This little tale recently came up as a memory on my Facebook timeline, and it struck me as significant, and one of those things that we might want to look at more deeply, and hope to change.

We often refer to people who are brave as “having guts”, and conversely, those who we perceive as cowardly as being a “yellow belly”. According to sources*, the gut brain’s highest expression is Courage, so maybe it’s not so surprising to hear this digestive organ linked with bravery, or the absence of it.

This goes back about five years when I was working from the Equilibrium Natural Health Centre. I had just finished with a colonic client and was making my way through reception to show her out, when my attention was grabbed by the receptionist. She had a very perturbed look about her, and told me that she had just received a phone call from my daughter’s school.

Edie had had an accident and had cut her head open. In a split second, my mind filled in the gaps. Was she dead? Was she in hospital? How long would it take me to get to her? I could feel that dull grip of impending paralysis, fighting with the need to be super practical and spring into action. The latter won me over. My daughter’s needs were greater and within as few as five minutes, I was running across the school playground to the school’s reception area.

There she sat with her bandaged head, looking like a miniature tennis player wearing one of those sweat bands, cuddled up between the headmistress of the school (bless her) and the teaching assistant from her class. She was pleased to see me, but didn’t really move. Her body was slumped, her pupils wide and when she spoke to me, her voice was not the same as normal. She sounded robotic.

And all I heard, over and over from the teachers, hoping to praise her, was this, “She is so brave, so brave. She hasn’t cried once; not a single tear. She’s so brave. She’s amazing.” Now, being her mother I am not about to disagree with the last comment, but I was struggling with everything that had gone before. Whilst I was grateful for the loving, tactile and amazing support she had been given by her wonderful teachers, I had alarm bells ringing in my head about the reinforcement of bravery being associated with not crying. I wasn’t about to venture further into that at the time, because I wanted to get my dear little girl to the hospital to get her properly checked over and have this gaping wound at the back of her head glued back together.

Letting Go of Being Brave

Throughout all of this, Edie was continuing to “be brave” and when I got her home I kept my eye on her. I knew she wasn’t right, and it was more than a bang on the head. She had internalised the event and it needed to come out. Thankfully (and I love how the Universe works) she dropped a glass of juice on the floor, and the noise and the mess, and the threat of being told off by me was enough to connect her to her fear and shock and she wailed, screamed and cried her little heart out for fully ten minutes.

I just sat with her, didn’t shush her up because I knew the experience needed to be processed and had to come out. Afterwards, I asked her if she had wanted to cry before she dropped the glass, and she said she had wanted to, but then everyone would think she wasn’t brave anymore. So we had a big, long chat about it.

So what does it mean to be brave? Not showing our feelings to anyone, pretending that we are super cool and in control of everything? This is what we are brought up believing by others who were uncomfortable in their vulnerability. Isn’t it time we broke that crappy pattern?

The thing is, when we are not given the space, the time, the support and the understanding to process these feelings, we internalise them and they never get dealt with. And when this happens, they show up as some kind of problem or symptom further along the lifeline of the person in question, and more often than not in some kind of gut health issue.

I see this all the time in the clinic. I have worked with countless clients whose gut problems have manifested as a result of unexpressed frustrations, grief, shame, guilt, and even joy in some instances. But when they connect to the emotions, associate to the event or origin of the problem, they feel it and they heal it.

Previously they had just been “holding on” and “controlling” themselves. It is part of our society’s belief system that we always look to food as the culprit of our gut issues, but more often than not, it is unexpressed emotions.

It is part of our culture in this country to “batten down the hatches” and “pull ourselves together” and “knuckle down” etc, but if we want to see change in our world, and I believe most of us would prefer to live in a kinder, more compassionate world, then we need to start with us. Let’s try and be a bit more honest about our feelings; a little more compassionate as we firstly relate to our selves, and then to the world outside of us.

If you want to be really brave, be vulnerable. There is such beauty in vulnerability. It is wonderfully irresistible and your healing will be inevitable, but you have to dig deep and find the courage. (*