Imagine if being brave wasn’t about the most testosterone in the room, the loudest voice or most willful act. What if those behaviors were merely survival methods we use to bully ourselves into amping up or hiding out, to avoid the raw pain of vulnerability? Honestly I can’t think of a more hostile way to relate to ourselves and yet culture encourages it!
The swagger we put on may seem impressive to our easily captivated egos, but the poser hiding behind the curtain is usually more in alignment with fear, insecurity and shame…not bravery. Although we crave true intimacy, we’re people who loathe vulnerability.
We like to think our learned affectations (amping up our alpha or conversely burying it) define who we are. We never think to question our persuasions or fixations that arise as a result of disconnection from our true natures. We prefer the ease of claiming them as “personality.” Plenty of personality assessments will verify this, too. Maybe we need to look deeper. If you’re not familiar with the Enneagram, it’s a great place to start.
Which one of us doesn’t enjoy owning the parts of ourselves that look good and feel successful? The problem is that beneath the shiny vibrato is actually a frail, shadow part of ourselves that we’ve abandoned and would prefer to continue ignoring. But when we ignore any part of ourselves we create a method of maneuvering through life. Brené Brown, in her Netflix special, A Call to Courage, refers to this as “engineering our smallness.”
The thing is, when we display our shiny parts while denying our vulnerability, our sub-conscious is fully aware of the part of ourselves we’ve banished to the back lot, leaving us to struggle with the incongruence. Is it any wonder this duality comes out sideways and often manifests itself through physical and emotional ailments; all the while, our shadow selves collide with the imposter representing us? …..
Shame creates and maintains our armor, imposter syndrome, workaholism and achievement orientation, because our inner critic tells us we’re not enough the way we are. It dubs the weakest parts of ourselves as unacceptable. This is why we disassociate from our shadow selves early on, through an arsenal of false beliefs tied to our unique stories. We often don’t even recognize the parts of ourselves that are sequestered.
Shame is a heavy weight that works to falsely protect us, but in truth is shielding us from being seen, even by ourselves. It keeps us looking for ourselves through the lens of others, while robbing us of our personhood, true identity and self-respect.
Supporting Your Own Climate of Bravery
If there’s anything I hope to impart to women, it is this: it is emphatically courageous to investigate what you’ve been taught to think and begin to claim ownership of your own thoughts and life. This is known as individuating, a normal developmental stage that should organically take place in childhood. Unfortunately, for many, it’s not until adulthood that this element of personal agency is often hashed out, if at all. Gaining life skills that break with the choir and claim one’s self, is important and brave work, at any age. No apology needed. We need to champion each other in this work.
Few of us learned the life skills to rumble our way through our own shame and vulnerability. But life is a rumble and we need to learn how to investigate the ways we hide or power up, learning to successfully navigate through. Brown teaches that bravery is measured by how vulnerable we’re willing to be. I believe every time we choose to show up for life imperfectly, we’re being brave. Whether we’re showing up to painful emotions, difficult conversations, refusing to acquiesce to cultural pressures to fit in, or sharing vulnerabilities with a friend, we are demonstrating personal bravery. This is a practice. Understand, that there will be days we are better at it, than others. And that’s ok.
Imagine a world that normalized and celebrated the bravery of those who learn to sit with painful, vulnerable emotions, rather than sidestep them. I believe there is nothing more brave than choosing to lay down our armor to get acquainted with the vulnerable and abandoned parts of ourselves. Giving ourselves permission to show up true; to learn, to fail and to grow, is stunningly brave. We practice courage by showing up and letting ourselves be seen and known. The best way to do this is to surround ourselves with those engaging the real of their lives, rather than merely the shiny appearance of things. The more we show up true, the more we foster a safe place for others to show up imperfectly and do the same.
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This post is a portion of an article I wrote published in Moxie Magazine July, 2019 Click here to find the full article.