vulnerability

Bring BRAVING to Your Relationships

One of the biggest struggles in navigating through relationships is building and sustaining trust.  Being able to fully trust another person involves vulnerability and accountability – two components that can elicit feelings of fear and dread in even the strongest of people.  I was recently re-introduced to one of Brené Brown’s concepts called BRAVING and responded to it as if it were the first time that I’d been exposed to her teachings. I recognized that I had feelings of fear, disappointment, regret, and anxiety in hearing this concept again.  Not that these feelings were rooted in concern that I had done anything wrong or that anyone else had done me wrong, rather I allowed myself to hear her reinforce the importance of trust within a relationship. I don’t know about you, but I find it very easy to allow myself to wear the ‘victim hat’ and focus on how someone else has broken my trust.  If I haven’t clearly established my ‘BRAVING’ components though, how can I hold anyone else accountable for theirs? The answer is that I can’t; I can only hold myself accountable for something that I didn’t take the time to establish at the beginning of the relationship, and take steps to embrace BRAVING in the present.

Brené breaks down BRAVING as such:

BBoundaries - establishing clear boundaries for yourself and for your relationship.  Are your limits respected within the relationship? Are you respecting the other person’s limits?

RReliability - is the other person there for you you when they said they would be?  Are you there for others when you said you would be?

AAccountability - are others accountable for their mistakes and misgivings?  Do you hold yourself accountable for yours?

VVault - are others able to hold things that you’ve shared with them in complete confidence?  Are you able to do the same?

IIntegrity - do the actions of others match their words?  What about for yourself?

NNon-Judgement - is there an air of compassion and non-judgment when engaging with others?  Are you able to listen to others without quickly jumping to judgement?

GGenerosity - does the other person assume the best about your words, actions, and feelings? Are you able to do the same for the other person?

If the answer is ‘yes’ to all of the above, grab a hold of that person tightly and don’t let that relationship go!!  All joking aside, if you genuinely can answer yes to all of those components, the trust between you and the other person is steadfast.  If, though, like most of us, you struggled in saying yes or found yourself confidently saying no, there is a path forward and this is where the work begins. As with any human connection, there is always hope for change. The first step in creating any sort of change is in identifying the problem, so congratulations! You’re halfway there!

Re-read through the BRAVING components (Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-Judgement, and Generosity) and parse out the pieces that don’t feel strong.  Ask yourself what may be going on that’s causing some shakiness for you.  Are there ‘yucky’ things from the past that are coming up within your current relationship or is the ‘yuck’ being born out of the relationship itself?  Stop and ask yourself - “what is it that I need?” Your answer will be the doorway into your repair.

It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

Photo by  Aliyah Jamous  on  Unsplash

Life can be hard, stressful, painful, and just downright unfair sometimes.  We all have so many pressures and expectations placed upon us as well as our own hopes and desires to be happy.  As we’ve all experienced, our day to day routines don’t always end in happiness and sometimes we just hurt.  Somehow, though, we’ve learned that we can’t show these signs of sadness and pain for fear of being seen as weak or dramatic.  So we add to our armor and spruce up our mask – getting our battle shields ready to protect us from further hurt while continuing to bury down our ‘yuck’ feelings. Why? Well because this is what we’ve learned, and this is what has been taught to us. I’d like to tell you all a different story and one that you may think odd coming from a therapist - sometimes it’s okay not to be okay.

Why do we work so darn hard to make sure that no one else knows that we’re hurting? What is it that we’re so afraid of? Vulnerability – the one magical word that can strike fear into the strongest of people.  When we take down our veil, we open our hearts to potential disapproval, dismissal, and invalidation. For some, it only takes one experience of this for them to tell themselves that vulnerability is unsafe and therefore, guards must always be up to protect them from the pain and ‘yuck.’  Others learn from society – men who show emotion are weak and women who cry are hysterical (not the funny kind). So the shields go up and the masks become fixed to our faces. We brace ourselves for the day and begin our inner monologue: “no one’s going to see how I’m feeling today so I’m safe.”  All the while, our hidden feelings and emotions pile up inside, eating away at our happiness and sense of self-appreciation. The days become weeks which turn into months which turn into years, all the while we sing the same song to ourselves - “Put On a Happy Face.” Of course the gray skies are gonna clear up, but they don’t stay clear forever.  

Boy that’s a downer, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, my purpose in writing this isn’t to put you all in a funk and pour salt into your wounds. I’m trying to highlight something that we all do and the cycle that we all get ourselves into. We wake up, start our day, put on our mask, and hope that nothing bad happens. When that something bad does happen we either react to it or we bury it down deep, adding it to the already immense pile of ‘yuck.’ Rarely, though, do we allow ourselves to embrace those icky feelings and authentically share with others that we’re not okay. What would it be like for you if you were to share those feelings and tell someone, “hey, that really hurt my feelings”? Pretty terrifying, huh? Do you think that this might change your cycle? Perhaps that one act of vulnerability could decrease the amount of armor that you put on and release some of that ‘yuck’ that is stored up inside.

Maybe sharing your feelings with others seems too scary right now.  I can appreciate that. What would it be like if you shared your feelings with someone who is less scary? What about that person that stares back at you in the bathroom mirror? I’ve written in previous blogs about my love of journaling. Now when I talk about writing in a journal, I’m not referring to that fluffy pink journal with the gold lock in which we write about our latest crush or the hottest song that’s on the radio. I’m talking about an outlet in which you write down whatever is on your mind – your innermost thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sources of anxiety/depression. This is a place where you can ‘dump your yuck’.  A place to get those feelings down on the page and remove them from your body.

One of the beautiful things about therapy is that we have an opportunity to ‘dump’ all of this hard stuff in the therapy office so that we can feel lighter and release the heaviness of our yuck. Journaling provides the same opportunity. Although a journal isn’t able to provide verbal feedback or validation of your feelings, it is able to capture the weight of your thoughts and trap them within the pages of your journal. This type of journaling isn’t meant to serve as a historical record in which you go back after a few months and re-read what you’ve written to reminisce about the memories captured. It’s a place to release the heaviness in your head and your heart. Once inside, the thoughts, feelings, and experiences are to be closed in and barricaded by the covers of the journal. It’s not necessary to go back and re-read previous passages, because you might run the risk of re-injecting this yuck into your head and heart. Write and close the book.

We all experience those heavy and painful emotions, and we all know what it’s like to be weighed down by the ‘yuck.’ By embracing those feelings for what they truly are, we take the first step in lightening their heavy load. Acknowledging and accepting the ‘yuck’ doesn’t make us weak. Much to the contrary, it’s empowering and tremendously strong to speak of and/or write about that heaviness. Removing our masks, barriers, and armor allows us to truly hear ourselves say, “sometimes it’s okay not to be okay.”

LifeTip: You Are Not Alone

Photo by  Jared Rice  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

You are not alone.

It’s easy to say, but when you’re standing in a crowded room with no one beside you, with no one to talk to, then the phrase just doesn’t feel real.

You are not alone.

How can this possibly be true even when you stand in a room of your “closest” friends and not one of them knows about that secret turmoil you keep hidden so well?

You are not alone.

Why do people even say this?

That’s some opener there, isn’t it? If you’re feeling a little heavy right now, that’s okay, just keep reading.

Have you heard about Dear Evan Hansen? It’s a musical about a high school boy with social anxiety. In one of the most beautifully written and composed songs in musical theatre, “You Will Be Found” brings the phrase “you are not alone” into a living, breathing promise. A promise. I heard that from my choir director as we were rehearsing this song at our last practice (yeah, I’m a choir nerd and a therapist!). “Sing this like a promise,” she said. That spoke to me and also weighed on me a little.

I have heard people say, and have said so myself, “Oh, you’ll find your crowd later in life. It’s just hard now.” What this can provide is a little hope but what this doesn’t satisfy is the pain and loneliness that too many feel right now, here and now, today. The lyrics to “You Will Be Found” remind me, though, that our connection doesn’t just exist in the physical. It’s beyond that. We are not alone. We ALL have one very core commonality and that is We All Feel. Our feelings may not stem from the same experiences, but my loneliness and your loneliness still have something in common.

You are not alone.

When you’re in a crowded room, see beyond the chit-chat and look into the eyes, posture, and hearts of people. What story might they have that tells a tale like yours?

You are not alone.

When you’re in a group of your friends, tell them how you feel. Embrace the vulnerability and brave the silence after you speak. Let them meet you where you are and maybe you’ll find that they understand more than you thought they would.

You are not alone. You will be found.

We say it because it’s true. Promise.

Here’s a gorgeous and moving rendition of the song that I think you need to listen to today.

Stay tuned for my next blog post titled “Light of the Clear Blue Morning!”

LifeTip: The Power of Vulnerability

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In our culture, vulnerability gets a bad rap, and can often be associated with words like “weakness,” “pushover,” or “danger.” In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown begins to redefine what it means to be vulnerable in our relationships. And the best part? Her concepts are deeply rooted in years of research and experience.

Brown puts it quite plainly by saying that “To feel is to be vulnerable” and suggests that the opposite of vulnerability isn’t strength, it’s disengagement. When we push others away for fear of exposure and turn away from ourselves in an attempt not to feel, we disengage with the world around us.  This can often cause problems because humans are hard-wired for connection. We are not meant to be completely isolated. So why is being vulnerable so dang hard then?! Perhaps it’s because it asks us to be genuine in our relationships which means that others will see the real person in us – flaws and all. Unfortunately for many, feeling vulnerable is tied up in feeling shame, guilt, or disappointment, but Brown sums of the challenge of vulnerability in saying  that “vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.”

So a great place to start your path towards vulnerability is to answer this for yourself: Vulnerability is ___________.

You can learn more about vulnerability and wholehearted living in some of Brown’s other books:

  • Rising Strong

  • The Gifts of Imperfection

  • I Thought it was Just Me

  • Connections