To expose our wounds to people we care about – the icky stuff, the ego stuff, the personal growth edges we’re working on that we haven’t yet mastered – is super vulnerable. Letting others see our “big ugly tails” (hat tip to my dear friend Amy Ahlers, who has seen my big ugly tail and trusted me enough to let me see hers) tends to trigger all our core fears of rejection and abandonment, of withdrawal of love. But to bear witness to someone’s wound is a privilege and an opportunity to deepen the relationship beyond the idealistic views we might have of each other into the real truth of both our light and our shadows.

This doesn’t mean it’s anyone else’s job to baby our “owies.” But when we’ve exposed our vulnerable wounds to those we care about – and asked, but not expected them to tread gently around our wounds, we have a choice. We can poke needles into each other’s wounds – because now we know them and dang it, it’s their dark stuff to work on. Or we can choose to put salve on the wounds of those we love – not codependent salve that enables the wound, but more like a gentle touch with lavender oil to make something stinky smell a bit sweeter and to acknowledge the vulnerability and handle it gently.

Love Is Like A Jar Of Marbles

When we have been vulnerable enough to expose those wounds – and own them – and when we then ask those we love to be gentle with our wounds – and they choose to do so – it starts to feel like love. As Brené Brown writes about in her New York Times bestseller Daring Greatly, intimacy is like a jar of marbles. (I wrote about this analogy in more depth here).

The more we expose our vulnerabilities – and someone handles our sensitive spots gently, the more marbles we gather in the jar. Trust grows as the jar becomes more full of marbles. But when someone betrays that trust or chooses to stick needles in the wounds of our vulnerability, we lose marbles in the jar. If someone uses our vulnerability against us, we may feel like dumping out the whole jar of marbles. Over time, the strength of the relationship is based on how many marbles are in the jar.

(To listen in as Brené Brown and I dish on vulnerability and how it affects our health, sign up here to receive the recording of our FREE telejam.)

Big Ugly Tails

In a perfect world, we’d all be able to grow past our big ugly tails. But we’re destined to be human this go around, and our dark stuff ain’t going away. Part of what I love about my closest friends is that they’ve all done enough personal growth work that they’re mostly aware of their big ugly tails and are actively working on addressing them. It’s those who are blind to their big ugly tails who can be challenging to be in relationship with – and we must have compassion for those who are still blind.

But big ugly tails are so easy to judge – both in someone else and in ourselves. When someone else shines a light on our big ugly tails, we may be tempted to run the other direction because it can hurt to look at how blind we’ve been to our big ugly tails. If someone sends us the message that we have an unseen big ugly tail, we may be tempted to kill the messenger.

How Compassion For Our Big Ugly Tails Heals Us

The opposite is also true. If we illuminate a big ugly tail of someone else, we may be tempted to judge that person, to think less, to criticize, to demean, even to reject the person whose big ugly tail we’ve seen. But wouldn’t it be kinder if we treated them gently and with compassion?

When someone exposes his or her big ugly tail to you, or when you see your own, this calls for a big, beautiful dose of love, kindness, and abundant compassion.  Beating yourself up – or going on the attack with the person whose big ugly tail you’ve witnessed – only deepens the vulnerable wound and leads to fewer marbles in the jar. Instead, seeing big ugly tails – in others or in ourselves – is an opportunity to deepen trust and intimacy with others – and learn how to unconditionally love and accept ourselves, even those parts of ourselves that lead us to feel the poisonous emotion of shame, which not only poisons our minds – it poisons every cell in our bodies by signaling threat emotions in our amygdalas which, as I describe in Mind Over Medicine, deactivates self-repair mechanisms in our bodies.

If, instead of judging ourselves and others, we can find compassion for the ugly parts in ourselves and each other, we can start to feel more love and intimacy, and these emotions calm our amygdalas, activating the body’s self-repair mechanisms and optimizing the body’s ability to do what it does best – heal itself.

How Light Heals Our Big Ugly Tails

When your big ugly tails are illuminated, there’s nothing you have to do to “fix” them. Big ugly tails do the most damage when we’re blind to them, and they can inadvertently swat around and hurt people without our awareness. We may leave shrapnel in the wake of our big ugly tails, and once you realize this, you may feel even more motivated to hate your big ugly tail, rather than treat it with loving compassion.

But here’s the thing. Once we see our big ugly tails, they automatically start to shrink in the light.  Like spooky shadows that disappear when the floodlights flip on, our big ugly tails, once seen, start healing themselves, just like our bodies do when we feel loved and accepted, in spite of our darkness.

My Big Ugly Tail

I don’t think I’ve been gentle enough around other people’s vulnerable wounds – because my big ugly tail is that I have a tendency to get all self-righteous, to make myself “superior” to people once I’ve seen their big ugly tails. I make myself “right” and others “wrong” and then my ego (I call her Victoria Rochester) convinces me that I shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells around someone else’s stinky wound.

But sometimes walking on eggshells around someone’s raw wound is the perfect opportunity to practice compassion and to demonstrate love.

And that’s my stuff to work on. Maybe someone could put lavender oil on it for me, even if it’s just me being compassionate with this side of myself I’m not so proud of. At least the lights are on, and I’m no longer blind to how I created my own suffering for many years.

What’s Your Big Ugly Tail?

Has your big ugly tail been illuminated? And if so, are you being compassionate towards it? Are you kind when you see other peoples’ big ugly tails? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

P.S. You won’t want to miss Brené Brown and I in our FREE telejam talking about how embracing your imperfections, being authentic, and exposing your truth can optimize your health, your relationships, and your life. Sign up here to access the recording.

Illuminating my tail – and maybe yours – with love,

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  1. Cortney Budney

    That was beautiful Lissa. One of my big ugly tails is that I have always made others responsible for making me happy, and feel loved and worthy. I have spent the past year shedding light on this part of my tail to find it has been rapidly shrinking and I have been healing and able to love myself and make myself (or rather, let myself) be happy. Many of my big ugly tail aspects are around how I have always treated and seen myself….with so much shame my whole life (even as a child, due to lots of trauma). I lived in what I call a nightmare of the mind. But now I live in a fairytale where 90% of the time I am peaceful and happy, which is amazing. That being said, I need these beautiful reminders. After reading this raw and brave post, I am reminded of how I am still, in some ways, not being kind and gentle with the big ugly tails of those I most love. I let their words and actions offend me and “make” me feel bad, while judging them and blaming them. This takes away my power to be who I truly am regardless of the actions and words of others, and I am not being gentle with my loved ones when they need it most. I thank you so very much for this message! I just put a reminder for myself on my cork board “Be gentle and loving when people show you their ‘Big Ugly Tail.’ Shine light on it with gentle love and kindness.”

    Thank you again!

    Much love!

    Cortney Anne Budney

    • Laura Peel

      So can relate! Love, joy, and peace:)

  2. Michelle

    I recently started doing self-love work, after hitting a brick emotional wall in relationship. My big ugly tail is that I expect people to not stick around, keep their word, and that love won’t last. It came from my angry 16 year old reaction to my Dad’s accidental death…feeling abandoned and rejected, and like maybe it as my fault because I had wished him dead in my anger. Now that I’ve gotten that out of my subconscious and into the light, so much about my relationships makes sense, and I have learned how to be more gentle and forgiving with myself. I am better at being gentle with the big ugly tails of those close to me, realizing that they are human and doing the best the can, and how compassion and understanding goes a long way. I always thought being vulnerable was being weak. Now I understand the pure strength and courage in being vulnerable, and receiving the vulnerability of others, and marvel at the beauty it creates.

    • ADiening

      Beautiful. 🙂

  3. Laura Peel

    Oh my lands! I loved this. One of many and aware of is that it’s hard when I see others’ certain tails and then withdraw due to my intolerances, and fear of having to reveal their ugly tails to them. I’d rather place the blame on my ugly tails and slither away. I also beat myself up for not wanting to tolerate others’ certain big ugly tails. There are 3 intolerable to me; rudeness, shallowness, and self righteousness, all which I work hard at not reattaning and avoiding. Yet do I run to protect myself, the others, or just fear conflict? And am I possibly missing out on what could be great relationships by just walking away? I do have compassion and pity for them, keeping me around this far, which only turns into resentment. Which I just realized while writing this comment, is not doing them or myself any favors. Wow. And now I am blabbing on and on…sorry. This blog is helping me rethink my thoughts on big ugly tails attached to all humans:)

  4. Matt Klein

    I’ve always felt a strong compulsion to hide my big ugly tails,
    even though in retrospect it is pretty clear that I wasn’t fooling anyone but
    myself by thinking I could hide them, particularly from the people I’m close
    to. Abandoning this desire to hide my big ugly tails remains a growth edge for
    me, but to the extent that I am bringing my big ugly tails into the light I am
    experiencing a great sense of catharsis and of freedom. Sharing and opening up with my loved ones is not leading to rejection but to compassion and support, and all of the effort I put into being closed off is now being put into loving myself. For me, in the light, my big ugly tail losses much of its power to harm me.


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