How to Wear Your Heart on Your Sleeve

Wear your heart on your sleeve

Each month Body Comes to Mind hosts the Embodiment Lab (EL) where we explore topics that impact our personal resilience and wellbeing. These live, interactive sessions supplement our online courses . They provide a training ground for anyone interested in transforming react-ability into response-ability through the powerful tool of embodied awareness.

Following is an outline of what we experienced during the lab, including paraphrased quotes from participants.

Authenticity: The daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are.

Wear your Heart on Your Sleeve

Where do you wear your heart? Out in the open as an easy tell for how you’re feeling or what you’re thinking? Or more of the opposite, tucked away, only to come out on special occasions?

To “wear your heart on your sleeve” implies that you express your emotions without hesitation, let it all hang out and, in doing so, you expose yourself. The general consensus is that exposure equals vulnerability and vulnerability equals risk: the risk of that information being used against you later, undermining your self-worth. And so we limit ourselves.

Being vulnerable is scary. Other people have opinions about how you feel, what you think, or even the validity of your emotions. You might be considered odd, naive, ignorant . . . And in certain situations there are repercussions for presenting your “real” self.”

On the flip side, always saying what you’re thinking and feeling without considering the effect it might have on others can be equally as limiting. When you engage without any filters you are likely not taking others’ feelings or status into consideration and can leave an aftermath of regret.

“When I ‘overshare,’ I end up feeling guilty. It makes me tense and uncomfortable, left with a kind of tightness in my gut; an achy feeling around my chest and shoulders.”

Hiding your genuine self — whether you imprison your heart, not sharing your desires and insecurities, joys and sorrows, or overshare without regulation — shuts down your liveliness. It compromises rewarding connection with others, and reduces both creativity and overall performance. By not making the brave move to share our true selves, we maintain the status quo. This may provide us with a degree of stability, but limits self growth and the opportunity for others to grow as well, whether that “other” is an individual or an organization.

How do you share ‘you’ with your patients, colleagues, partner, family or friends? How can you wear your heart on your sleeve in such a way that you are able to withstand the potential negative effects while also being open to connection?

Having Your Heart on Your Hand

That’s the Polish translation of ‘wearing your heart on your sleeve’. The connotation is positive and refers to people that like to help, are honest, open and have sincere intentions.

The question is, how would you like to wear your heart?

We all have a sense for it. Heaps of evidence (see references for a few) demonstrates that genuine connection benefits ourselves and others. In order to create that, the heart needs to be on board. Expressing yourself honestly and consistently being true to yourself has a positive impact on your well-being. It increases your resilience. And allowing your heart to be touched, especially when you’re in a position of caring for others, has a great impact on the quality of the connections you build. And by bringing your unique perspective and experience to the situation you develop relationships that help you thrive, both personally and professionally.

It is important to clarify that being vulnerable and transparent is not the same as being emotional, offloading your troubles, or sharing specifics about your life. It’s about showing yourself as a person, not as a specific ‘role’. We can relate to others in the context of the generalities that connect us, our life experiences. When you uncover the ‘you’ in your role, connection and compassion reveal themselves.

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Your Heart's Desire

But it can be quite a challenge to wear your heart on your sleeve in a centered and aligned way. What do you have to overcome to be able to do that? How can you express yourself in a way that doesn’t turn out overly “emotional” and overload the other person? Engaging embodied awareness gives you access to a support system you may not have realized you have. It gives you what you need when you need to comfortably reach beyond your comfort zone and try new things. To wear your heart on your sleeve you need balance. Where do you find the resources to do that? You can start engaging your awareness by sensing what it might feel like to “have your heart in your hand,” as the Polish would say, presenting your real self to the world. Get a good feel for that space by sensing into your system.
  • How do your muscles feel?
  • Where do you feel more open? Where closed?
  • What facial expression do you have, what is your breathing like?
  • What direction are you thoughts taking?
Maybe you notice feeling more stable, powerful or more gentle? Perhaps more present. Was there a sense of playfulness present? Joy?

“It felt like a place where I want to be more. It was less heavy and I felt like I didn’t have to protect myself so much.”

Your Heart Confined

Working with contrasting situations helps you to identify what is changing in yourself, making it easier to feel how you can make changes in how you compose yourself. So now that you’ve become aware of how you could wear your heart, switch to a scenario where the environment doesn’t allow you to wear your heart out. Imagine yourself in this place and then notice what is happening within:

  • How have your thoughts been affected? Your breath, your body temperature?
  • What is your facial expression?
  • What kind of emotions are you experiencing?
  • How is your heart reacting?
Do you notice a difference between what it feels like in your system when your heart is free to express itself and when it is shut down? Your heart might shrink or tighten. Your visual field might narrow, your forehead crinkle, or your posture contract. When you confine your heart, it generally responds in kind. It constricts the life energy running through you. And with that your joyfulness and lightness.

“It felt like my heart was in a cage. It shrank, tightened, contracted. I was sitting in a corner and made myself small.”

And when the environment doesn’t support an open heart, we end up hiding, protecting ourselves. You might create surface only connections, not speak up when you need to, or say things without thinking beforehand. Your connections are negatively impacted and so is your energy budget. It can wear you out in the long run.

How to Support Your Hearts Desire

Knowing the difference in your system between a “positive” heart experience and a “negative” one, it becomes easier to recognize when you are in the midst of those experiences. Once you’re familiar with the signals, a window of choice opens so that you can make a shift if you would like to.

You might need additional support to make that shift. Opening your heart when the environment doesn’t support it is a brave move. How do you gather the courage you need to take the next step?

Try this practice. 

Get a strong sense of your “best” heart space and then:

  • Place your awareness behind you, the area that might represent what has come before you, your lineage. How does that change your heart space?
  • Then place your awareness to the sides of you, sensing your width. Flowing to your left and right could symbolize your social connections, the present. When you place your awareness here, how does that change things?
  • Next place your awareness in front of you, which often stands for what lies ahead, your future. Do you notice anything different?
  • Lastly, sense a flow of energy channeling from behind you, through you, and into the space before you. What do you notice?

The idea here is to get a feeling for what best supports you in your intention to wear your heart as you wish, to support your heart’s desire. In our recent Embodiment Lab we explored this exercise. One participant’s experience was unmistakable:

“This was quite clear! The strongest place for me was at my back. I had the sense of generations of wisdom at my back telling me how proud they are about what I’m accomplishing in my life, saying they wish they could have been as brave. They are cheering me on!”

Don’t we all want a source of inner strength to support our best intentions? The strength of embodied awareness is surprising. And when you’re participating in a group setting as we do in the monthly Embodiment Labs, most participants find they can easily sense the information that their nervous system is providing. Beautifully, each experience is custom-fit. There is no wrong or right, no always or never. Developing a robust embodied awareness provides you with a solid tool you can use to alter your habitual tendencies, changing your reactions into a response. When you are able to do that, you also serve as a model for others. They see the benefit of establishing genuine connection and they want to do the same.

Wearing Your Heart Out

When you’re wearing your heart on your sleeve in an aligned, supported, and balanced way, your life energy flows. You’re able to share openly and compassionately. Research confirms that when we do that, it benefits ourselves and others.

Despite the benefits, many settings do not support authentic connection — one that can be truthful, joyful and vulnerable — without fear of repercussion or chastisement. It takes courage to wear your heart out.

The goal of this Embodied Exploration™ is to leave with an understanding of how you typically ‘wear’ your heart, to experience what it feels like to wear it in the way that you’d like to, and then to discover a way to tap into support that will help you get there. The outcome is a skill that you can use when you need it!

You can call on your embodied support system when you need it to foster authentic connection, to practice wearing your heart the way you want to, to have the freedom to choose. As your awareness increases, you might find you less often abandon your sense of self in pressured settings. And you might engage with others in a more ‘listening’ way, enhancing your sensitivity to others’ needs and your ability to relate to what they are going through.

When you open your heart, you open your mind.

How will you start practicing wearing your heart on your sleeve?

Join the next Embodiment Lab

Interested in learning more about how Embodied Exploration™ might help you in a very practical, concrete way? Connect with us!

Get guidance with your first steps toward embodied awareness and join us for next month’s Embodiment Lab. Every 3rd Thursday of the month a new theme.

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