On Fragility, Tenderness and Sensitivity

I was raised in adverse circumstances that favored and rewarded strength and harshness and mercilessly exploited tenderness and sensitivity to torture and deride the little girl I once was.

To survive I emulated these attitudes consciously and subconsciously in parts of my internal tribe. Inadvertently and sadly taking up the role of abuser towards myself and others in its wake. Rarely allowing myself to feel or own moments of sensitivity or tenderness, my subconscious numbing and repression being instant and almost total in all but a few situations. Recoiling from, feeling uncomfortable with and irrespectful of those who expressed their sensitivity and tenderness, all the more harshly if they were male. And yet I felt attracted to the more artistic, poetic and creative types who tended to be more on the sensitive side – nothing about trauma and wounding is ever logical in my experience.

Concurrently I incarnated with a strong warrior spirit willing to protect whoever was marginalized or attacked, most often than not the weak, the powerless, and the sensitive and tender. And so this specific internal war was seeded and took a great part of my energy, attention, and capacity to live life in inner peace and full creative expression away. Decades of moving from one perception to the other, feeling good about myself in one and painful shame when the harshness overtook.

I began my work on this in my late teenage years with whatever tools I could find in a world that was still pre-internet and little psychological and neuroscientific research being accessible to ‘normal’ people. I learned to manage the external expressions of the abuser, by sheer willpower, and had to endure many defeats and failures without the soothing balm of self compassion, which heaped more shame to the mountain I already held in the subconscious. In my thirties things thankfully began to take a turn as better tools and practices became available to me and I opened more to ‘esoteric’ tools. This is where my true and most effective work commenced. Everything before could only be compared to putting bandaids on a deep and infected wound. A temporary solution at best but mere useless actionism in the long run.


Reclaiming my tenderness and sensitivity only happened once I had learned to differentiate it from the fragility of my wounded parts. In my mind fragility is an expression of the egoic nature, its existence serves to protect the status quo and is counterproductive to true healing and integration. Fragility is what makes us reactive, defensive and stubbornly avoidant to all that would heal its underlying pool of emotions, sensations, memories distorting and festering in the depth of the subconscious expertly hidden from our waking awareness. 

Fragility being a function of the ego is cunning, a shapeshifter and spinner of illusion which manage to enchant us into believing them to be reality. Fragility’s rationalizations and emotive reactivities have an intensity of pull that effortlessly highjacks our awareness into its states of hyper-activation and limited higher brain functioning.

To calm fragility I have to face, feel and integrate trauma and shadows – it is, of course, an ongoing process as we keep experiencing new traumas which express in novel ways and necessitate new and better adapted tools of knowing and healing. 

Trauma and Shadow work

A lot of people speak about trauma and shadow work these days but when I look at them and their words I can often sense with clarity that they only ventured to do the most superficial work on these themselves. Rare is the voice of wisdom and the glint in the eyes of those who went deep into the abyss of trauma and shadow.

I have written and shared some insights into my ongoing trauma and shadow work here, but admittedly only in the lightest way, as to write about it as I experience it is nigh impossible as our language lacks words to aptly describe the depth of despair, excruciating pain and abject sense of disorientation and lostness and all the other hues of sensations and emotions that I have to sit with as I contain my impulse to flee and deny whatever arises. This work is not for the faint at heart, it is definitely not for those lacking in discipline, honesty or the lazy.

Shadow and trauma work necessitate much courage, resilience and willingness to begin them and stick through the challenging moments, but the most precious qualities needed are cultivated in the process when handled right: self compassion, self love, self trust.

Without self compassion and love we cannot gauge in a helpful way how much work is needed, when to take breaks, when to resource ourselves by doing things we love and by taking loving care of our body, mind and spirit like the amazing parents and lovers we never had. Without self trust we will crumble whenever our fragility speaks in the language of fear and catastrophizing instead of trudging on the seemingly endless path of self work. And in my case I will add that I needed my inner light and spirit, the aspect at the core of my being, which has always led and gently pushed me towards healing and integration and picked me up whenever I was down on my knees.

In shadow and trauma work I learned to feel and engage with my sensitivity and tenderness in wholly new ways.

Sensitivity and Tenderness

When sensitivity and tenderness are released from the repression of our wounded patterns we might easily feel overwhelmed by them and with the old judgements still echoing in our minds we might feel like stepping back or distracting ourselves in order not to feel them. And we might even feel shame-anxiety or the shame that was induced into us when we showed ourselves in tenderness. 

It is key how we respond in these mystical moments of new beginnings. We are learning emotional intelligence and competence here. It takes time, effort, compassion and a playful attitude to navigate this with grace. This is where our trust in ourselves deepens: In daring to experience how much we can stretch, how much more than our mind believes we can actually take and what happens when we mindfully move past the boundaries of our thinking. 

It is uncomfortable to be sensitive or tender, things get under our skin much more than they ever did in our previous armored iterations of self, therefore we will have to learn ways of dealing with sensations and emotions as they arise and keep tinkering away until we find our stride. It helps to train the mind to look out for the gifts of these states: What are we experiencing, learning and accessing through being sensitive and tender? Where do we need to set new boundaries now that we are becoming softer and more receptive to energies and life? 

I have found, with an infinite sense of awe and wonder, how much strength and resilience I derive from reconnecting with and making ample spaces for sensitivity and tenderness. Once I had my critical selves come around and welcome them, external comments or dis-ease could not get to me as much anymore. I am more sensitive, I feel more of the violence and harshness that has been normalized and embedded in human relating and communicating. And yet it is by far easier to balance and integrate any harm encountered in a state of tenderness and sensitivity than it ever was to do so from states of fragility. 

In other words it is SAFER to be in open, sensitive and receptive states than it ever could be to be armored, protected and therefore in fragility. Read that again and ponder it!

Yes, it may seem that people can hurt me more easily than they could hurt previous iterations of myself. But to an awakened and self-knowing observer, who has done quite a bit of deeper trauma and shadow work, it is clear that the cost of armoring and hyper-activations are much higher and self-destructive than open-hearted living could ever incur. 

Living in our trauma and without integration of shadow has deeply destructive costs to our mental and physical health down to changes of our DNA and limits our capacity of making a good life for us in all other aspects of life. That is why I often silently shake my head at those who are health fanatics, experts on nutrition, body work, health hacks, etc. but deeply avoidant of anything that would take them deeper into trauma and shadow work. And though working on your psyche and subconscious unlocks positive effects for your physical health, merely focusing on the body only has a lightening but not a consistently healing effect on our psyche and subconscious. 

The only adjuvants or partial alternatives to doing self work I have observed are conscious and shamanic plant medicine treatments and highly charged and focused energy healing work, which both take a level of mastery most energy healers unfortunately cannot access due to their own states of fragmentation and lacking spiritual mastery.

From my current vantage point I am observing on the global plane humanity experimenting with fragility and clashes of fragilities.

My hope is that we are becoming aware of the immense costs of egoic games of protection, victimhood, abuse and dominance and that we heal and transcend them in our race consciousness. Ending the need for endless replays of hurtful and destructive patterns and opening the pathway to higher and new ways of engaging with each other, with animals, plants, and our beloved mother planet.

I see the opportunity for us as a collective to learn and evolve past fragility and learn to live with sensitivity and tenderness instead. Deeply empowered by the gifts of tenderness and enriched by the dimensions of life, joy and fulfillment it unlocks for us.

This is the dream, hope, and vision I hold at my core.

Art “Neuroses in Blossom” by Shikeith Cathey 
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