How being vulnerable this week thought me about my inner strength.
The post this week is going to be more personal in nature because last Friday I had a lovely experience of relearning one of the lessons try I teach clients every week.
Yes, even us therapists must re-learn sometimes how anxiety works and how no one is immune. I don’t mind sharing the personal nature of this because for me it left me fully convinced that knowing and accepting our moments of vulnerability leads to real strength.
In this post I am going to take us through what I realized last week and what I feel are the implications for every one of us.
My issue in brief:
Nowadays I think we are all aware from the media that we have a serious housing crisis going on in this country. Nobody is immune to it whether we are directly impacted by it or know and care about people who can’t get a place to rent or get on the property ladder.
The whole thing is causing massive stress throughout Irish society, basically it is HUGE challenge for people.
No one gets away from it including yours truly. Let’s just say training to be a psychotherapist was a long and expensive task, which took me five years. I wouldn’t say I would have saved all that money if I hadn’t gone down this road, but put it this way right now I am still renting.
Cue about four months ago a meeting with the landlord where there were grumblings about not renewing the lease…. I never knew I could be so stressed. I was frantic thinking about what will I do if I have to move, where will I go, will I ever be able to save if I have to pay extortionate rent (2018 prices) etc.
The issue resolved itself, and we signed up again for another year. Enter massive relief, I felt I was lucky and then I thought that’s it, crisis over.
Since then I have noticed I have been trying to save a lot more and counting the pennies. Every week I have been thinking about how much I can save, when I can pay loans off etc. I noticed more and more it was coming into my head and I was getting worked up (hello anxiety) until last Friday.
I still go to therapy myself and somehow ended up on the topic of my general stress. I began to ramble through the connotations of my housing situation and the future. This and that, what would happen if, what ifs and “shoulds”.
My therapist listened patiently before asking me simply to check in with myself… I was all head chatter, what was going on in my body.
Then it struck me like thunder! Holy Moley!…. I was terrified! I am normally a pretty calm customer but, in my chest, as clear as day I felt I was afraid.
I left the meeting thinking wow this is new and it’s obvious I’m more affected than I thought. I could have panicked more, but I knew what to do! Here’s how connecting with my vulnerability was a good thing!
The power to respond rather than react:
My fear on this issue was unconscious for me. I knew I was stressed out about it, but to realize I was frightened the way a child would be frightened was surprising but also liberating.
Avoiding feelings and not being aware of them is gasoline for anxiety. When we don’t acknowledge our feelings they are out of awareness, yet they still are there.
They fire up our fight or flight system which gives us the sped-up thoughts (for me worrying), body tension (for me stress/anxiety) and changes our behaviour (for me checking the bank balance too often).
This was all going on unconsciously; but feeling the feeling, gave me power and options.
I was reacting to the feeling and running away from it by mentally escaping, but armed with my new experience and self knowledge I could respond to myself with love and compassion.
If we spoke to a friend, a family member or even a child who was frightened what would we say or do?
Would we tell them yes they should worry more, or should to cop on? To stop being silly? Would we call them stupid or weak? I hope not!
What we would probably do is tell them it’s okay to be frightened, I am here, how can I help, let’s wait until the feeling goes down and then let’s figure this out together.
Feeling my feeling let me acknowledge the scared part of myself, be with that and then tell myself it’s going to be alright. The evidence is there that nothing bad is imminently going to happen.
“I’ve got options”, “we would manage that”, “what percentage likelihood is that”, “what’s realistic”.
Knowing that underneath our anxieties are often uncomfortable feelings allows us to supersede the anxiety and deal with the main thing activating the nervous system, the emotion.
We can comfort the feeling and then deal with the thoughts. Feelings are temporary phenomenon. They need to be acknowledged or they never pass.
For example: If we realize we are feeling lonely, we can comfort ourselves until we feel better. Then we can respond to what the loneliness needs. This cuts through the worry and the anxiety.
likewise if we are sad, upset, guilty, shameful, envious or whatever we can give ourselves some TLC and then respond.
The reason this is so hard and not automatic is that many of us grew up believing that certain emotions were bad. It is not okay to feel that way. We typically react to those feelings by attacking ourselves, denying them from awareness or feeling guilty.
So, there is sort of internal war going on within ourselves when we have our very real, but forbidden feelings. Therefore, very often instead of comforting ourselves we attack ourselves for having them.
This devastates our self esteem and leads down a dark, anxious road. But think about it like this and see how wise it seems:
Imagine going to the airport with a travelling companion. This companion, like a shadow is chained to us and we can never get away from them.
The companion does what we don’t like. They get scared, they are blue, they want to cry or they are mad as hell. How would the situation of getting on the plane progress if we start to berate the companion for how they are feeling? We tell them they are an idiot for feeling that way.
How do they feel then? Better or worse? They worry so we tell them to they are stupid and to calm down. I know if I was worried and someone insulted me then told me to shut up or calm down it would make me a lot worse.
I would scream and cry, I would worry over everything. We do the same thing with ourselves internally. Sometimes we might bully them into submission, but they would still blurt out how upset they were when triggered.
What does our emotional companion need? They need some understanding and some reassurance that’s all. Most of us look for reassurance off others but hey, guess what?
Just as we are all well capable of listening to and empathizing with others when they are worried or upset: we can do this for ourselves! Most of us just haven’t learned yet.
Vulnerability as strength:
Much of the research shows it: when we can be vulnerable and real with ourselves we get strength that we could never have imagined.
Ever hear the expression “feel the fear and do it anyway”? This means to know that we are afraid, but to make an informed choice to press ahead.
He or she who doesn’t know that they are afraid unconsciously obeys the fear. As my favourite expression goes: “What we are aware of, we are in control of. What we are not aware of, is in control of us”.
Denying our feelings and our fears or berating ourselves for them means we have lost control. We do it to feel strong, but really this makes us weak and subtle.
To know ourselves means to know our humanity in all it’s tenderness and vulnerability. Those places make us the most human but are also our secret weapon.
The tough guy who doesn’t know he is afraid is the most dangerous of all. They are the ones who are out of control. Knowing how we feel gives us amazing power.
Think of the woman who is nervous about asking a question: she feels the fear, tells herself it’s ok, reminders herself it’s fine to ask a question and she asks it.
Think of the man who’s nervous of the job interview: he feels the fear, gives himself encouragement beforehand, announces in the interview that he is a little nervous: he feels better that it’s validated, and he does really well.
The examples I could give are endless. But the point is that by acknowledging the emotion and owning it, rather than denying it, we gain the inner strength to respond and do it anyway.
To conclude I’m glad I realized I was afraid. I really felt it and was able to respond to it. Sure, I am still going to save and want to avoid problems down the line.
But going forward I feel more in tune with this fear and more in control of my thinking, my body and my behaviour.
Self-knowledge is powerful I’m sure of that. To feel the fear, we can do it anyway. Our vulnerability is the bodies guide for what really matters to us. Listen to it and take power from it.
Thanks for reading this blog and if any of the themes struck a cord with please feel free to like the page here to see regular blogs and updates.
If you would like to hear more about how therapy can help I am always open to chatting to how from my location in Glasnevin I can help clients overcome anxiety. If my place doesn’t suit Anxiety Ireland have a team of accredited psychotherapists located around the country
Again, I am always happy to answer messages to our page or I am happy to take calls/text to see how I can help: 087 063 0948.
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Team Anxiety Ireland
Anxiety is a merry-go-round, going nowhere fast, it’s ok to step off.