Guards!

What’s your immediate reaction to shame, guilt, criticism or vulnerability? Are you afraid to be open? Do you put up your guard? Or, do you ever feel like this?

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So many of us are afraid to open up, as I recently discussed in another post on Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. She talks about the things we use to defend ourselves from openness and vulnerability. She describes these guards against vulnerability as shields. Below, I’ve attempted to summarize and put my own spin on her brilliance, followed by the proposed solution to the shield.


Foreboding Joy ⇒ Gratitude

Do you ever have that feeling of something bad about to happen? You’re finally hitting your stride at work, in love, in school, wherever in life, and you get this pit in your stomach. It’s called waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s also called expecting the worst.

I think that most of us are all too familiar with this feeling, and if not, think about Batman. He never has time for appreciating the good, mostly because the writers of his storylines won’t cut him any slack. That being said, he’s also written to expect the worst and be capable of effectively planning for it.

That’s one of his many superpowers. In the Adam West Batman from the 1960’s, there’s a can of shark repellent that became a running joke in the series. This was part of the camp inherent in this iteration of Batman, but it also demonstrates how his overpreparation for anything works in his favor.

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The point is this: Unless you’re Batman, and the universe will write into existence every horrible thing you’ve planned for, drop your Shark Repellent Bat Spray. Put away your delusions of superhero over-preparedness and roll with life’s punches.

Be grateful for the randomness within life. Appreciate that the unknown means you might get to drive a millionaire’s Ferrari after befriending him in a club. These things do happen, if you stop waiting for that shoe to drop. Instead, kick off the other shoe and enjoy your bare feet. Say thank you to the world for the littlest things. Thank your loved ones for meeting your needs. Thank God that you have something bigger to believe in. Thank yourself for wanting to feel and try to grow and open up in the first place.


Numbing ⇒ Boundaries, Comfort, Spirit

I’ve already addressed how imperative it is for me to feel connected and be in touch with my feelings. It’s dangerous to shut yourself off from your emotions. You stifle your connection with others.

“Numb the dark you and you numb the light.”

Keeping this in mind, numbness isn’t exclusive to just the bad feelings. When you trade in the bad, you also trade away the good. I’ve know too many beautiful souls who severed their connections in love, friendship, or professional success because they attracted isolation with their numbing to human connection.

When your numbness isn’t necessarily self-imposed (i.e. depression, depersonalization), you’ve got to try even harder to establish some of the solutions suggested to counteract numbness.

Boundaries

When you have that friend or family member who won’t leave you alone, it’s okay to tell them to stop. Don’t be a jerk about it, but let them know they’re crowding your space. Communicate your needs so they can be met. When you screen people’s calls or just stop showing up to gatherings, people assume. It’s only natural to fill in the gaps when you’re not there to explain yourself.

Don’t be afraid to stricter boundaries at first, either. You can always dial them back when you’re ready to open back up again. And, your boundaries aren’t probably generalized to everyone. Hold strangers and loved ones to different standards when appropriate. Don’t expect a new friend to be comfortable with your drama in the same way an old friend might be.

That’s the other side of the boundary coin. Respect others’ boundaries, too. It’s a two way street, so treat it as such. No one’s going to respect you if you can’t respect them first.

Comfort

This isn’t just about sitting on a couch and eating chocolate. This might just be that post-run endorphin, feet-pounding on the earth, heart in your ears moment. It might also be chocolate.Or, it could be a book that’s made you feel more alive in two sentences than an entirely draining day at work.

These comforts are that toasty warm blanket, fresh from the dryer mid-winter and right onto your body. These are momentary indulgences, reprieves from tough moments. You shouldn’t be seeking these out in worst case scenarios. Make them part of your daily routine.

If comfort isn’t included in the construct of your boundaries, you’re asking for trouble. You will far too easily swing from working too hard into playing too hard. What you need is balance, and this is possible by making space for a healthy amount of comfort daily.

Spirit

This one speaks for itself. For some of you, mere spirituality is enough. For me, it’s certainly not. I need that daily dose of divinity in my life. I achieve that by invoking the will of God every day before I write.

My mom helped with this when she left an index card with a handwritten prayer asking for the intercession of St. Francis de Sales, Patron Saint of Writers.

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I’ve taken to keeping this in the notebook I write in daily. Recently, I added another prayer by St. Thomas Aquinas,

O Creator of the universe, who has set the stars in the heavens and causes the sun to rise and set, shed the light of your wisdom into the darkness of my mind. Fill my thoughts with the loving knowledge of you, that I may bring your light to others. Just as you can make even babies speak your truth, instruct my tongue and guide my pen to convey the wonderful glory of the Gospel. Make my intellect sharp, my memory clear, and my words eloquent, so that I may faithfully interpret the mysteries which you have revealed.

Spirit means making space, daily, for some level of soul connection. If prayer isn’t your thing, maybe writing about the universe is. Or maybe you meditate. Maybe you listen to music about life and death. Whatever it is, find your spiritual center and go there. It’s a must for your existential well-being. Connect to the great beyond to connect to the person right in front of you.


Perfectionism ⇒ Self-Compassion

Love yourself enough to forgive yourself. Also, fuck pretense.


Viking-or-Victim ⇒ Success, Reintegration, Support

I want you all to take a second and appreciate that my high school mascot was a Viking. Mind you, I went to a Catholic school. Vikings hated Catholics; they literally invented specific methods of ritual murder just for them. And yet, the Catholics didn’t let this stop them. They chose not to be Vikings or Victims, something I think my fellow Millennials could learn a thing or two from. Instead, they kept on carrying out the faith and spreading the good news.

When you think Viking, I’m sure you imagine some lovely bearded man sailing on a ship with a burning village in behind him and a woman kidnapped from said village, bound and gagged in his arms. Take the burning village as the past shame you’re trying to hide, and the woman in your arms, that’s the actual you–in pain and trapped by your mask of toughness.

On the other hand, maybe you’re the last survivor in your village, which has just been set ablaze. Maybe you didn’t end up kidnapped or murdered, but left with nothing. What will you do next? Will you give up? Will you shame your people and let their loss be for nought? Or will you be brave? Will you report this crime to the nearest sovereign, rushing to seek revenge and justice upon these marauders? Or, will you merely go from village to village, begging for scraps and moaning about the loss you suffered? You can let your life stagnate or change. You choose to be a victim or a survivor.

Redefining Success

Considering the level of personal victimization by Regina George this generation has undergone, I’m surprised we’re not all full of pity and bitterness. Oh, wait. Just kidding.

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Allow me to clarify, in order for us to redefine ourselves after whatever shame we experienced, we’ve got to name our demons. That means, if you pillaged all your emotions away to nothing, own it. Likewise, if you indulged yourself in self-pity to the point of wallowing, own it.

Brown has a special point made about trauma in this part of the book. I personally found that redefining success after a traumatic incident meant rescripting my reality as a whole. My past levels of success were nowhere near where I wanted them to be, but I learned to live with it. At one point, success was just getting my ass out of bed in the morning. Later on, it meant not thinking about ending things every day. And now, it’s about cultivating a portfolio for my dream of being a writer.

Reintegrating Vulnerability

Allowing openness back into your life after closing down from shame means you’ve already worked through redefining your place in life. No longer being afraid to hope or love or take risks means that you’re already making progress towards shamelessness. And that’s a beautiful thing, best shared with others.

Support

Which brings me to support. Fellowship is key to overcoming any obstacles, especially those of shame and victimization. Vikings push their friends away, whereas victims are too afraid to make real connection. But when you do reintegrate vulnerability, it’s big magic.

Creating community with those around you, whether they’ve shared your shame or not, is essential. You can’t fight your demons alone. Whether you only choose to include Christ, or Him and loved ones, you aren’t meant to heal alone. Healing from shame and trauma brings people together.

You have to make the space in your head and heart for that community, though. That’s your responsibility. If you choose to remain aloof, or become a tantrum-filled Viking, good luck in ever getting over your shame or trauma.


Floodlighting/Oversharing ⇒ Intentionality, Boundaries, Connection

“There’s something magical about the idea of twinkle lights shining in dark and difficult places. The lights are small, and a single light isn’t very special, but an entire strand is sheer beauty. It’s the connectivity that makes them beautiful.”

“The most powerful moments of our lives happen when we string together the small flickers of light created by courage, compassion, and connection and see them shine in the darkness of our struggles.”
Brown calls oversharing floodlighting, which is a beautiful metaphor. You can be blindsided by information. You can feel like a deer in the headlights. Shining too much light into the eyes of one accustomed to the dark (i.e. ignorance) isn’t fair and is certainly uncomfortable. Don’t be that Texas-sized truck with the LED floodlights tailgating tiny sedans.

Intentionality

When you share your shame, why do you do it? And how? If you can’t answer these questions, you need to understand the power of intent. If you’re twinkling here and there with your story, people may flock to you in curiosity. If you try to burn like a spotlight, you’ll short out the entire string of lights. Using Brown’s metaphor, you’ll essentially overdo it on the sharing.

At the same time, if you’re brave enough to share the darkest thing–which in turn will make you shine brightly–you’ll attract other fire flies. You’ll twinkle together, sending out messages of support and hope in the darkness.

Boundaries

Oh, hey. Another solution about boundaries. Go read the one above. Also, I repeat, don’t be that Texas-sized truck with the LED floodlights tailgating tiny sedans.

Connection

I can answer why I share my stories they way that I do. Sometimes, I’ll only share a story with one other person because I know they can do for me what no other can. They can listen without judgment or comment. So few can do that now, which makes it harder to connect.

Sometimes, I’ll share a story with a wide audience at a public event. That story might be an orated memory, perfectly worded for relativity and impact. That kind of storytelling is newest to me, but I find it the most enjoyable. You’d be surprised at the kinds of people who come forward, just wanting to connect.

I put my words on the internet in the hopes that more people are reached than I have the ability to reach. It takes time to build an audience, as well as find your voice. This kind of storytelling (i.e., blogging) has been perfected by people like Jenny Lawson, who’s done so well she’s even published books about life and living.


Avoidance ⇒ Presence, Attentiveness, Progress

Don’t avoid your problems. Make yourself present in trying to overcome them. Live in the moment and smell the damned roses. Appreciate all of the beauty around you, and don’t rush vulnerability. It’s a process. Respect the process. Do what is meaningful, not expedient.


Cynicism, Criticism, Cool, & Cruelty ⇒ Tightrope, Shame Resilience, Reality Check
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Cynics are sad and angry. Every time I hear the word ‘cynic’ I’m reminded of arsenic. Not only do these words sound alike, but they’re both poisonous. The sad thing is, cynicism used to be about communing in nature, sacrificing the self for a life of the selfless. Eventually, it came to be associated with doubting the goodness of others’ and their intentions. Every cynic I know is worse than Doubting Thomas, and more often doubts the goodness of life. Bittersweet nihilism, really.

I never understood why criticism is good enough to make a career. The worst part is, most critics don’t offer anything constructive. Oftentimes, they tend to tear others’ down like emotional, sensational profiteers. Who needs that?

If you’re cool, then you’re ice cold and your heart is currently out of order. Come see me when it’s pumping regularly, full of heat and passion. If you’re too cool to talk about your feelings or to share yourself with the world, that’s rude, crude, and socially unacceptable in my book. Also, playing it cool in a relationship is downright cruel.

Balancing Act

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“Walking the fine line between not caring about others’ opinions or taking them too personally is a ‘tightrope. Shame resilience is the balance bar, and the safety net are those in our lives who can help reality-check us’ into openness with boundaries.”
Learn to be patient. The strength and precision needed to balance on the high wire of life’s demands requires patience. Be willing to accept falling; your loved ones will catch you when the skills you used to balance yourself fail you.

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