Exploring Ourselves: Assertiveness and Vulnerability / by Sam Abelow

"The Savage Man Within Me," Oil paint on 16x24 canvas

"The Fragile Girl Within Me," Oil paint on 16x24 canvas

Featured above are two paintings which illustrate disparate moods I’ve experienced: That of fragility and aggression. Both of these so-called “sub-personalities” represented in these paintings are undeveloped, or raw in their characteristics. Fragility is an immature emotion, which can grow into vulnerability. This is because the former cannot cope and the latter is strong within a sensitivity. Aggression is an undeveloped form of assertiveness. The instinct for self-defense and action can be utilized in a meaningful and purposeful way.

The Savage Man: Understanding Aggression

For many of us who hope to remain civilized, aggressive energies can seem unruly and terrifying. For various reasons, including being highly sensitive, I’ve had a sort of emotional allergy to anger and confrontation. I’ve had to recognize that the primal energy of aggression is very natural and can be accessed consciously in a positive way.

I think of aggression as necessary for self-defense. This can be literal, as in acting swiftly and strongly when the body is in danger. It can also be more figurative, as in cases when we are mistreated or disrespected and must stand up for ourselves.

When anger is not understood in this way, it is often repressed. When anger is not felt at all, this can lead to being overly passive, agreeable. We often say of people who have no access to their aggressive energy: “They have no backbone.” It’s not only an unattractive feature, but an impractical one. The energies of aggression must be unitized by each of us in order to assert our place in this world. It’s a necessity of being human.

The other way anger is repressed, is that it’s stifled down and then bursts out later. A common example would be the person who feels disrespected by their boss and then takes it out on their spouse in the evening. If we don’t consciously understand our anger, it comes out in unhelpful ways.

For me, aggressive energies have been somewhat foreign. I tend more towards lofty philosophies and easily indulge in the peacefulness of a slow Yoga class. That is why I painted this Savage man; I wanted to animate this aspect of my personality.

It is not that the primal aggression is gendered in any way. Both sexes — women, men and everyone in-between — can exemplify such energies. But the archetype of the Savage often does appear as a male, as in the primal masculine.

The Fragile Girl

I have represented my own fragility with a nude woman. This is not because these elements of the personality are gendered. Instead it is that the masculine and feminine are within each of us, regardless of our biological sex. This is outlined best by Carl Jung’s concept of the Anima and Animus.

As I said mentioned earlier, fragility is a precursor to an integrated vulnerability. Since fragility is painful and unregulated, the outside world comes in and damages us. Within fragility we feel unable, unworthy. Vulnerability is a developed form fragility because it allows others to witness our weakness, but is self-assured despite any prodding.

I wrote a poem which explores fragility:


The Fragile Girl in Me

March 13, 2017

Sam Abelow


Sunken into myself,

Because I was injured by fate,

Deposed by my neglects,

When suffering at my own expense.


Like melting stars

In the eyes of a first-time drunk,

A transcendent pain lingers,

It falls but never touches earth.


Weakness is the friend of Grief;

Those two I know well,

And I have few friends at all.


Hardship can be self-fulfilling,

Since we see through the lens

Of our own limited history.



I once held a tangerine,

Then I held a plum;

Those were lush and free,

Round and sweet,

Just as a child can be.


But, I also had a thorn in my foot,

And a soreness in a tooth.


So without food I would go,

And without destination I would sit.


Vulnerability can be a sin,

Or it can be a gift.

It matters where it is directed,

In which department it sits.


Fragility to the world at large

Is a perfectly constructed cage.

Well equipped is the constraint

But never the sufferer.


The answer is an inner strength,

That rests, dormant,

On a shelf in that very room.


Above floats a mirror,

Which is round, dark,

Yet sparkling.


The child, in this case, must look up

Before noticing what is below.


By focusing on the disk, a reflection of the subterranean eventually appears.

An angel with broken wings eases our prisoner downwards, slowly, gradually, safely.


Once below, the cage melts slightly, and upon return can be bent.

And so the child learns to use his hands, arms and back.



And so wholeness is the friend of many;

It is complete in its multitudes.

Sorrow is the sibling of bliss;

One that calls often,

To talk about their day.


Anger is the cousin of a sensitive heart,

Because they are removed,

Yet part of a larger family tree.


But pain can be avoided to some extend,

Because it implies a subjective belief.

That is, it is the parent of needless despair,

Incoherent thought and patterns of insufficient care.



So, all in all, most children, marked by the angst of spoiled fate —

Not to be confused with an utterly deprived, combustible outcome —

Never climb back up the waterfall of time to take another pass.

They remain stuck where they left off,

In the fluttering currents of heavy waters.


Some, few among many in this category,

Review the status of the friends, family,

Fruits, feet and hands, seeking darkened mirrors,

And hallow grounds.


They become like the triumphant gods of antiquity.

And yet, they become nobodies.

Incognito, but not alone. Never alone.

They become married to their fate,

Wedded with the place that used to be a lack.