Connection gives humans both purpose and meaning to our lives.
Shame is the fear of disconnection, and something that every person experiences (well, unless you’re a sociopath).
Vulnerability is necessary for connection to happen, but at the same time, we see vulnerability as a sign of weakness.
This formula doesn’t work out very well, does it? A few weeks ago, I watched a TED talk done by researcher, Dr. Brené Brown, on the topic of shame. I was so intrigued by her research that I looked up her previous TEDx talk on vulnerability in order to learn more about her ideas and her research findings. This is what happens when you’re an unemployed, college graduate with a degree in psychology and a lot of time on your hands, you end up in nerd mode and write a research review for fun (I know I’m super cool).
On the other hand, remove the psychology aspect to Dr. Brown’s research, and this is just plan ol’ great life advice. She actually wrote a book, which I’m currently reading, called “Daring Greatly”, but the subtitle is “How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead”, so even if you aren’t a psych nerd like I am, this information can really be applied to any aspect of everyday living.
One thing I love about Brené Brown is that she openly admitted that her findings on vulnerability completely broke her down and shook the way that she lives. Like me, Dr. Brown is not a fan of vulnerability and she describes it as “excruciating” (I agree), however, after interviewing and hearing the stories of thousands of people, she found that people who report having a sense of worthiness (she calls them the “wholehearted”), embrace vulnerability. In summation, vulnerability is necessary for joy, creativity, connection, compassion, belonging, love, and the list goes on. That isn’t fair. If I were Dr. Brown and a decade of research led to such a conclusion, I’d be angry too, because I don’t want to be vulnerable. And I believe that a lot of people would agree with me.
Dr. Brown discusses how we respond to vulnerability- by numbing, by perfecting, and by pretending. We worry what others think, we idolize perfection, we’re terrified of scarcity, we compare ourselves to others, we distrust the uncertain, we self-doubt, we hate feeling powerless.
And this is what I think:
Shame is the idea that we aren’t good enough, and it feeds off of secrecy and judgement. Shame focuses on the self and what about ourselves make us unworthy of connection, love, or belonging. By avoiding vulnerability, we are cultivating our shame.
We don’t want to be emotionally exposed, so we tell others that we’re “doing fine”
We don’t want to feel like we’re not enough, so we overcompensate and put up a front, thus removing our authenticity.
We don’t want others to see the messiness of our life, so we pretend to have it all together.
We want to numb the negative feelings, so we look for external satisfaction, which actually is a top reason for America’s debt, obesity, addiction, and criminal behavior.
These things are causing us more shame. It’s a cycle and it’s tearing us down. I don’t want to feel vulnerable, but now I feel shame.
‘I’m feeling depressed and worthless all the time – but I don’t want others to know and I don’t want to ask for help – so I put on a mask to my friends and family and don’t let them in to my feelings – but then every night I drink or I self-medicate to numb the pain – and now I feel even less worthy of love because why would anyone love me like this?’
Vulnerability sucks, plain and simple, but it is proven to correlate to courage, compassion, innovation, creativity, change, and most importantly, connection. Therefore, it is necessary.
To feel a sense of love and belonging, we must embrace what makes us vulnerable. Anyone who has taken a basic psych 101 class knows that love/belonging is a factor on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and that without that sense of worthiness, we cannot reach self-actualization.
To live wholeheartedly and with connection, we must let ourselves be seen. If you’re anything like me, or like Dr. Brown, that’s a devastating and excruciating thought. To be completely honest here, it makes me angry because yes, I want to live a wholehearted life, but no, I don’t want to embrace vulnerability. Yes, I want to experience courage, compassion, and connection, but no, I don’t want to experience emotional risk, exposure, or uncertainty. What a dilemma.
So, here is my purpose for sharing this with you; I encourage you to just think about it, maybe watch Dr. Brown’s TED talks, and evaluate whether you fear disconnection, how you handle that shame, and your own willingness to be vulnerable. This research has definitely given me a self-revelation and a new way to approach my outlook on life. I’ve got a scientific brain, I trust the research, and if someone would have just told me this in passing and I hadn’t read the research myself, then I’d be less susceptible to listen. Dr. Brown’s book is incredible so far, and I cannot wait to finish reading it (and then maybe read her other books!).
I’ll end with an excerpt from “Daring Greatly”, a way of thinking that we can all benefit from.
“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed a night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.” (page 10)
Brené Brown – The Power of Vulnerability – TEDx Talk- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o
Brené Brown – Listening to Shame – TED Talk- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psN1DORYYV0
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly : how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books.
What if I told you that we have the power to overcome painful and traumatic events in our lives by rewiring the way that we remember them. Have you ever recalled a negative event that has happened, and began to feel the same way you felt then? Or have you told a story of a rough time and felt overcome with emotion as if you were reliving it? It's funny how our brains work because they aren't actually very good at separating our past from our present. There is no real difference between remembering and thinking, therefore, our brains can mistaken a memory for something that is currently occurring.
When we recall a story, our brains are actually actively breaking down and reconstructing that event, and even activate the neurons that were used in the memory. Every time we remember the memory, we are strengthening its neural pathways because we are moving it from long-term storage to short-term storage, and back again. Here's the good news through, when we reconsolidate those memories, we then have the power to change the way that we remember them.
I've recently read an awesome blog post by Mike McHargue called, "Why It's Important to Tell Even Your Darkest Story", and it really sparked the psychology nerd in me. McHargue offers a story of how he came to a point in his life where he sought out professional therapy, and his therapist challenged him to recall his painful childhood of bullying. He states that he never cried during a session, yet he often fought off a panic attack, but one day his therapist told him that it would be helpful to let himself cry. And here's why:
When we remember a day, or an event, that made us feel a certain way, we often relive that emotion in the moment. This is stronger for painful memories because the limbic system is being activated and your body is attempting to protect you as if the threat was in the here and now. If we change our memories every time that we recall them, then why not try to change the bad ones to good ones. The only catch is that it is necessary to do this in a safe place, whether that be in a therapist's office or with a close, trustworthy friend. By making our experiences real again, we can rework the way we respond to them.
For example, when recalling a memory such as a traumatic car accident, it is common to once again feel the anxiety and fear that the accident caused. However, when recalling this experience in a safe and comfortable environment, to someone who is compassionate and empathetic, then our brain will remember those positive things next time that story is called back into working memory. In turn, it is actually a healthy healing process to tell our painful stories, no matter how many times they needs to be told in order to fully become changed.
So this article reminded me of a post I had written a while back about how I tend to be an over-sharer, and that I'll tell anyone anything about my past or present, no matter positive or negative. I thought this was unhealthy, but I can see now how it can actually be the opposite. Granted, I need to recall the painful memories in the company of someone who I trust can respond with grace, however, I can now pinpoint why sharing my not-so-great life stories can make me feel better.
My challenge to you is this, if you feel that there is a memory, an event, or a story, that is really painful and doing you more harm than good hanging out in your long-term memory, then consider telling it. Consider whether or not it is bringing you down and whether or not there is someone in your life that can meet you with compassion and help you rework that memory. I am also a firm believe that everyone can benefit from a few therapy sessions. We all, unfortunately, have stuff that needs to be worked through or talked about. Even if you walk into the office and just say, "hey, I'd just like to tell you a few stories", then I promise you'll feel better at the end.
Read the article linked above, and think about it. I truly do believe that it is important to tell even your darkest story.
"For our darkest moments, we may have to tell that story dozens of times. Or even dozens of dozens. Each time, that shadow of the past gets a little lighter, until we actually heal. There will still be a scar, of course, but you’ll stop bleeding every time the wound is pricked."
Rough morning, public spaces, uncomfortable situations.
Finally home, you know, you can feel it.
Negative mood, body aching, heart wrenching.
The impending shift at work amplifying all thoughts.
Ponder not going, suck it up, walk out the door.
Driving, vision blurry, chest beating, numbness taking over.
Arrival, can’t get out, tears start flowing. No, not again.
Wipe your eyes, take deep breaths, stand up tall.
Walk a few steps, now you're weak, now you’re shaking.
Brain goes blank, memory gone, skin is burning.
Sit down, close eyes, wonder why.
You should have known, you thought today was different.
You thought you could beat it.
Panic wins- again.
Pounding head, exhausted muscles, heavy eyes.
Leave early, crawl in bed, wonder if it’ll ever end.
Beat yourself up, why couldn’t you stop it, why can’t you control your own mind.
Fall asleep, wake up tomorrow, new day – will panic destroy it?
It’s been eight months since my last severe panic attack. Today, anxiety snuck up on me in full force, causing such physical reactions that, if I didn’t know I was having a panic attack, could have been mistaken for a seizure. I knew before I even left the house that I was not 100%, but I for sure wasn’t expecting what resulted. And after it was all over, all that kept running through my exhausted mind was how I had failed. I failed to prevent the attack, I failed to calm myself down like I had been taught, I failed to become well enough again to work my shift, I failed at making it to a 9th month without an attack. My brain, already flawed and already wreaking havoc on my day, was convincing me that I wasn’t good enough to beat anxiety, that I was mistaken when I thought I was panic free, that I was always going to be the girl who cries and shakes and hyperventilates in the break room.
Then God told me the truth.
Through the radio played Matt Redman’s song, Never Once, and He reminded me that I was never alone, even when I was feeling hopeless and beaten. The lyrics, “never once did we ever walk alone, never once did you leave us on our own” resonated in my mind as I remembered that the victories I’ve experienced with mental health were because of His power. When I look back at the battles, I can also be assured that there will be more and it’s not over, but I’ll never be alone, and the same God who celebrates with me is also there in the hurt and the hopelessness, because He is faithful. My Father doesn’t see me as a failure, as I sometimes see myself, but instead He sees me as strong, brave, and loved. And this God, the one who believes in me and encourages me, is the one who is there in the midst of my anxiety and panic.
How can I believe the lies that I have failed when the one whose image from which I was created is standing right beside me?
Bad days suck, but bad days don’t mean a bad life. And bad days become better when you’re reminded that you’re not on your own.
It’s been 5 months since my last panic attack.
Firstly, let me explain that there is a difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack. A panic attack is the mind telling the body that it is in danger, resulting in the feeling that the walls are closing in, your throat is constricting, and that you are ultimately doomed. An anxiety attack is when the mind races, conjuring up every possible bad scenario, resulting in stress and fear, even if you don’t know why.
For me, anxiety is a daily battle. Sometimes I know the root of my anxious mind; a social obligation, a hectic workload, or simply the thought of leaving the house. Sometimes, I have no idea why my heart is pounding, my hands are shaking, and my vision is blurry. I could assume everything is fine and dandy until my brain kicks on for no apparent reason and causes chaos.
But, I haven’t had a panic attack in 5 months. I haven’t been overcome with the notion that I need to run, escape, or hide. I haven’t hyperventilated or cried uncontrollably. I haven’t called out of work or skipped class or stayed under the covers all day long. I haven’t lost control of my mind and my body and been convinced that it would never end.
It’s been 5 months since my last full-blown panic attack and I cannot tell you how much of a relief that is.
Yes, anxiety clouds my head every single day, but the fact that panic hasn’t been present for this long gives me hope that I’ll one day feel normal again. Hope that I won’t suffer for the rest of my life. Hope that I can regain control over my brain.
I have done nothing out of the ordinary or different to stop the panic attacks. For the most part, everything is the same. Now all that’s left to do is continue to have hope that this remission continues to last.
It’s been 5 months since my last panic attack.
Back in October, I wrote a post comparing my anxiety and depression to Twenty One Pilot's song, Migrane. Read it here. The other day, while driving down the road, and listening to my car radio, I realized that another one of their songs, Car Radio, also relates.
I ponder of something great
Only you know how you work. How your brain works and how your body works. Only you know when you’ve hit your limit or when you can push yourself farther. I think that one of the best things that my anxiety disorder has taught me is how to listen to what I am telling myself.
Sometimes, you know exactly what makes you anxious, and sometimes, you have to power to get rid of it, but sometimes, you have to be brave and let it stay.
Well isn’t TimeHop just lovely? We’ve always wanted a time machine to be able to go back and relive or change the past, so we invented an app that allows us to see what we posted on social media on this day last year, two years ago, etc. Now obviously this is meant for us to reminisce on the pictures we took in high school, laugh about our young and naïve Facebook statuses, and question what the heck we were even talking about in that tweet, but sometimes you unbury something that wasn’t meant to be exposed.
Yesterday, I was scrolling through and pleasantly remembering that exactly one year ago, a friend of mine and I explored Little Italy downtown, ate too much pasta, splurged on a cannoli, and navigated the streets of Baltimore like pros. As I continued to scroll, I reached the bottom and came across a Facebook status from 5 years ago. Now usually my TimeHop doesn’t go back that far because I wasn’t as frequent a social media user and didn’t have much of anything interesting to say, however, on January 17, 2010, I did.
“and as my world crashes and burns around me, I’m forced to stand on the highest and narrowest cliff, isolated, knowing the disaster will reach my little slice of safety because I can’t be safe forever, nothing is perfect, everyone is going to fall off eventually.”
Okay, high school self, take it down a notch there. Funny thing is, I remember writing this, I remember posting it, and I remember the feelings that surrounded it very clearly. I’ve always been a writer, and I’ve always admired flowery words and visual metaphors. At the time that of this status, I was 16-years-old, a junior in high school, and currently experiencing my lowest of lows. This was the time when depression had taken me over and swallowed me whole. I was killing myself in AP classes, but my ‘B’ grades were never good enough. I was playing sports, but my performance was never good enough. I had friends who tried to reach out for me, but I was not good enough. Who wasn’t I good enough for? Me. I never lived up to my standards for myself, I could always have done something better and I always felt like I was letting down everyone around me.
I’m going to be honest, because we’re all friends here, but suicide was not a foreign thought to me. I never attempted, or even planned to, but the thoughts were there, and it is a very scary feeling when you don’t want to live anymore. According to my status, everything was falling apart, I was alone and facing impending doom. What a tough thing for a 16-year-old girl to be feeling, and here I am 5 years later, and I wish I could tell myself that things would get better. (Maybe we should look into a FutureHop so we can give ourselves advice from the future…) It was saddening to read what I wrote so long ago and be reminded of those feelings, but at the same time, it was also eye-opening.
I am in no way going to sit here and say that I have made a full recovery from the mentally sick teen that wrote that Facebook status, because I still struggle with mental illness every day, however, there is a big difference between that girl and this girl. When I was 16, I didn’t admit that I was depressed, I thought it was normal. I didn’t realize that my neuroticism was driving me up onto that narrow cliff. Today, I can say that I’ve accepted and embraced the way that my mind works differently. I know when I fall into my pits of depression, I know when my anxiety is inhibiting me from normal functioning, and I know when I’m being neurotic and irrational (most of the time). I no longer throw around the idea of suicide, but I do still experience days when just being alive is hard enough and breathing is my biggest accomplishment. Although I am not at my lowest point, I also know that I’m not at my highest and there are some things that I am dealing with right now in this season of life.
This TimeHop surprise gave me hope though. I have overcome so much since then and while sometimes I still feel like my world is crashing and my slice of safety is disintegrating, I know that I am not going to fall. I am not isolated- I have friends who understand and listen, I have a mother who has learned empathy, and most importantly, I have a God who loves me in more ways than I can ever comprehend and who anchors my soul, and will not let me fall. Nothing is perfect, yes, I was right when I said that, but the good news is that we’re made perfect in our imperfections. Mental illness will forever be a struggle for me, but I’ve become who I am because of it, and I will continue to learn, grow, and recover. Maybe I’ll look back at this in another five years and reflect on my continued progress.
Time gives us hope. Hold on. Don’t quit. You’re worth it. You’re good enough. You’re not alone. You have purpose. You are here for a reason.
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