I’ve been thinking a lot about my “Overcoming” post the past few days. Mainly regretting that I put it out there, because I feel vulnerable.
The truth is, I judge myself harshly for how I have responded to my more recent struggles. Mainly, I feel that I shouldn’t struggle at all. What happened to me is mild in comparison to the myriad tragedies that could have happened. I know so many people who have or who are dealing with more dire circumstances. We all know someone who “has it worse” than us, right? Even if we don’t know them in-person, we’ve heard the story of the baby in the NICU, the young mother diagnosed with cancer, the town ravaged by natural disaster.
That is why I usually don’t allow myself to cry. I stuff down my feelings. I invalidate them, saying to myself, What’s your problem? There are people dealing with so much more than you right now. Suck it up. I compare myself to others and I feel guilty for not simply being thankful for all my blessings.
It feels virtuous to ignore your own pain and instead focus on those who “have it worse.” But is it truly based in humility and kindness for others? Or is it because you don’t love yourself enough?
If you saw a dear friend who was weary and hurting, would you say to her the things you say to yourself? Stop it! Your problems aren’t that big a deal. So many people are worse off than you. Get over it.
Would you make her feel ashamed? Or would you offer her a hug? Would you sit and listen to her when she needed to talk?
The truth is I’m not a good friend to myself. I didn’t want to enter into my own scrambled-up emotions. I told myself to be grateful as a way to dismiss how I truly felt. I redirected to gratitude as a way to shame and silence myself.
I need to stop viewing my emotions as shameful, troublesome weakness. Because what happens, in reality, if you don’t allow yourself to feel the troublesome emotions, is that you stop being able to feel positive emotions. There aren’t independent volume knobs for each kind of emotion you can feel, there is one. You can turn down the volume on your emotions to try to silence the bad and simultaneously muffle the good. Or you can turn up the volume and welcome the intensity, knowing that you might cry from pain, but you are also more likely to cry from joy.
I turned down my volume knob because I was afraid of being vulnerable. I didn’t want anyone to overhear what was on my heart.
I watched a couple TED talks on this subject by Brene Brown this week (video below). Her talk about vulnerability was the first one, in which she shares that vulnerability is the key to whole-hearted living. In her second talk, about shame, she expands and points to shame as the thing that keeps us from vulnerability and separates us from each other. My shame tells me that I’m a bad person for struggling, and for sharing that struggle with others. It tells me that I will either be a burden to others, or they will simply reject me. My shame tells me that if I’m not perfect, I don’t deserve to be in community.
As Brown said in her talk, shame is a poison that leads to depression, addiction, violence, bullying, eating disorders and more. Examining our shame and moving past it is the key to courage, creativity, joy and deep relationships. So I am telling myself that it’s ok to admit that I’ve been angry at my body, frustrated with the challenges of the past couple years, and struggling to find my way back to health. As long as I am ignoring the parts of my life that are uncomfortable to look at or share, I am not being courageous. As long as I am hiding the ugly parts of my life, I’m missing an opportunity to connect with someone who might say “Me too.”
Being vulnerable is still scary, but being courageous is not acting without fear, it’s acting in spite of it. I’m finding my courage.