Sunday 3 September 2017

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Can we use our vulnerability to become stronger?

'I am more vulnerable than I thought but much stronger than I ever imagined'.

This week we explored whether and how we could use our vulnerability to become stronger. Naz explained that vulnerability is a core ingredient of resilience - the capacity to translate vulnerability and fragility into strength - and to do this when we are hurt and when we feel depleted, counterintuitively enables us to go forwards on a core pathway to resilience.

A cancer diagnosis forces us to inhabit what for many of us is an unfamiliar country and illness brings into sharp focus our limited control over our bodies in the face of a punishing onslaught of treatments. It strips away layers of our identity and our sense of who we are. Our emotional landscape becomes more intense and complex. Yes, we experience joy but we also have to learn how to manage a tsunami-like wave of losses and pain, at times threatening to carry us away.

So are we strong? Or are we vulnerable?

Our discussion, which included women with primary and secondary breast cancer, heard how some of us had given up qualities and behaviours which we had previously seen as 'strong' such as 'being in control' or working long hours. Others felt forced to relinquish aspects of their identity which impacted on their self-esteem, perhaps they were no longer able to be 'reliable' because they take sick leave or need to cancel arrangements at short notice. Some women described the challenge of giving up their helping roles, and finding strength in allowing themselves to accept help and support. Others described the ways in which their vulnerability had given them the strength to prioritise their own needs, by doing what they want, not what's expected of them.

Some of us wanted to feel less fragile, and to learn how to be less disappointed, less hurt. We feel like new mothers with a baby we want to nurture and protect from all that is bad in this world while feeling and anticipating intense happiness and joy. We heard that expressing our emotions, practicing compassion, accepting ourselves and forgiving ourselves for our mistakes can allow us to transform our vulnerability into strength. We find ways to practice gratitude, we daydream, and we are more creative.

Vulnerability and strength, like light and darkness, support and complement one another. We concluded that although we might feel we have a long way to go, we are all on our own path on a journey to a discover our own truths.

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