves and others, maybe a little, maybe a lot. It shows up in us in our roles as parents, as bosses, as friends, as spouses, as adult children to our aging parents, as human beings in the world.
What then often happens is we become strangers to ourselves. We don’t know how we feel, we see ourselves as having no voice in our relationships, we put the needs of others ahead of our own in the guise of kindness or being a good person, all the while building resentment, loneliness. We become hardened. We lose our direction. We lose our joy, if we ever had it to begin with.
Here is another way to look at being strong. We are stronger when we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable. To paraphrase author Brene Brown, it takes courage to be vulnerable. To put aside our armor, and be real, authentic and true, is brave, humbling, self-accepting and compassionate.
We are strong when we allow rather than resist. We are strong when we can soften to and embrace being human. And in the breaking or cracking open, there is now some spaciousness, some room in which to self-reflect, explore honestly what happened, what our feelings are about it, what beliefs about ourselves have been reinforced, and what we’re able to take from the experience to learn and evolve into wiser versions of ourselves.
Let’s face it, there is a lot of hardness in the world these days. Perhaps a good dose of compassion for ourselves and others is called for. I think each of us can benefit from recognizing that most of us are doing the best we can with the degree of self-awareness we have at that particular moment. It doesn’t mean we stop there. It means we soften a bit through understanding and forgiveness, taking the opportunity to become better within ourselves by developing greater self-awareness. Our broken places are the openings that allow light to shine in so we can better understand ourselves. The broken places inside of ourselves can make room for us to feel deeper compassion: for our parents and whatever mistakes they’ve made; for our friends who have let us down; for the strangers we encounter who rebuff our smiles and kindness; for the countless “others” out there who are different than we are in big and small ways.
A number of years ago I came across an article about an ancient Japanese art form known as Kintsukuroi or Kintsugi. It resonated with me immediately, both personally and professionally as a psychotherapist. Kintusgi is a type of repair made to broken pottery. The broken pieces are mended together, usually with gold, or sometimes platinum or silver dust, and lacquer. Often referred to as “the golden mend” the repaired pottery is seen as a unique and more beautiful piece because of its history and renewed value. Kintsugi pieces can actually be quite expensive! The takeaway point here is these are considered works of art, with value and beauty.
There is such value to be found here for us, in learning to accept our humanness. Imagine looking at our hardships and setbacks in such a way that we embrace them, appreciate our history, learning what we can to enhance our wisdom and resiliency. As a result, we become more beautiful, allowing for a transformation in how we see ourselves and how we live our lives.
In future blogs I’ll be writing more about this and will be encouraging you to face and embrace the broken places inside of yourself. This may seem radical or even impossible. I can imagine some of you are wondering how can you possibly accept and embrace what is imperfect/ flawed/ less than/broken? I’m here to tell you we all have broken places inside of ourselves, we may feel fragmented, or perhaps we see ourselves as damaged. But if we can shift perspective, we have the valuable opportunity to shine light into the darker places and mend ourselves into greater wholeness, becoming resilient and more beautiful for it.
So, can we be broken but beautiful? Heck, yes! This new perspective and the personal work are what’s called for to become an always evolving better version of ourselves throughout our decades of life.