Lean In

Lean in.
When people pull away
Lean in.
When you feel they are mad
Lean in.
When you want to sulk
Lean in.
When you want to run
Lean in.
When someone says something hurtful
Lean in.
When you feel criticized
Lean in.
When you want to disengage and turn the other way in bed
Lean in.


Lean in has become a popular phrase these days. It seems to resemble face your fears or stay present. It is a slogan symbolizing woman’s strength, solidarity and sisterhood (See leanin.org and Sandberg’s book). Perhaps it is all these things and more. Lean in has become a motto for me recently when I have faced work and life challenges.  Leaning in, for me, means becoming compassionately engaged and is only possible when I am in Self.

According to the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model: being in Self is the state we experience when we are at ease, curious, compassionate, and willing to engage without fear, self-consciousness, or worry.  Being in Self is our natural state of being when we are not taken over by our parts/emotions/sub personalities/etc.  We can accomplish this when we notice parts of us that are reactive and we nurture them.  They tend to relax so we can lean in and be present in the moment – in Self – with our partner, our colleague, our family, or anyone else (and with yourself of course).

Recently, I was sure someone was mad at me and my protective parts wanted to disengage, be alone, and perhaps send the message “if you are mad at me, I’m mad at you!” said a younger part of me. I took a deep breathe and asked those parts to pause.  I saw that familiar infant wanting love and only love. I held it and it softened. My protective parts relaxed.

Once I felt the familiar sense of Self, I became curious about the person that was “mad at me” and felt a desire to offer help, if welcomed. I reentered the room, and I leaned in. I was open to hear “what I did wrong” (wait, that was a part that worried about that).  I breathed more. Then as I centered myself again, I must have made way for a safe space.  The story unfolded. She told me what she was really feeling, and I learned it really had nothing to do with me. My parts were amazed! I deeply felt the value of leaning in.

It seems that as we face tough interactions many of us tend to disengage or react with defensive routines.  Leaning in may feel like a risk, but if we really believe that we are all connected and that ultimately finding ways to work together is better for us all in the end, I recommend leaning in the next time you find yourself in a tough situation.  Identify the parts of you that are reacting, acknowledge them, help them find some ease, and notice your self energy increasing.  Then, lean in.  Seek connection and understanding.  I predict something wonderful and perhaps unexpected will happen.

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