A Mental Awakening
I had a breakthrough, a revelation. I get these rarely but when they do occur I take it as a sign, like an awakening. I was listening to a podcast, a conversation between Oprah and a research professor called Brené Brown. Her words resonated with me so much it changed my perspective, my thoughts, my self-talk, and my emotions.
In a contribution to Mental Health Awareness Week, I had to put my two cents in. It is a topic that sets my soul alight. Mental health has been wallowing in darkness for decades, but it’s comforting to see more people shed light on the situation. As a disclaimer, I do not take all the credit for the knowledge in this article. Most of what you will read is research performed by Brené Brown. This is my perspective and interpretation from her work and Oprah’s Super Soul Conversation podcast.
The first part of the podcast is titled “Daring Greatly” which Brené defines as “having the courage to be vulnerable. Being able to show up and have those hard conversations”.
What is vulnerability? Oxford dictionary defines it as “the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.”
Brené defines it as “the cornerstone of confidence and to be more yourself.” It’s about showing up and being seen. Vulnerability is something I struggle with as I am scared of what people will see and think. We are exposed to vulnerability when we allow ourselves to love someone who may not love us back. Someone who may stay in our lives or may leave with no warning. Who may be loyal till the day we die or betray us tomorrow. Whose safety we can’t ensure. This is vulnerability.
When it comes to mental health, we have been conditioned to believe that being vulnerable with our emotions makes us weak. This is not true. Vulnerability is the birthplace of what we crave, innovation, creativity, and change. Courage is born out of vulnerability, not strength.
The word courage originates from the Latin word ‘cuer’ which means heart. It means to share your whole story with your whole heart. Also defined as storytelling. Over time, this definition has changed. We associate courage with ‘strong’ and ‘heroic’ actions. In Brené’s words and my beliefs, courage is an internal strength, being open about who we are, what we’ve experienced (good and bad) and speaking truthfully from the heart.
In my previous post, I shared my story. I learned that I could be scared and brave at the same time. I was vulnerable. I spoke my truth from the heart. I then received stories about others who have suffered. It gave me a sense of reassurance to know that no emotion hasn’t already been felt. I wasn’t alone.
I have spent my time living in a world measuring my worth against the number of likes I received. No matter what the number was, I still believed I wasn’t good enough. We’re all terrified. We communicate and compare our lives against others through an unreliable source – social media. We fear that we aren’t as happy, rich, thin, good-looking, successful as others. We believe that we as people and our lives aren’t enough. Yes, vulnerability carries no certainty, but if you have clarity of your values and faith, no one can touch you. No one can knock you down. Trust in yourself, own your story and love yourself during that process. Be open and take the risk to fail.
I am a recovering perfectionist. From a young age, I’ve been told I was a perfectionist. It became apart of my identity. My anxiety spiked when parts of my life weren’t perfect and out of control.
Perfectionism is not about aiming for excellence. It is a way of living, feeling and thinking “If I look perfect, do it perfectly, work perfect and live perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, blame, and judgment.”
Perfectionism was my shield to protect myself from pain, but it was preventing the world from seeing who I am. I was afraid that if people saw me for who I am, I wouldn’t measure up and I would be rejected.
I faked my perfection and avoided my conflicting emotions by numbing myself to live because it was a place of comfort. Numbing meant endless hours on my phone, scrolling through social media, eating food and craving external approval. These things never left me satisfied and always resulted in disappointment. When you numb out the bad emotions – sadness, fear, anger, frustration, anxiety, etc. it causes a widespread effect and you also numb joy. I didn’t want to face stress, anxiety or my depression because it was not a place I wanted to be.
Each day of my life, for as long as I can remember, I put my armor on to avoid feelings of shame, uncertainty, and fear. The armor makes me feel safe and in control but only for a short moment. In reality, it does more harm than good.
Have you ever dress rehearsed tragedy? Picture this, you’re sitting at the dinner table, and you’re looking at the faces of your family and friends. Thinking to yourself, I love these people more than they’ll ever know. Then you get an awful thought of something terrible happening to them. You’re sitting in a moment of pure joy and then suddenly, you start to think of all the things that could go wrong.
At that moment, we lose our tolerance for vulnerability and joy is foreboding. You think to yourself “no way am I going to soften into this moment of joy because I’m afraid it’s going to get taken away from me.” We become anxious at the thought of uncertainty, so we dress rehearse tragedy to avoid the pain.
Joyful people still get that shudder of foreboding joy, but instead, they learn to practice gratitude. When you practice gratitude, you’ll go throughout the day looking for it. Vulnerability is a scary thing. It proposes risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure but it’s the key to pure love, belonging and joy.
One of the reasons people don’t share their story, talk about their thoughts or emotions is because we are uncertain of how others will react. We’re afraid of shame.
Shame is that intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging. Shame grows when doused in secrecy, silence, and judgment but cannot grow with empathy or when spoken about. The less you talk about your shame, the more it will fester into every crevice of your life like relationships, choices, and thoughts.
Some people may feel like they cannot share their story because we rank order suffering. We compare our pain. For example, “I can’t talk about my shame. Yes, I’m going through a breakup, but I know that Sarah’s parents are getting divorced”. It doesn’t matter how big or small our suffering is, it all needs to be healed. Empathy and compassion are infinite.
When you decide to open yourself up, share your shame and become more vulnerable. Share with someone who loves you because of your imperfections and vulnerability. If it’s just one reliable person, that’s all you need. If you have more than one person, what a blessing. Have someone who shows up for you and can weigh through the deep stuff. Only share with people who have earned the right to hear your story. It’s an honor.
Words carry powerful meaning. A string of words can create peace or start a war. If you tell yourself you are fat, a loser, a mistake, not good enough, that tape will replay over and over again. Start talking to yourself like you’re talking to someone you love. You’ve got to speak your shame.
In the absence of love and belonging there will always be suffering. That is why we have a hunger for connection. A connection is an energy between people when they feel seen, heard and valued. It is when we can give and receive without judgment. We have to practice being vulnerable and get uncomfortable to be present with others. With tackling the topic of mental health, it means having that hard conversation, sharing our pain, listening to others suffering and standing up for what is right.
It all sounds counterintuitive, but when you create a strong connection with others and remember yourself through strong values and faith, you cannot be knocked down. You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle but you are worthy of love and belonging