The Boxes We Paint Ourselves Into
“Here’s what is truly at the heart of Wholeheartedness: Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”
— Brené Brown
After I left my long-held career path, I was trying to figure out where I was heading. And at that time, I had no clue. Given I had been working for 30 years already, I had the luxury of not needing to go back to work right away.
I grew up watching Bob Ross. I would sit and watch his program for hours and even bought his Joy of Painting kit when I was a kid. But back then, I wasn’t serious about painting since I was a kid and sports held a more significant meaning. However, the memory and enjoyment of the activity never left me. So I started painting.
For me, painting was a way to begin healing. From depression, anxiety, from life. Similar to the same impact writing has had on me, it let me get lost and took my mind off of everything I felt was wrong in my life. Instead of putting the thoughts in my mind onto the screen as I do now, it went onto the canvas. The canvas was my journal, and the paint holds a lot of my pain.
I began with fluid art (acrylic pouring). It was fun to do, didn’t take a steep learning curve, and it was something I could do with my kids. We even went to the local farmer’s market to sell the paintings we made. While we came up empty, the experience with my kids was one I won’t forget.
From there, I started painting abstract. I would sit and watch YouTube videos of some of my favorite painters and try to emulate their techniques. I would spend hours upon hours painting, trying to figure out what worked best and what I liked to paint. I experimented with all types of brushes, size of canvas, paints, and tools. It was cathartic.
The problem was I didn’t branch out too far beyond abstract and thought that was all I could paint. I believed I wasn’t talented enough to paint anything else like portraits or scenes. So I didn’t try. I painted myself into a box because of my self-limiting beliefs and believing I wasn’t good enough.
“You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you can’t have both.”
— Brené Brown
I still go to therapy because it’s something I need. I believe it’s something that can benefit everyone. And my therapist reminded me of how I am continuing to paint myself into these little boxes in every other part of my life. Especially in relationships. I don’t remember the exact phrasing, but she said something like “if you tell yourself something often enough, it becomes your truth.”
In my case, it seems I keep telling myself that I’m not enough. I’m not worthy. I’m unlovable. I keep confining myself to these little boxes and it keeps me trapped in the same thought pattern, and in the same cycles which are unhealthy. Maybe I do it because it’s comfortable there. This little box I’ve painted myself into keeps me safe, it keeps me from being vulnerable, and it mostly keeps me from getting too hurt.
It’s easier to live inside a box I’ve created while keeping everyone out than to live in one where others come in and see how tattered the insides of my box are.
I know a lot of you confine yourself to these little boxes too. Your insides are tattered like mine. And whether you and I do it because of past trauma or whatever makes us believe we aren’t enough or aren’t worthy, we don’t have to remain there. We can break out of these boxes.
But we need to understand we are worthy. We are enough. We are lovable. And it begins with what Brené Brown calls Wholehearted Living.
“Wholehearted living is about engaging with our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.’ It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.” —Brené Brown
The problem is many of us don’t know how to develop worthiness. When we believe we are unworthy, it’s hard to change that feeling especially if it’s something we’ve held onto for a long time.
In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, Brené Brown’s research showed there are 3 tools for creating worthiness.
Practicing Courage — Per Dr. Brown, “Wholeheartedness requires ordinary courage.” “…I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage.”…“Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line.”
Practicing Compassion — In Dr. Brown’s book, she quotes Pema Chödrön from The Places That Scare You: “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.” Compassion also includes setting boundaries (something I have trouble with) — “The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassion we become.” “…if we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior.”
Practicing Connection — Dr. Brown defines connection as “the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationships.” This also includes being able to rely on others when we need them as well as lending a hand to those in need.
To be imperfect is normal. To be afraid of vulnerability is normal. Being courageous is difficult and having compassion for oneself, especially if you’ve never practiced it before, is even harder.
But feeling unworthy is a tragedy.
I should know. I felt that way for years. I painted myself into a box and it’s been hard for me to get out. Sometimes I believe I’ve broken out only to find another wall not far ahead. But each wall broken means I’m expanding my box. I’m growing. I’m realizing I am enough.
And each time you practice courage, compassion, and connection, you are growing too. These are the gifts of imperfection. They are how we don’t let these definitions we give ourselves control us. The opposite of these gifts— “feeling fearful, judgmental, and alone” — will keep us feeling unworthy. They will keep us in our boxes we’ve painted ourselves into.
Yet, no matter what ends up on the canvas or how tattered our walls are, we must know we matter. Our story matters.
I’m imperfect. So are you.
But we are lovable. We are worthy. We are enough.
Disclosure: The links to the books above are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will make a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
And here are a few of my favorite paintings: