I was a hard edged, super defensive teenager. I’m sure a lot of people in town (including my family) were afraid of my moodiness. I was quick to attack, an automated defense to protect my unknowingly fragile sense of self.

The phrase, “I don’t know,” wasn’t part of my vocabulary until, in my early twenties, I discovered that I had a gigantic ego—thanks, Eckhart Tolle. My mind made up some thick, combative identity that made it very difficult to challenge my own beliefs about myself.

It was easier for me to believe I had all the answers and everyone else around me was doing it wrong, than it was for me to face the truth that I was incredibly insecure, terrified of judgment, lonely, and completely lost. 

Breathwork did the heavy lifting to get me to a place where I could soften into the truth about myself, but it took me years of deep emotional excavation to be able to cry in gratitude, speak my truth in humility, and bravely encounter the shameful truths that continue to emerge from my shadow.

I’m now able to own the fact that I don’t have all the answers (and I’m not really interested in them) and that I have some solid wisdom from the healing I’ve done.

Breathwork is shadow work, and shadow work, if you are unfamiliar, is the work of facing the parts of ourselves that we can’t see. Given that we can’t see it, you might be wondering how we could face it. Fortunately, we have some tools and some signs.

During a Breathwork session the mind begins to slow down enough for us to feel our pain and see the truth. These sessions allowed me to see that I was carrying around a lot of shame, grief, and anger. The more I practiced, the more I moved through the resistance keeping me locked into unhealthy ways of being.

Breathwork gave me a way to see the truth, take responsibility for my pain, and heal myself.

Our emotions are the signposts to our shadow. When I find myself feeling defensive, judged, or if I’m blaming others, I know I have shadow work to do.

Many of us tend to swing between shame and blame. We burrow deep down into self-destruction until we connect to our anger and explode out into the world. We either hold our pain super close or we try to throw it onto someone else.

The only way to end our pain is to take responsibility for it.

Anything you are unwilling to take responsibility for will continue to live in your shadow. That means even if you were victimized, the pain of your experience is now yours to heal. It doesn’t mean it was fair, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to feel all of the feelings that come with those traumas.

Taking responsibility for your pain means that you recognize that no one else is capable of healing yourself other than you. Breathwork turns the volume of the mind down so you can see the beliefs you’re holding on to that are keeping the pain lodged in your body. As the mind slows down you can begin to feel the suppressed emotion in the body and release it.

Even if I get clear that a belief about myself came in because my Dad didn’t give me something I needed, I don’t blame my Dad. However it happened, the pain has become a part of me, and now it’s my responsibility to heal.

Holding onto blaming other people has left me feeling incredibly disempowered. I have been in relationships were I have blamed the other person for being wrong or doing it wrong instead of looking at my own pain. If I faced the truth, I would have seen that I believed them not changing meant that I wasn’t worth it.

It’s my choice to hold on to that belief or not. It’s not up to anyone else to change themselves to make me happy.

There are some big topics that show me how deeply we want to hold on to our pain, and they include mental illness & medication, racism, gender equality & fluidity, and colonialism. When people speak about these topics in a way that disrupts the status quo, I notice a big push back.

In my writing, when I speak about my choice not to medicate or my feeling that we are overmedicating as a society, I immediately get feedback from people defending their right to medicate and telling me that I should be careful about the way I speak about mental health.

White people commenting “Not all white people,” when people of color express their painful experiences of racism and the hashtag #NotAllMen are examples of our desire to protect our pain.

It’s painful to see the ways we are contributing to other people’s pain, especially when it doesn’t fit our identity, and it’s difficult to bear witness to pain when we haven’t done so for ourselves.

These are things I have struggled with myself, and I will be getting into in more depth in future articles, but my point here is that it all points to the shadow.

When we feel shame or guilt about something we often feel pulled to use our voices to defend ourselves. The shame and guilt is your trail of breadcrumbs to what is unhealed with you. The defensiveness is an avoidance tactic.

It is not easy to take responsibility for your pain, but it is absolutely necessary for our individual and collective healing. @michelledavella (Click to Tweet!)

If you’re interested in participating in the healing process, in your daily life begin to pay close attention to when you feel your body responding with anxiety. When you are getting defensive or angry, take the time to work on yourself before engaging with other people when it hasn’t been invited.

Many of us tend to be very reactionary and even entitled. We believe we have a right to say what we want to say when we want to say it. Yes, first amendment rights and it will do all of us some good to be patient before we speak.

You can ask yourself one or more of the following questions if you feel emotionally charged around a particular topic being spoken about:

Where am I coming from: my pain or my soul?
Am I adding to this conversation or am I centering my pain?
Is this a conversation or am I asserting my opinion?
What is this really about for me?
Am I taking responsibility for my own pain?

*Originally published on pushingbeauty.com.

Michelle D’Avella is a Self-Care Coach, guiding people through the challenging moments of life. She teaches Breathwork and uses this powerful tool to help people heal, accept themselves, and ultimately live happier lives. Learn more about Michelle and her work at pushingbeauty.com and follow her on Instagram for daily doses of inspiration. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.


Image courtesy of Larm Rmah.