By Lisa Dion, LPC, RPT-S

“Lead with your heart” is what I heard myself whisper to my daughter Avery, who lay curled up in my arms with tears pouring down her face.

A few weeks ago I could tell that Avery was out of sorts and struggling to find her ground. In one breath she wanted me close and in the next she wanted me far away. I sensed her desire for closeness, but I could tell that she was afraid to feel whatever she was feeling so she kept me at arm’s reach. She must have intuited that with me close that she would somehow lose her ability to maintain control and keep her emotions compartmentalized. I decided to approach anyway, knowing that once she connected with whatever it was that she was experiencing that she would find her center.

I went looking for her and I found her tucked away in a corner. Seeing her there, I tried to scoop her up. She resisted and tried to push me away. I scooped her up anyway and began to rock her.

“Love, what is wrong?” I asked. “What is hurting inside?”

That was all that it took and out it came. I wasn’t prepared for what I heard.

“I am so sad. I am so lonely. I am scared,” she sobbed. She shared that her friendships were challenging her and that she was also scared to venture out and make new friends. She shared that she was so afraid of being rejected and feeling not wanted.

I was stunned by her words and without being able to stop them, tears welled up in my eyes. The tears welled up because I know her pain.

I know what it feels like to not be wanted. I know what it feels like to be rejected. I know what it feels like to not be chosen.  Avery was saying my own pain out loud, like a mirror for me to look straight into.

“What do I do?” she asked looking straight at me.

My first thought arising from my own hurts was “Close down, close your heart, don’t try again, you are right—it is too painful.”  But I saw her eyes. I saw her yearning for something more from me. Without knowing it, she was asking me to go beyond myself. She was asking me to tap into a greater wisdom inside of me and face my own fears.  She had tears streaming down her face searching for some truth in my eyes.

I searched for some truth inside me. I saw my own memories of being rejected and not wanted flash before my eyes. I saw my struggle of keeping my heart open and not trying again. I saw where I wanted to give up.  But I also saw my heart.

“Lead with your heart,” I whispered.

She looked straight at me. “What does that mean?”

Through my tears, I explained this to her. You have two choices as you walk through life. You can either lead with your hurts or lead with your heart. When you lead with your hurts, you close down. You live in fear. You stop taking chances. You begin to reject the world and the people in it. You build a wall to keep yourself protected—no one comes in and also, no one goes out.

Or you can lead with your heart, which means taking the risk of getting hurt so that you can grow. It means keeping your heart open so that you can feel ALL of life. It means growing and expanding and ultimately believing that no matter what happens, the universe has your back.

Sensing that there was something under the surface of what I was sharing she asked, “Mom, why are you sad?”

“Because you just reminded me that when I shut out one feeling, I shut out all of them. You reminded me that if I want to experience the fullness that life offers, I have to be willing to feel all of it, including rejection. I have to be willing to take chances, even when I am scared.”

Avery and I sat in silence holding each other, just feeling. In our sadness we allowed our own truths to surface. And then as if we both knew the answer to what we were both searching for, we placed a hand on each other’s hearts and whispered to each other, “Lead with your heart.”