#045 Living with vulnerability and building resilience with Sarah Buino

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Having a disability or knowing and loving someone with a disability comes hand in hand with vulnerability.  

Am I right? Or, am I right?  

I’m perhaps oversharing here. But I’m going to confess that I do not have a loving relationship with my own vulnerability.  
I will shove that shit as far down as humanly possible. I’m a world-class expert at protecting my heart with a hard exterior.  

In fact, many people would be more likely to describe my heart as armored than tender.  


But here’s the thing.  

Vulnerability is actually a strength and an opportunity.  

This week on the podcast, I sat down with therapist Sarah Buino to talk about vulnerability and resilience.  

Here is what Sarah said about the strength and opportunity that comes with vulnerability.  

“The power is, it’s, it is connection. When, when two people are able to sit in their own vulnerability and not put up defenses, that’s where true connection lies. That’s where authenticity lies. And whenever, we’re, you know, trying to protect ourselves from something, there’s, there’s a barrier in between me and the other person for connection. Because like you said, we all have this innate need for connection. It’s not, it’s not a want, it is a absolute biological need to feel part of something. That is what’s powerful. “

I believe that Sarah is stating the facts.  

But when I am sitting in a school meeting, or when someone says something hurtful, or offensive or just plain annoying, I admit I don’t first look to increase my vulnerability as a solution to the situation. ?

So where does that leave me?  

According to Sarah, it is a journey.  

Apparently, my armored heart is not a lost cause.  

And neither are you. ❤️ 

Listen to the whole episode and leave me a comment below about your experiences with vulnerability.


Genia:            Welcome to the Good Things in Life Podcast. I’m your host Genia Stephen. Today’s podcast episode is a little bit different. It’s a conversation that I had with Sarah Buino. Sarah is a therapist and her focus is on vulnerability. As a parent of a kid with a disability, as a sister of somebody with a disability, you know this is a thing. It can be really hard to love people who experience rejection. It can be really hard to experience that rejection ourselves and we need to have some approaches, some strategies to manage that vulnerability. We need to find ways of building resilience and I think we need to find ways of tapping into and benefiting from that vulnerability and what it brings to our lives. I hope you enjoy this episode.

Genia:            Today I am speaking with Sarah Buino from Head Heart Therapy. Sarah is a psychotherapist and she is here to talk about vulnerability and living with vulnerability. Sarah, thank you so, so much for joining me. I’m really excited to finally get to speak with you. You’ve been trying to coordinate this for

Sarah:            Yeah.

Genia:            a long time. And the reason that I wanted to talk to you is because I’m so intrigued with your work and the fact that you put vulnerability really at the forefront of a lot of the work that you do, recognizing the impact of vulnerability and also the power of vulnerability in people’s lives. So, you know, people with disabilities in our culture are widely and frequently, um, discriminated against. They experience profound rejection, um, throughout their lives. And the people surrounding them experience that vicariously. And they also experience it directly because of their association with, um, people with disabilities. And, um, of course, discrimination and rejection is deeply wounding to people. Um, you know, humans have, uh, a need for acceptance and belonging. It’s not, it’s not just a nice to have, you know.

Sarah:            Right.

Genia:            It’s a fundamental human need. And so when that is, you know, violated and we experienced rejection, it’s deeply wounding. And so, you know, parents and, and professionals as well who are, um, in close relationship with kids with disabilities are going to experiences this. And I see, there’s a couple of things I wanted to talk to you about. One was just the, um, you know, how people make decisions about how to respond to that vulnerability. So, you know, do we say, well, my, this is, this is a common example.

Genia:            I’ve tried to register my, my son for Scouts or I’ve tried to register my daughter for, um, you know, just a regular soccer, but that hasn’t, it hasn’t gone well. She wasn’t accepted there. So we’re just going into special, like we just do special programming. Um, and, and also parents, I know, you know, I, I have this experience all the time where, um, the people in my life who don’t have any insight into sort of the world of, um, disability or having a child with a disability, they may love me dearly, but they don’t really get it.

Sarah:            Yeah.

Genia:            And so, and so people make, um, you know, people make comments that are, you know, sometimes just annoying and offensive or frustrating. Sometimes downright hurtful. One, this is one example that I now kind of chuckle about, but at the time I was so infuriated. You know, I, um, a friend, so my son has a lot of medical complexities and um, and everything, even like routine kinds of stuff tends to be really complicated for him.

Genia:            And, um, my, uh, a friend of mine, her daughter had her tonsils out and she said, “Oh, it was so incredibly stressful worrying about my daughter. Um, and you know, now I, now I understand what life is like for you.” And I was like, Well, well. When my son had his tonsils out, he spent four days in the ICU. Like it’s not the, you know, “No, you don’t get it.”

Sarah:            Right.

Genia:            And so the temptation sometimes is just to stay within our safety zone of people, which can, which can then really push away the people like our general community and you know, Good Things in Life is really working to help, um, you know, help give people the tools and resources they need in order to be able to support people, to have inclusive lives in the community, which means that the people in their lives need to be in the community and not just in our little safe groups. Right. So anyway, so, so there’s that piece of them what we do with vulnerability, um, and um, or what we do to protect ourselves from our, from vulnerability. I’m just going to acknowledge that Sarah has construction going on in the background.

Sarah:            Can you hear it. Yeah?

Genia:            That’s what, that’s, that’s what that sound is.

Sarah:            We have a mold in our basement. It’s a disaster.

Genia:            Oh, no.

Sarah:            Yeah.

Genia:            Okay. We’re just gonna roll with it.

Sarah:            We are.

Genia:            So, um, and then the other thing that really interests me, um, is how do you become resilient? You know, like how do you just not get, how do you live with vulnerability without being destroyed by the wounds of a world that is not, you know, supportive and accepting? So that’s, I’m just sort of dumping this big agenda on you, in your lap, Sarah.

Sarah:            I love it. Great. Fix, fix all the problems. Got it. Done. Um, well first of all, thank you for having me. I am glad that we finally got, got this together. And before I kind of dive into my responses to what you said, I just, I want to give the caveat that, that working with disabilities is not my specialty. My specialty is addiction. Um, but I actually, as you were talking, I was really relating to the way that people feel, um, misunderstood with the population that I work with. I, you know, and I guess probably the best thing to do to start this conversation off is to really talk about empathy and what it is and what it isn’t.

Sarah:            Because I think what I’m hearing you say is that the people in the general population who don’t really understand living with a disability and parenting someone with a disability is, is a lack of empathy. So, so empathy, and this is from a lot, a lot of my work comes from Brené Brown’s work. And so I definitely want to acknowledge her in this. And the, the components of empathy were from Theresa Wiseman, um, who I believe was in, in a nursing field. And so the four components of empathy that she recognizes are staying out of judgment, perspective-taking, recognizing the emotion someone’s experiencing, and then communicating the understanding of that emotion.

Sarah:            So I think the first thing that happens that people, when, when people see something that they don’t have experience with, they try to think, “What would, what would my response be if I were that person?” And that’s wrong. We need to be thinking, not what would my response be if I were that person but given all of the life experiences of that person does what they’re experiencing makes sense. And the answer is always yes. You know, from, from a therapy perspective, I tell my students we should assume empathy. And if we don’t have it, we need to find out where to get it. We need to find the information in order to connect to that person rather than looking for reasons that that person’s experience is not correct.

Genia:            Right.

Sarah:            Right? So, so sometimes it’s judgment. You know, sometimes people are like, “Well I wouldn’t be that way if that were my situation.” Well you don’t know cause you haven’t lived all of the life experiences of someone. Um, and then the, I think understanding the emotion people are experiencing and then communicating that understanding is also pretty nuanced. And you know, I can just, I, that, that example that you gave about the tonsils is, is, is really interesting because the thing that’s good about what that woman said is that she’s trying. She’s trying to create, trying to build a bridge, trying to create connection. And,

Genia:            And she didn’t always does.

Sarah:            Yeah. She always does.

Genia:            She always does.

Sarah:            And you know, she didn’t get it quite right. And so, so, you know, one of the things that you asked is like, you know, how do we, how do we survive and how are we resilient with this vulnerability? And the, I don’t want to, I’m struggling with this only because this also sounds a lot like, um, people of color struggling with racism and how we’ve been talking a lot about, um, uh, doing the emotional labor. Right?

Sarah:            And so I think it’s very similar where people with disabilities, parents of people with disabilities are put in the position where we have to teach you how to do it right. And there’s a part of that that I, I, I want to empower people to feel like they have a right to say, “Hey, I understand you’re trying to connect with me. And that actually didn’t feel like connection. That felt like disconnection.” But at the same time not feeling responsible for making everyone get it, if that, does that make sense?

Genia:            Yeah. Well, I mean, and I think it just reflects, it just reflects reality, which is it is not our responsibility to make it right for everybody else. But if we want to make it right for everybody else than we, or if we want to make it right for ourselves, we, we need to be part of the solution. Otherwise, where does it come from?

Sarah:            Yeah. Yeah. And I mean, I imagine, in this, I guess I guess the rule of thumb that I would give to everyone is always make it a statement about curiosity, right? So as a therapist, if someone is telling me something that I don’t have experience with and I don’t necessarily understand, I, I use my, my go-to phrases usually, “I could only imagine.” Right? And then that, that creates, um, an opportunity for the person to come back to me and say, “No, that’s not quite right.” Right? Um, but what I was going to say in terms of this is I can only imagine that it’s really exhausting being the parent of a person with disabilities.

Sarah:            Um, not because of the actual disability itself, but because of what you’re talking about this walking through the world, having other people not get it all the time. That is a lot of emotional labor. And I, I guess I just want to give, give space for parents to, um, practice some compassion for how hard that really is, how much work you’re doing, carrying that all the time. And you know, you mentioned the word vulnerability and I just, I want to get a little bit clear about what I think that it does mean because I think in our society we tend to put vulnerability in this category of like, it’s the bad things, right?

Sarah:            You’re, you’re, if you’re vulnerable, that means you’re weak or you’re broken or something like that. But the way that Brené Brown, um, talks about vulnerability is it’s the ability to be harmed, not the brokenness. Brokenness is, is what it is in and of itself. And, um, to be someone who looks different or acts differently, moves to the world in a way that’s, that’s “different”. Um, there is more vulnerability because it’s obvious, right? It’s just like people of color, right? They can’t hide that. And so they move through the world with this extra kind of layer that is like, you know,

Sarah:            “Look at me. I might be a little bit different than you and there’s no shielding from that”, which is where I think, again, this kind of emotional labor comes in, is that we’re constantly, um, people who are in those positions are constantly carrying that around. And so we, so vulnerability is really the gateway to connection and the gateway to authenticity, to creativity, to innovation. And so we don’t want to shield that vulnerability. We don’t want to not have that vulnerability. We want to create resilience with the vulnerability. So, I mean, you know, you, you were saying about sometimes people will just like kind of close back in and just go be with their community. That’s not a bad thing.

Genia:            No. The affiliation is.

Sarah:            Right.

Genia:            Yeah. That’s not the pro-. That’s.

Sarah:            Right.

Genia:            I guess I didn’t actually frame the, it’s not the doing that. It’s the doing that and pushing away.

Sarah:            Exclusively.

Genia:            Yeah. The push right away of anything.

Sarah:            Exactly.

Genia:            Yeah.

Sarah:            Right. And yeah, and that’s where, you know, I think humans love to be black and white, you know, and it’s either, either, you know, the outside world gets me and everything’s fine or screw it, nobody understands me. Right? And, and that part of resiliency is being able to recognize that the outside world isn’t going to always get it all of the time. And that’s part of, that’s part of the struggle is being able to pick yourself up and go back out there again, knowing that you are a vulnerable to being harmed. And part, part of the way that we can do that is by using our community and really gaining strength there and utilizing that in a way that builds us up to have more of a reserve essentially when we go out into the world to face, to face criticism.

Sarah:            Um, another thing I think about, you know, I say this to my clients with addiction all the time, I think that, so for a “normal person”, which doesn’t truly exist, first of all, let me say that everybody’s got something. Um, but some of our things are more obvious than others, right? So with my clients with addiction issues, you know, they go through the world and they end up having this addiction for whatever reason, which creates a lot of maladaptive behavior that people would say, you know, “You’re acting like, you’re a bad person”, right? You, only bad people do like steal from their family or you know, cheat and you know, all these sorts of things that addiction lends itself to, to um, that sort of behavior.

Sarah:            And so something “bad” happens. Somebody, a person with an addiction issue gets into treatment and then they have an opportunity to learn about themselves in a way that most people don’t get that opportunity. And I, I would absolutely transfer this idea to, to folk with disabilities and parents, parents who are parenting them, is that there’s, there’s a reason that you have to go through that in your life. And I don’t know what that reason is. I like to believe in a higher power. I like to believe that the universe has some sort of plan that co-created, um, based on the way that we respond to what’s been created.

Genia:            And that there’s a reason that adversity has been put in your way. Right. And so I say that to my clients all the time. I believe that they’re called to a higher purpose. I think that there’s something really incredible that they have to share with the world. And it just takes a lot longer to, it or it’s, it’s harder in some way to like push it out and to figure out what that is. But that I, I truly believe that and I didn’t even, you know, because I am not surrounded, uh, with the disability community, it didn’t even occur to me. But as soon as you said that, I was like, “Oh, well yeah, they’re in that camp too.”

Genia:            Yeah. So, so what, um, so let’s talk about building resiliency. So you talked about, you know, kind of getting one thing is getting some of the strength from, from a specialized or sort of internal affiliate community, you know, um, to, to make you stronger. But how does one, how does one pursue resiliency, particularly when it’s, it’s not episodic. Like some of the, you know, anyway, some of the challenges, um, of existing in the world are not episodic. They happen kind of all the time. It’s, it’s for some of us, not, not all of us, but for some of us it’s like the air we breathe.

Sarah:            Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. This may be controversial, but the first thing I would say is go to therapy for sure. Only because resiliency, there, there are general things that I can say that, that people can do, but there’s a lot of specifics that go into it. Right? You, some of it is how much of this are you taking personally? Right? How much of this is, are you feeling is your responsibility to change the way that the world sees people with disabilities? Right. Which then creates a whole lot of discomfort. So those sorts of things have deeper roots. Right?

Sarah:            The way the, all of the responses that we have, and this sounds, this sounds, a lot of people are probably like, “Oh, why do I have to talk about my past? Why do you want to talk about my parents in therapy?” But that’s, that’s because that’s our brain was formed, is in our relationship with our parents and our early attachment. And so the way that we respond to stress, it has a lot to do with the way that we were parented and the way that our brains formed based on the connection that we had with our parents, which we would call it pack net. So go to therapy guys. Sorry. There’s no, there’s no better way around that.

Genia:            So, so can I push back just a little bit on that?

Sarah:            Yeah, yeah.

Genia:            So I actually am all for therapy. I think the, you know, the idea of, um, or the resource of carving out time, even if nothing else, the idea of carving out time in order to, um, not sort of like navel gaze with no purpose, but to say, “Okay, like this is my vision for what I want my life to be like and feeling like I’m supporting my child to build. And so I’m going to carve out time to do some of the internal work that will help me get there.”

Sarah:            Yeah.

Genia:            Especially since we, um, as people who, you know, love a person with a disability, we still have absorbed all that societal garbage unconsciously. Right? So it’s not like we don’t have anything to unpack ourselves.

Sarah:            Right.

Genia:            Um, but my near universal experience, um, myself and in speaking with other parents, is that when we go to see a therapist, what we get is like, um, “Well, God chose you for a reason.” Or you know, this sort of like, “You must be special” or you know, “Well, well, no, it’s no wonder you’re struggling”, like this is, and you know, not, not that society is a problem and you are now being faced. Like now that problem is yours, but that just being involved and having relationships with people with disabilities is some sort of like foreground conclusion that that’s going to, that the person with a disability, that the relationship is going to be stressful and call it [inaudible] problems. Right? Um,

Sarah:            So it sounds like a lack of education on the therapist part.

Genia:            Yeah, I would think so. But I mean, I think that essentially like, um, our society devalues people with disabilities and therapists are people in our society.

Sarah:            Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Genia:            Like you’re, you’ve used the example of um, how some of the things that people of color face when they move through the world and it’s kind of the same thing of like if a person of color is going to a therapist to work through them become resilient because they live with racism, going to a racist therapist is not going to get them there.

Sarah:            Absolutely. Yup.

Genia:            And so I guess all of this blathering to say, if somebody is going to go and think about therapy for this purpose, how does one, how does one without adding another part time job to our lives, because we don’t have time for that, how does one find somebody or screen somebody?

Sarah:            Yes. That’s an awesome question. And I, yeah, that’s one of the reasons that I have my podcast too, Conversations with a Wounded Healer because I find that there, there are a lot of, there are a lot of mediocre therapists out there. And what you’re speaking to with the people of color and disability, it’s the exact same thing. And we’re having a lot of conversations in the therapy community about how we respond to racism. That is really interesting. Interesting is the best way to say it. But nobody is having that conversation about disabilities yet. I haven’t seen that anywhere.

Sarah:            So this is, this is giving me this like really great Aha-understanding. So I guess I would like to empower folks to ask the therapists questions, you know, have you worked with somebody with disabilities before? Have you experienced working with or having someone in your life that has a disability? Um, and if not, move along. I’m sure that there are people out there who actually specialize in this. And I, there’s one, one therapist that I know here in Chicago who I think could fit that well. Um, and I’m, I can reach out to her and ask them, see if she knows if there’s some sort of network.

Sarah:            Cause there’s, the thing that’s cool about the therapy business is there’s a network for everything. Whatever niche you have, there’s a network for it. So it’s a matter of finding it. And I, now I want to find out if there is a network for therapists who work with, with disabilities, um, because that’s probably where to tap into. I would, I would go niche first rather than like, “Oh, this therapist like works with grief or dah, dah, dah, dah.” The, and then add complex and we do this. Um, often the more specialized therapist is, the more expensive they are and the less likely they’re to take insurance, which is yet another barrier.

Sarah:            And this is, and that, and I got to tell you just a lot of people think that therapists are like swimming in money because we make a a hundred something dollars an hour, but they don’t think about the overhead that goes into all of it. We are not swimming in money and the insurance companies really are who are winning here. And I don’t even want to get into the conversation about the healthcare system. So, um, but that, that, that’s what I would say is look for someone with that niche and ask them these pointed questions. I always tell people to ask the therapists, “Are you in therapy?” “What do you do to take care of your mental health?”, because I think that’s a huge indicator.

Genia:            So one more push back and then I want to move away from how to find a therapist that would be helpful. So, um, having somebody who’s a specialist in your niche is in no way an exemption from them being, so I think like the non-heteronormative community as a, just a general category is a perfect example because there are have historically, and I’m sure it’s still current, there are, I’m not, I know that there are still programs, specialized programs to help heteronormalize people within the therapy community. Right?

Sarah:            Yeah.

Genia:            So you potentially, so one example within the disability community that I would really love people to maybe train screen for if they decided to do this, is that, is this sort of widely accepted and really highly problematic concept of chronic grief. That as a parent you have

Sarah:            You’re constantly suffering from chronic grief?

Genia:            Yeah. That chronic grief is one normal and to be expected and that hashing it out for years in therapy is actually good for people. So anyway, just.

Sarah:            Interesting.

Genia:            Yeah. So yeah, you may want to find, um, a specialist would, would potentially be helpful, but um, but I would think that you may actually be more, people might be better served by asking therapists questions about, um, to, to suss out whether or not they see disability as a human rights kind of issue. Because if they can frame disability within the cause of other issues that we’ve been talking about here, then they can at least, they can probably, you know [inaudible].

Sarah:            Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. No, that’s a, that’s a good point. And I mean, it just speaks to the humanness of, and the, you know, as much as the therapy community loves to talk about evidence-based practice, evidence doesn’t mean crap if you don’t have empathy and you don’t have an understanding of the larger social structures at play. And so it is an unfortunate reality. And I, and I hear it time and time again that, “Oh, I went to, I’ve been to therapy before and it didn’t help.” And, and I, I refuse that that is, that that’s the end, you know, because I know that there are incredible therapists out there doing work and, and transforming people. Um, so, uh, I just, I hate to hear that. It’s been such a struggle for people that you’ve worked with.

Genia:            Yeah, yeah. It hasn’t, it hasn’t been pretty. So let’s come back a little bit to this idea of vulnerability. So Brené Brown talks about vulnerability as actually being kind of like a superpower or, and maybe not vulnerability itself, but sort of embracing vulnerability as being a kind of a superpower. And I wonder if you, let’s just talk a little bit about some of those basic concepts of why, why being vulnerable can actually serve you very well.

Sarah:            Um, I started watching The Politician. Have you seen this yet on Netflix?

Genia:            I’m not. It just came up on my screen this weekend. Yeah.

Sarah:            Yeah. It just came up and, and the thing that I’m, I’m finding interesting about it and this, I find authenticity and vulnerability to go together really for me because we cannot be authentic without being vulnerable. And one of the things that they address really quickly in The Politician is that we have this, we have this hunger for authenticity right now. And especially I think younger generations are constantly looking for that and constantly trying to like hack into it.

Sarah:            And when, when authenticity is being put out there and it doesn’t feel like it lands quite right, it’s because it’s missing actual vulnerability. And one of the other things I’ve been hearing about lately is this idea of performative vulnerability where, you know, let’s say, you know, I get my heartbroken and I post about it on Facebook and that gets me a lot of sympathy likes or you know, a lot of people like saying things to me, but maybe I’m, I wasn’t actually struggling with that and I, and it wasn’t 100% like real. Um, so there’s something.

Genia:            Even it was, the whole like, there’s also like a bit of oversharing thing that [inaudible]

Sarah:            Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Interesting because, you know, I think there’s such a fine line because we need to be, we need to be more honest on social media because that’s, that’s one of the things that, you know, studies had said that the more time you spend on social media, the more depressed and anxious you are because you’re seeing everybody else’s perfect life. So I do think we need to share, um, some of the, some of the difficulties of life and be honest about it, but at the same time not do it for the purpose of getting the attention. Right?

Sarah:            [inaudible] you know when I do it, I really think about, I just, I am, whenever I post something that’s vulnerable, I am asking for my community to stand next to me instead of giving me anything. Like I posted something recently about selfies cause I hate selfies and I realized that I really hate them because I don’t like the way I look right now. And if I liked the way I look, I’d probably be posting selfies all the time. Not because I want to show off how I look, but just because I, I wouldn’t think about it. Right? And um, and one of the things I said is now before you, people bum-rush me with how beautiful I am because you know, our lovely communities just want to make it better and fix it.

Sarah:            Like that’s not what this is about. Like, I just want to share in this idea of a lot of us struggle with the way that we look. So let’s just be there together instead of there’s, there’s, there’s almost like a power thing that I think happens when someone shared something vulnerable and then somebody rushes into fix it. And I’m guessing that, that you and your listeners probably deal with that all the time. Right? Somebody, somebody wants to make it better and we want to make it better because we are uncomfortable sitting with discomfort. You know.

Sarah:            I would imagine that being in the presence of somebody with a disability, when you don’t understand what that looks like or what that feels like, um, you don’t know what to do and you feel helpless and you can’t skip that helplessness. And so that, that then lends to people saying, saying things like they’re trying really hard, but it actually doesn’t land very well, or they say something that’s really off. Um, so I guess my, my, my thought would be as we, we have to recognize that vulnerability is uncomfortable – our vulnerability and others vulnerability.

Sarah:            And until we’re able to sit with our own vulnerability, we’re going to be even more uncomfortable with other people’s vulnerability. And so, you know, what I try to encourage people to do is if I’m feeling, if I’m, if I’m having an intense response to something, my first line of defense is, “Okay, why am I feeling this way? What is coming up for me?” And often defensiveness is because there’s some, there’s some truth that got hit internally and that is usually a place for inquiry. Just more, more curiosity.

Genia:            So, so where then does the power come in vulnerability?

Sarah:            The power is, it’s, it is connection. When, when two people are able to sit in their own vulnerability and not put up defenses, that’s where true connection lies. That’s where authenticity lies. And whenever, we’re, you know, trying to protect ourselves from something, there’s, there’s a barrier in between me and the other person for connection. Because like you said, we all have this innate need for connection. It’s not, it’s not a want, it is a absolute biological need to feel part of something. That is what’s powerful.

Genia:            So, but what do you do when, when you are like, so it seems from what you just said, I would say, well then there’s times for a really embracing your vulnerability and then there are times for shoving that shit way down.

Sarah:            Oh, I can cuss. I didn’t know I could cuss. Oh man.

Genia:            I’m just coming into my own here in this conversation.

Sarah:            I love it. I love it.

Genia:            This is generally a G-rated podcast, but, um, but this is something I really feel strongly about. Like, um, so I walk into a school meeting, you know. And there, I am not sitting with, like, there’s not two people sitting in connection. You know. I mean I recently had a school meeting where that’s exactly what it felt like was an, with an educator, you know. But

Sarah:            Wonderful.

Genia:            But yeah, but that is often not what, what is happening. And so, and often the, the conversation and even the agenda of some of the people there is, um, like it couldn’t be farther away from connection. Um, and you know, there are, I feel like I’m not really, I wish I was able to really kind of nail down my, my thought and my question around that. But.

Sarah:            I hear, I hear what you’re saying.

Genia:            I’ll blather a little bit about it.

Sarah:            Yeah, yeah.

Genia:            If you’ll indulge me, like I do think that there’s a, there’s, um, something about the, the, the power and effectiveness, um, in the short and long term of being able to be vulnerable and tell a story about why you’re there that’s really authentic and truly vulnerable that, that helps to then pull in the other people in connection so that you then end up with an alliance.

Sarah:            Yeah.

Genia:            You know, so I think that, I think I have experienced that. I’ve observed that. I think that that is really true, but I also feel like there’s, um, there’s a gap. Either you kind of build up some strength and resiliency so that you can go into what is initially a hostile environment still with your, like still feeling, um, being open to vulnerability and you know, and tell your story in the, in an effort to bring people in. Um, but if you don’t already have that, you’re essentially like walking into a firing squad with your heart in the front line. And I don’t know that that’s always a reasonable or a doable for people without them getting completely blown to bits.

Sarah:            So, okay. This, that, that actually really helped me crystallize this. So this is one of the things that I talk about on the podcast a lot is the difference between acting from our wounds and using our wounds as information. And what I just heard you describe was this place of acting from our wounds and coming from this, you know, I’m, I’m going into this knowing that I am going to be victimized kind of feeling. Um, you know, there is, and this is where I think the community is so important. So we go back to our community, you know, we get, we can get in this space of empowerment rather than power over, right?

Sarah:            Because if we’re caught in the dichotomy of powerless versus powerful, somebody is always a winner and somebody who’s always a loser. And that means if I am one down because I am a parent of somebody with a disability and I’m not accepted in the world, if I come from that one down place, um, I’m just participating in that power dynamic. Whereas if I decide I’m just going to come in as a parent who has struggles and be there with my heart open rather than my heart bleeding, um, then if that person is able to meet that, great. Probably not always going to be the case. Probably not most of the time going to be the case, you know?

Sarah:            And I think that there’s a really, it’s such a fine line with knowing when to, when to try to ask a system to meet you and when to say, “Screw it. I’m going to go find another system”, because you are in this community fighting an uphill battle constantly. And so again, the weariness that comes with that I’m guessing probably lends to a lot of this pain of I am constantly feeling like I’m, my heart is bleeding and I just want somebody to meet me there. And for that, that’s when I want to just really change the world and get more people understand what empathy and vulnerability is. It’s really, really hard and there is no easy answer. But when we go back to the community, there’s, there’s a thing that could happen too, right?

Sarah:            So if we, if we feel like we’re in a situation, it didn’t go well. My vulnerability was not received. I was, you know, stabbed in the heart a trillion times and we’d come back to the community and the community says, “That guy’s a jerk. Screw that school and dah dah dah.” Again, we’re participating in that power dynamic instead of saying, “Oh my gosh, that was so brave”, “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry that you got hurt.” How can we support you in building you right now? Rather than making an enemy out of the person who did the harm? Because you know, in all truth, that person doesn’t know any better. And that doesn’t excuse it. But it also can help us not re-victimize ourselves by making the other person awful. Does any of that land it?

Genia:            It does. Although I think sometimes the person is awful.

Sarah:            Yes.

Genia:            And knows what they’re doing. But generally I, generally, I generally, I respect, I do understand what you’re saying and I, and I do respect the truth of that. I think the, um, I have a couple of random thoughts that I’m not sure really add to what you’re saying, but just, um, I was going to say, like you said, instead of coming with a bleeding heart and what I wanted to say was, but what about when your heart is just bleeding?

Sarah:            Yeah.

Genia:            You know, like that’s cause that’s going to, there are going to be those moments. And then I also had this thought of like the exhaustion and the, and how the fatigue, um, of fighting this all the time. And I just wanted to say the, I don’t believe that you can avoid that. If you, if you’re, if you or, or somebody in your life that you care about is devalued in society, I don’t think you can avoid that. But I do want to just have the caveat of saying, when people are supported to build good, inclusive lives in community, there’s a heck of a lot less of that. Because, um, because sometimes things go well.

Sarah:            Yeah.

Genia:            You know, like it’s not always like that. Um, and, and then just when you come back to the community, that idea of coming back to the community. I think the other thing that I see in, um, online groups primarily, although I’ve, I’ve sat in rooms face to face with people who are, uh, have a culture of this as well. The other thing that I don’t think is, is at all helpful is saying this life is, this life is so terrible and this, you know, you know, the like really sort of embedding the problem around disability and surveys like um, building up for people that the difficult things are, you know, too much and you know, all of those, all of that kind of,

Sarah:            Yeah.

Genia:            Cause it just feeds the sense of, just, I guess it feeds into that power, powerful-powerless kind of thing. [inaudible]

Sarah:            Yes. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. It’s, so how can I step out of that binary? And the problem is, is that the world lives in the binary and so trying to cultivate this strength to step out of it is really, really difficult. And I don’t have a road map for that. You know, that’s something that I am really trying to do in my own therapy is figure out how do I step out of all of these, these binaries that I’ve locked myself into, whether it be, you know, “Oh my, my parents hurt me” and “I’m, you know, I’m the victim of these parents” versus like the stepping out of it and trying to get the bigger picture around it or, I don’t know.

Sarah:            Everything is a binary. It feels like that’s just how humans make sense of things. But I think that, I think that as a culture, we’re being called to evolve out of that. And those of us who are, um, you know, willing to dig deep and do that hard work to look at ourselves and how we participate in those binaries and, and oppression and all of those things. You know, we need to stop thinking in black and white terms.

Genia:            Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Um, I think that’s a really great spot to end on, like a really good message to end on to, to avoid the, uh, to avoid the binaries. So if people are interested in, um, delving into this idea of vulnerability as actually being kind of a superpower, do you have any resources that you would recommend?

Sarah:            Yeah, if so, if you want to just do some reading about it, I would definitely recommend Brené Brown’s work. Um, her latest, oh no, second to last book, Braving the Wilderness, I really think talks a lot about vulnerability in all of the modern issues that we’re facing right now. Um, it’s, it’s interesting how timely it was. I think it got released either right before or right after the election. And so, and that’s, you know, not to say one side or the other, but there’s a lot of divisiveness right now. And so no matter what side you’re on, I think you can, you can get something out of Braving the Wilderness.

Sarah:            And then if people are interested in doing, you know, personal work around vulnerability, um, Brené has a community of therapists who are trained in her work. Like I’m a CDWF Certified Daring Way Facilitator. So you can just go to her website, brenebrown.com and I believe there’s a little thing that says “Find a therapist”. And so you can just click on that and find somebody in your area. And a lot of folks, if there isn’t somebody in your area, a lot of folks will do online work too.

Genia:            Yeah. And um, Sarah, people want to know more, more about you and your services and your podcast. Where can they find you?

Sarah:            Probably the best place is my website, www.headhearttherapy.com and slash podcast is where you can find the podcast or if you just search Conversations with a Wounded Healer on, on all the big podcast apps that’ll be there.

Genia:            Awesome. Thank you. Thank you so much. And I really hope that the Good Things in Life community is that space, uh, for, you know, parents and others who are supporting people with disabilities feel good vibes to really come and avoid those binaries and find that place of refuge to build, build resiliency and um, and vulnerability for facing the world. Sarah, thank you so, so much. I’m really, really grateful for your time. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation and I know it will really help people.

Sarah:            Great. Thank you.

Genia:            Thank you so much for joining Sarah and I today. I hope that this has been valuable. I would love it if you think it is valuable. If you would rate and review the good things in life podcast, I’ll put a link in the show notes that you’ll be able to find below this episode. If you rate and review the podcast, it helps get that information pushed out to other people who might be searching for valuable information about how to support their loved ones with disabilities to build good lives. Thank you very much. And until next week, have a great day.

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Special thanks to Sarah Buino for joining me this week. Until next time!

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Genia Stephen
Genia Stephen

Sister, mother, midwife, writer, speaker and perpetually curious. Dedicated to bringing you the voices, ideas and conversations of world class mentors and thought leaders in the field of disability.