Show menu
Emotional Resiliency – You are going to get a kick out of this.

by Fawna Bews

As I sat in a meeting this morning – a meeting of big minds trying to figure out the current socio-political landscape (I know, silly right?) I kept getting an image of feet.

As I heard the woman beside me say “I’ve always been told you need to get a thicker skin and I refuse”, when I heard the younger woman across from me say “I know vulnerability is all the rage but sometimes I don’t want to be vulnerable”.  As the man beside me said “why is the first thing I hear after every emergency ‘grief counselling will be made available to all’, sometimes life sucks, do we really need grief counselling for everything?” All three of them had me thinking about feet. Yep, feet.

In some of my former work I had an instance where two girls were trying to run the show in their class.  Their teacher had tried all of her tricks and asked me to sit down with these girls. I know that she was expecting me to lay down the law (not my strong suit) or persuade them in some way to behave and quit causing grief to not only the teacher but the other students.  These girls were tough, they had the hair flip and snotty face down perfectly. They dressed a little more like high school girls than the other girls; they were cool.  If left unwatched these girls would take over any game to their advantage, they would ignore the batting line and bud to the front or they would just choose to not participate.  Basically they did what they wanted. Before you get fired up and tell me about what would have happened in your day remember – it’s now, not then. The teacher and principal had gone the traditional discipline route, truth was these girls had been down that road so many times since first grade that it no longer had an impact, they knew the limitations of today’s discipline first hand.

Photo by Elijah O’Donell

So what do you do with that and what does this have to do with feet? 

What I know is that these girls in their ‘callous’ behavior, callous towards their teacher and classmates, their posturing of strength, well, that develops for a reason.  Protection shows up where attack has been, where stress and pressure have been applied. Did you know that Doberman Retrievers make some of the best guard dogs because they are one of the most sensitive dogs? Probably why you see such polar opinions on pit bulls too, they are as sweet as you treat them.

What I know is that under that callous is very tender skin.

I invited the girls in and made sure they knew that I was not there to punish, that I was in fact no good at it, that I was interested in them and interested in helping them to get around this endless power struggle in PE.  I let them vent a little, they had a perception of how the teacher treated them and had justified their behavior – I let them get it out, with the full awareness that they are reporting from an angry 14 year old point of view. Not buying in and not discounting – holding space for them to empty so that they had room to let something new in.

I talked to them about the callous and asked them if they remembered the first time they got in trouble and if they got in trouble at home?  They reported that they got in trouble ALL the time, but they remembered how awful it was at first, but they got used to it. They got thicker skin.  The thicker skin also made it hard for them to notice how they were affecting other people, all of their sensitive skin was protected under layers of toughness.  I pointed out to them that how they talked to each other, they bantered, called each other names – cut each other off, which they were both fine with, may have been seen as harsh from the other girls. They truly did not understand the girls who couldn’t take them and the rejection just reinforced their toughness.

I’m not going to pretend that we solved that issue in one conversation, but the metaphor built some understanding for both the girls and their teacher.  Understanding nudges the door open.

So let’s talk feet.  If we never subject feet to walking – like the Egyptian Princesses – then we will be limited in what we can be exposed to.  The same goes for our emotional well being. If we guard and never expose ourselves to stress or difficulty we will not have a chance to develop.  We will remain so sensitive that every obstacle is overwhelming, we will be tender feet.

On the other hand (foot)  If we are subjected to overwhelming emotional stress we will either break down or become callous.  If we try to completely fit into something unnatural – like when they bound feet in China – then we may be attractive in some ways but our true self will be misshapen and perhaps in agony.

Good foot care and good emotional care can follow the same principles.  Allow time to be completely free – barefoot, we all need spaces in our lives where we are unguarded. Find some places in your life where every emotion is okay, even if at first it’s by yourself.  When there are obstacles ensure that you have good support and enough softness to make it through the day.  Be aware of your emotions – in the same way you would check your foot if you stepped on a thorn. What’s that? Investigate and apply attention if needed.  Or if there were a blister – there are things that are going to rub up against your emotions – do you develop a little more skin there or do adjust the situation, change shoes, add socks?

Just like our feet some of us are more ticklish than others, some of us love to be barefoot and some of us love shoes.  Some of us love crocs, you just can’t judge.

Let’s try to dance without stepping on each other’s toes. Let’s try and put the best foot forward, let’s walk a mile in one another’s shoes, see how fun this is?

Bottom line, emotional care starts with you but need not end with you, if you can handle them well on your own – great!  If you are noticing yourself limping, get help – it’s okay!

Back to my meeting this morning. Thicker skin – while it may be helpful, has some unintended consequences and man does it hurt when that thick skin is torn away and new skin meets the environment. Vulnerability – barefoot all the time makes no sense in our world right now, maybe someday (can you tell what kind of person I am?). Finally, yes, we need to walk on our own, we need to feel – it informs us. I remember hearing a story of an indigenous women who upon wearing shoes for the first time said “I can’t hear the ground”.  Even when it’s a hard lesson or experience we will learn and approach differently if we are allowed to find our way through.  We don’t need carried all the time and we don’t need to subject ourselves to every stone and Lego (ouch).  Emotions, like skin, are the interface between us and the world, they let us know what’s going on.

Be kind and gentle with yourself and trust your strength, trust that other people will support you when you need it, every sole matters. When it comes to emotional health let’s put our best foot forward.