What if everyone’s doing the best they can? What would that mean for us? What would it take for us to operate from a place like that? It takes boundaries, integrity and generosity to live the best way we can — to be compassionate people and live compassionate lives.
While reading my paperback copy of Brene Brown’s Rising Strong, I’m thinking about how it will help me — how reading the actual book instead of listening to the audio book and watching Brene’s interview with Oprah — will keep me company while my new therapist, a very strong, direct, insightful psychologist, is away on vacation and my priest is away doing National Guard duty.
My new therapist and I are off to a great start. Already, I’m a fan. I absolutely loved her blog post about how we tend to run away from our dark side, illustrative of her Jungian training. To be honest, it scares the hell out of me. After all, I’m only human.
Having done a lot of therapy over my lifetime, as well as 12-step recovery work (Al-Anon, the program for family members with an alcoholic family member), I’ve become inclined to do the opposite of running away from my truths. As the chips for 12-step programs say, “To thine own self be true.” Although I’m now inclined to be curious and motivated to explore, it’s still scary. I’m grateful to have a good therapist and wonderful friends. After all, who’d want to make this journey alone?
There is one thing I know for sure — the relationships I have with myself and God are the most important ones in my life. Rising Strong — or what I have called resilience — is a spiritual journey.
In her interview with Oprah, Brene explained that rising strong (1) is a spiritual practice, one that’s rooted in a belief that (2) we’re all inextricably connected to each other. I believe both of those things to be true. I also believe all three of these statements:
- Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage.
- Empathy is the antidote to shame.
- Shame is lethal.
Lethal’s a good word. For years, I’ve said shame is toxic. It’s probably both. It’s what drives us to be driven, to engage in our addictions and compulsions — codependency, alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling, workaholism, hoarding, eating disorders, compulsive spending, relationship addiction — whatever behaviors we mere mortals use to avoid pain and run from ourselves and our difficult truths.
I‘ve already experienced what Brene calls The Reckoning. It was emotionally painful and scary. It’s not easy to let someone you love leave you or for you to leave them. Sitting with the fear of abandonment from childhood — evoking that ancient attachment trauma — is definitely scary. As Pablo Neruda wrote in Poem 20 —
“Love is so short. And, forgetting, so long.”
It’s not easy to accept the truth about ourselves and others. It’s painful when denial no longer protects us. We grieve the loss of idealization, unrealistic hopes and magical thinking.
But, what can you do except let go?
It’s true — the truth will, indeed, set you free. Truth serves as a guide, giving us direction towards a healthier, more spiritually fulfilling way to live and be.
Letting go is rarely an event. Nor is it typically all or nothing. Life’s messy. We’re messy. Other people are messy. Relationships are messy.
“(T)he world is round, and a messy mortal is my friend. Come walk with me in the mud.” – Hugh Prather, Notes to Myself
Undoubtedly, with the best of intentions, people weigh in with their opinions and advice. Most of the time, people’s opinions and advice get shaped by the filter of their own personal experiences. Sadly, usually, it’s their painful experiences that have the most influence. When researching love, people told Brene and her research assistants stories about loss.
Maybe to a fault, I’m shameless. It’s not due to any virtue on my part. My family of origin “stuff” never provided for the luxury of sweeping it under the rug. It was out there for all to see. As a result, I’ve become very experienced and practiced with fighting shame and stigma. I don’t lose sleep over what people think about me. After all, it’s my life. I am who I am. There are some things I cannot change about who I am.
I am enough. Accepting that is the only way to live and love wholeheartedly.
I accept myself as I am. Ultimately, although I often invite the wisdom of others, I make my own decisions. I accept and deal with the consequences of those decisions.
The Reckoning is the story that happens to us. We may contribute to it; but, ultimately, it’s out of our control.
What Brene calls The Rumble is what most people prefer to skip or rush over. It’s what many of our family and friends prefer to turn away from. If you need to rumble, find a therapist and/or a really good friend who’s going through the same thing.
Especially in our culture today, who has the time or patience?
The Rumble is scary. It requires courage. And, it takes time.
The Rumble involves examining our conspiracies and confabulations — those stories we tell ourselves about what we experienced. They’re usually spun from unconscious projections drawn from our own emotional wreckage. Our conspiracies and confabulations are dangerous. Yet, we do them to ourselves and to each other all the time. Don’t. And, don’t let yourself buy into the confabulations our well-intended, wonderfully loyal family and friends will do for us either. They mean well; but, that’s not what we need.
In social work research, we define a confabulation as a lie told honestly. We have to challenge our confabulations. To rumble, we have to find the courage to ask ourselves —
- What do I really know for sure?
- What am I making up?
- What more do I need to learn and understand about this situation?
- What more do I need to learn and understand about the other people in this story?
- What more do I need to learn and understand about myself?
Rumbling is scary because it means staying brave and feeling our way through. What do I have to look at in this? What’s really going on for me? It involves confronting shame, perfectionism and trust.
Damn! I thought I’d conquered shame. Perfectionism? I thought I’d accepted how flawed I am. I know my faults and weaknesses. I also know I’ll never become perfect. I’m human — I’ll always have some flaws. I have no clue what this rumbling means for me. Although I’m on a fast learning curve, I’m still fairly clueless. And, that’s scary. Although I’ve learned a lot, I’ve still got a lot to learn and a long way to go.
Just how flawed and damaged am I? And, how much damage have I done to others, knowingly or unknowingly, consciously or unconsciously? I know I’m not a mean-spirited person who’d intentionally hurt someone. But, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
If there’s one thing failure has taught me, it is the value of regret. Regret is a fair yet tough teacher. Regret is a function of empathy. If I had this to do over again, I wish I had done it another way.
Brene says the most frequent regrets are failures of kindness and failures of courage. My failure was that it was easier to focus on someone else rather than myself. It was a failure of courage. I know I’ll learn more about my failures with this new therapist. I won’t have to explore the darkness alone. She’ll be there with me, not just to support me. Nope. This therapist is going to push me. It’s not going to be a soothing, coddling experience. From just our first session, I already knew that. She’ll be there with me; but, it’s still exploring my dark side. And, dark is scary. I’ll be confronting behavior in myself that I abhor and needing to forgive and accept myself.
I already know this for sure — I am not a victim. I saw the red flags. But, I chose to disregard them.
Brene says The Revolution that follows The Rumble is life-changing. The Revolution is when this process becomes practice — turning things upside down so uncomfortably that you cannot go back. It’s taking responsibility in the world for your own emotions and not allowing yourself to project your stuff and make it about someone else, ever, because nobody’s ever doing anything to you.
The most dangerous stories we make up are the ones we make up about our own worthiness, love-ability, divinity and creativity. Am I not worthy of love because of my flaws and weaknesses? Those crazy narratives we make up in our psyches shape who we are. We make them up for survival. Our brains are wired for, above all else, survival. The limbic part of our brain is wired for our protection, for survival. So, we ask ourselves — Who is safe? Who is good? Who is bad? Who is dangerous?
What our brain does not take into consideration is the need for discomfort and vulnerability in real relationships.
It’s the person who’s willing to be the most uncomfortable who can rise strong. We’ve got to lean into it.
Leaning into it eventually helps us push through. And, that changes the way we live, love, parent and lead. We can’t be afraid to set healthy boundaries with our families, friends, partners, children, colleagues, neighbors or strangers out of fear they’ll be unhappy with us or fear they’ll abandon us.
Although boundary-setting is difficult and uncomfortable, the most loving people are the ones who are really good at setting boundaries. As a result of being good with our boundaries, we’re emotionally safe. We don’t go through life carrying resentments and grudges.
Rising strong is rising into the fullness of who we were meant to be.
I am not alone. But, I and only I can take responsibility for my life. This is about taking responsibility rather than putting the blame on somebody or something other than myself.
Rising Strong is about leadership. Brene says transformational leaders have the willingness and ability to be uncomfortable and to feel their way through their emotions. They know that the right choice is not always — and, in fact, most of the time — not the easy choice.
The good news is that we can be taught to do this. We can learn and practice this process.
If you’ve been raised in a family that does uncomfortable, that does emotions, then you’ve got a good head start. If you’ve been raised in a family that sweeps what’s uncomfortable under the rug, it’s going to be a lot harder for you.
That first story — The Reckoning — dictates how we move forward. We’re not in control of that situation.
The story we tell ourselves about it — The Rumble — is one that we do choose.
If it’s a story of betrayal, then we choose to identify as victims and we carry hurt and resentment with us for the rest of our lives.
We can instead choose to do the hard work — The Rumble — to work through the grief and shame to reach trust and forgiveness. To drop the rock.
Why is it so hard to drop the rock? It’s habit. Yet, when we drop it. we free our hands to do what we’re meant to do.
In order for forgiveness to be given, something has to die. Embedded deep into forgiveness is always grief.
I’m grieving my idea of what I had. I now have to let that idea go. And, then, I have to create a new normal for myself.
What’s The Reckoning moment that changed your life?
If you’re going to be brave, you will go out there again knowing that you’re going to fall again and again. And, again. And, that’s okay because we’re only human.
Vulnerability is the best measure of courage. It’s the willingness to show up and let ourselves be seen and known.
I’ll end this blog post with Brene’s Manifesto of the Brave and Broken-Hearted.