Women in the Wilderness: Wild Hearts

Wilderness has taken on many meanings in our culture. Wilderness as a location and environment, a wilderness of the mind, heart, soul, or a wilderness of society are some of the definitions given by many great minds, poets, and philosophers. Brene Brown has become a staple for the young ladies in my group at Outback. They affectionately refer to her a ‘Brenene’ (pronounced Bra Nay Nay), and often wonder if Brenene knows about our Wilderness… Most recently, I read Brene Brown’s newest book, “Braving the Wilderness.”  Following her other insightful books such as “The Gifts of Imperfection” and “Daring Greatly”, this new read opens the discussion of having the courage to be authentic  and be our true selves in a culture that would prefer us to ‘fit in’ and ‘stay quiet.’

Group of four girls in wilderness therapy looking over a mountain with a dog in the foreground

This is a theme that emerges every day in the female group at Outback. Nearly every young woman that joins our group comes in with a story of sexual harassment or assault. Many struggle with self-harm, lack of self-worth, and feeling true belonging. It is not lost on us the pressures that teenage girls face these days; to look a certain way, keep up with all the latest trends, and have a recognizable identity that ‘fits in’ with their social circles. This pressure is overwhelming and often debilitating, not to mention creating a great amount of anxiety and depression to compound matters. Much of the work these ladies do in the Wilderness is very challenging, builds self-worth, and often allows us to take our power back. This happens each day on a mountain peak hike, a thoughtful gathering in sharing vulnerable feelings with one another, and finding our identity in new ways that are surprising. I see this in each student in the woods and each time I am blown away by the process. It is beautiful. It can also be overwhelming and terrifying. This is often because, for many of these girls, their wilderness in life includes their experience with sexual assault/harassment or believing the message that their worth is solely connected to their appearance, politeness, and ability to ‘fit in.’ These messages are re-evaluated with every new experience in theGirl with pack and hiking stick in the wilderness at Outback therapeutic expeditions backcountry. Every struggle to hike up a mountain, sweating, crying, feeling love and support from their peers creates a safe and strong foundation to rebuild their belief in themselves. Power emerges, hope and courage come screaming from their souls. There is a magical bond that occurs in this wilderness that empowers these ladies beyond what the best made therapeutic plans could hope for. True belonging occurs.

Brene states, “True Belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

This process is so important, and the message to really believe that we are worthy creatures and do have a voice is imperative. Taking our power back while in our wilderness is not about fitting in but in truly belonging… to ourselves. Knowing that we are enough as we are and being able to speak out when others do not see or respect our worthiness.

Brene Brown ends her new book with:

“There will be times when standing alone feels too hard, too scary, and we’ll doubt our ability to make our way through the uncertainty. Someone, somewhere will say, ‘Don’t do it. You don’t have what it takes to survive the wilderness.’ This is when you reach deep into your wild heart and remind yourself, ‘I AM the wilderness.”

Kendra Van Abbema,  CSW, MS
Primary Girl’s Therapist


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