One of my clients shared this amazing spoken word performance by Jae Nichelle. I so hope you'll take just 3 minutes to listen to it. She talks so beautifully and powerfully about her struggles with her anxious, critical inner voice.
This really demonstrates how strategies we initially use to protect ourselves end up creating challenges for us, becoming oppressive and dangerous themselves. Her anxiety is trying to protect her from embarrassment or rejection, and yet the poet shares with us the terrible cost of all that anxiety.
And because parts of us feel we still need that protection — "how easy I am to crush" she tells herself — we often can't let go of the old strategies, no matter how hard we try. "I have been fighting her for control of our house for years…[but] she's the longest relationship I've ever had…the only relationship I can count on."
Meeting problematic parts with empathy and understanding (and often the help of a caring therapist) is, in my experience, the only way to get those parts of us to consider new strategies and to move from a "boxing match" to a caring relationship with all the parts of you.
One of my therapist colleagues just shared this awesome cartoon with me. It really captures the hilarious (and relatable!) gap between our aspirations of Zen-like chill and our frazzled, real-world execution when it comes to emotion regulation. Most of us strive to be good people, and sometimes our big emotions can just sweep in and thwart our best intentions.
As humbling as that message is, it's also so normalizing of those big feelings and of anger specifically. Anger is a core, very necessary emotion that helps us protect ourselves from the dangers in our world. It provides important data about our needs and gives us the oomph we need to advocate for those needs.
To make our anger most effective for us, we often work in therapy on owning and expressing our angry feelings while working not to lash out from our anger, i.e., to talk about feeling angry without acting it out, shutting it down, or using an intimidating tone or critical language with others. You know, unless they're walking too slowly in front of you…
Dr. Brene Brown is a researcher who studies vulnerability…who hates vulnerability. Like a lot of us, Dr. Brown struggles with shame, self-judgment, and a sense of weakness when discussing her perceived failings and vulnerable emotions. Her storytelling prowess, hard-won authenticity, and self-deprecating humor make her a powerful advocate for treasuring the parts of ourselves we most want to hide.
These two devastatingly funny, heartfelt TED talks do a wonderful job of explaining how critical vulnerability is to our relationships with our selves and being authentic and how vulnerability and emotional risk is ultimately the thing that creates connection and safety with others.
Another great video from Dr. Brene Brown reviews the costs of avoiding vulnerability. When we're afraid to be vulnerable:
"Joy becomes foreboding—something good happens and we become compelled to beat vulnerability to the punch."
"Disappointment becomes a lifestyle…it's easier to live disappointed than to feel disappointed."
And, of course, we numb out. But as Brene reminds us, "you cannot selectively numb emotion." Numbing our pain and fear also means numbing the joy, love, safety, happiness, pride, and closeness that we could be feeling…and without that, we lose all the good things that can help us hang on through the hard times, all the things that make life meaningful.
One of my clients sent me this awesome New Yorker cartoon awhile back. Not only is it hysterical, but it's a great way of encapsulating the messages so many of us got growing up — feelings are not welcome in our family.
I came across this quote today and I wanted to share it. We have for so long been told sharing our vulnerability with others is a sign of weakness, but many of us would prefer to do just about anything than share something really vulnerable. One of my firefighter clients once told me he'd literally rather go into a burning building than tell his partner how scared he feels inside when they fight!
Being vulnerable is not only a sign of being brave and authentic, but it's also a necessary part of creating real intimacy and security. Vulnerability fuels connection. Sharing something real and tender is a big part of how we build and sustain close bonds. As those of you in EFT therapy know, we get out of the negative cycle by sharing our vulnerable feelings of loneliness, inadequacy and fear rather than hiding them behind protective walls of criticism or defensiveness.
This principle works in any close relationship. If I share something vulnerable with you, and you respond with care and understanding, I decide that you can be safe for me, which makes me more likely to open up to you in the future. "Wow — he was really kind and listened to me. I felt good sharing that with him. Maybe I can tell him more!" I learn that my sharing this part of me with you doesn't make you reject me, which helps change how I view myself. "You know the real me — even this part of me I'm not so sure about — and you still seem to like me? Maybe I'm OK after all…" Also, my sharing invites you to share something personal about yourself with me. "Wow! She really shared something vulnerable with me — maybe I can open up about this thing I've been worried about, too!" All of this creates an atmosphere of safety, acceptance, and closeness between us, a positive feedback loop where the more you share, the more I share, and we keep feeling safer and closer.