Becoming fully human

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The Resources

So, I know that most people go on holiday and read fiction, and I did that (Demon Copperhead pretty much broke my heart and mended it again while I was also soaking up some Fiji beauty), but I confess that I also took and read Brene Brown’s Rising Strong.

This is – and I hadn’t realised before I read it – the third book in a kind of unofficial series. First, the gifts of imperfection, with the basic message of Be Yourself. Then daring greatly, with the basic message Go All In. And then rising strong. Because it follows that if you risk being yourself and going all in, you are going to make mistakes, discover blindspots and occasionally completely stuff something up. And when that happens (not if), then you’re going to need the wisdom contained in Rising Strong.

I kind of wish that I had known this before…however, timing is its own thing….I think it’s always right, even when it sucks, even when too many things are tipping over and my plate is full and my tank is empty and all that. Now is when I needed this book.

The thing about rising strong is that it doesn’t mean ‘stuff down the pain of that fall and get back out there’. That strategy obviously doesn’t require an entire book to explore and explain – although I have a feeling there may be entire books on leadership that basically say just that.

Rising strong requires a blend of some self awareness, some curiosity and some courage and all that needs to be grounded in some core values and supported by some trustworthy companions.

Brene offers lots of great stories to illustrate how many areas of life offer us the opportunity to fall over and get back up again. You might think that work is the main place where this dramatic failure happens most often. But to live with courageous authenticity, taking creative risks and allowing your heart and hope to reach for something you care about….we all do that every day in hundred thousand different ways, because everything we do is (overtly or unconsciously) a request for love and a bid for belonging. Even when we couch that request in complaint or in withdrawal. Even when we haul on the armour and pretend we don’t care – protection and denial are coping strategies we use when we aren’t getting what we actually, truly want and need.

I once saw a greeting card that said ‘For some people, “Be Yourself” is the worst advice you could give’. It made me snort, because of course I can think of someone else for whom that may be true…but there are times when I think this of myself too – those times when I’m face down and feel like I’m still falling.

The thing that caught my attention straight away about rising strong is that it has three parts and the first part is reckoning with emotions.

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There are so many ways to avoid doing this. Probably most prevalent is some kind of numbing addiction. I appreciate how inclusive Brene’s list is of things we use to numb ourselves to uncomfortable emotions and then become addicted to. There are also many ways to deny, ignore, discount or off-load an emotional response to someone or something. What are your patterns? If you know what to look for in your behaviour, then you can recognise when you are caught up in an avoidance pattern and then you have the chance to choose a different path.

Brene lists four common strategies for avoiding or off-loading discomfort:

  • Chandeliering – the act of jumping out of your skin and hitting the roof in response to a minor stimulus. This happens when you’re so intent on being ‘fine’ about something, but then a tiny thing tips you into deer in the headlights/the sky is falling/I am going nuclear. The original pain has been buried in a shallow grave or ‘postponed’ if it was inflicted by a superior at work, and then is released in a ‘safer’ place. Of course, it’s not safe to yell at your boss, but it’s not safe to yell at your spouse/kids/employees either.
  • Bouncing hurt – this is more like employing bouncers to keep the hurt ‘out there’ rather than allow yourself to acknowledge it. Anger, blame, fault-finding, making excuses, inflicting payback and avoidance are the best bouncers. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. For example. Whatever. Who cares? In any case it was their fault.
  • Numbing hurt – here’s the list…alcohol, drugs, food, sex, relationships, money, work, caretaking, gambling, affairs, religion, chaos, shopping, planning, perfectionism, constant change, staying busy, and the internet (aka looking at your phone…how easy is it to pull out your phone and start scrolling or playing whenever it seems like ‘nothing else is happening’ – and also even when it is?) Numbing is a blanket that covers everything. You don’t get to keep the good stuff and block the bad. You just lose it all.
  • Stockpiling hurt – this is stuffing it down hard and holding on like there’s no tomorrow. This works until the body says ‘NO MORE’, usually in a way that actually does threaten your tomorrow.

And she lists one more reason why we might avoid engaging with the emotions that we’re not looking at: Fear of Getting Stuck, which is also fear of being overwhelmed, fear of losing the plot in a place where we are supposed to keep it together, fear of utterly unravelling and not being able to pull it together for whatever next thing we have to do.

Do you recognise your patterns there? What are your numbing ‘tells’?

I wonder what will happen if….

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Curiosity is our shared birthright – it’s not just for cats. Remember the post about play and how it’s a survival skill? Curiosity is part of that. And curiosity is essential if we’re going to look at what’s going on when we find ourselves falling on our faces. I think it’s the big falls that get our attention first – they are hard to ignore. And then once you start turning to these experiences with a compassionate curiosity, asking yourself, ” Why do I keep thinking about that conversation?” “What’s happened that I’m grabbing for chocolate/pintrest/news?”

Curiosity isn’t always easy to find, though. Fear fetters curiosity – what if you don’t want to find out what’s going on?? Maybe that’s the place to start?

The Four Basic Emotions

When I do an enneagram typing interview, I ask a whole bunch of questions and in among them are questions about the four basic emotions :

  • How do you experience anger? (yours and other’s)
  • Over your lifetime, what’s been your experience of sadness?
  • What’s your relationship with fear? (what kinds of things do you worry about? how does anxiety show up for you?)
  • How important is making time for fun and pleasure?

There are follow up questions, depending on the answers, and the ways we focus on, experience and look for these emotions tells a lot about our likely enneagram type. But also it reflects the openness of the heart.

Chances are good that one of these is most familiar to you – your go to emotion or the least censured. And the chances are good that one or more of these is unfamiliar or even off the radar. It may be so deeply censured that you cannot allow yourself to admit that you feel it.

In the enneagram map for growth, the first task is to open the heart. The second task is to recognise and liberate the mind from fixed and limiting beliefs about who you are and how the world is. There is interplay between these two, as the limiting beliefs can keep us stuck in a way of interpreting what happens to us and the reactive emotional responses can keep us stuck in repeating the same experiences over and over in different contexts and relationships.

But until the emotional centre is awake to the fullness of emotional responses to life how can we hope to live fully? Until we kindle our curiosity about what is going on inside…what is happening and what story we are telling about it…until we are willing to dig deeper and own the story, reality check our version of the story and explore other options and information…we really aren’t fully inhabiting the one life that we have to live.

And the invitation of good religion offers a path to practice disciplines that move you towards an open heart and open mind through a spiritual partnership with grace.

The Practices

Exploring the dead zone

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For many people the value of emotions and the willingness to inquire about the information encoded in the emotional response depends hugely on what they saw growing up. If your caregivers and teachers didn’t model or teach you to value and openly discuss and explore then this will look like a bad place to go.

So let’s dig into that first.

What were the messages you got from family and school?

Brene offers seven general ideas from her research:

  • being emotional is a sign of vulnerability and vulnerability is weakness. You don’t want to be weak, do you?
  • Don’t ask. Don’t tell. My feelings are none of your business and I don’t want to hear about yours either.
  • We don’t have the words (in our family) to talk about feelings so we just can’t go there – or we make fun of those who do.
  • Discussing emotion is frivolous, self-indulgent and a waste of time. Be rational. Be practical.
  • We’re so numb to feeling that there is nothing to discuss.
  • Uncertainty is too uncomfortable. We’re not going there.
  • Engaging and asking questions invites trouble. I might learn something that I don’t want to know.

Do you see your experience reflected in those seven ideas? Is there another one you’d add? What might need to happen for you to get curious about your own emotional landscape?

An avoidance fast

Using the list above, make an appointment with yourself to take an honest inventory of all the ways that you know you use to avoid reflecting on your uncomfortable experiences of life and relationships. The appointment is necessary because without it, you’ll probably want to avoid this exercise if possible by putting it off indefinitely and then running out of time…..

Keep the appointment. Make the list.

Once you have made your list, you may want to reality check that with a trusted friend (someone on your square squad?) This could be helpful in case you have missed something or you might have a squiffy perspective on what is avoidance and what is allowing yourself to have fun (or vice versa).

Next, fast from as many of those behaviours as you can for at least a week. As your discomfort rises (and if you are really fasting effectively, it will rise), you’ll need to practice some curiosity fuelled compassionate self reflection – but that’s ok, you’ll have freed up loads of time for this!!

Re-visit the temple of peace

All of this emotional discovery and discussion is probably amplifying a level of discomfort that you were numbing and avoiding for very good reasons. So it’s really important to have a safe base to return to when the safety of non-feeling has been removed.

Practice a full body relaxation with this guided meditation.

encounter your wise guide in the temple of peace with this one.

and here’s a breathing meditation

Brene says, ‘The reckoning is how we walk into our story; the rumble is where we own it”.

I reckon the reckoning might take a while to get the hang of, especially if you have to work to unlearn some family rules about engaging with emotions as well as allowing those emotions to come closer to the surface.

Keep breathing friends – we’re on this journey together.

Photo by Chandler Cruttenden on Unsplash

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