What is Bravery? Can Surrendering Be Brave?

What is Bravery? Can Surrendering Be Brave? (By Kelli Walker)

When trials and tribulations inevitably occur in life, we tend to want to fight them. According to our society and our customs, fighting tooth and nail against adversity is the “brave” or “courageous” thing to do. However, while fight and grit certainly have their place, even with anxiety, sometimes surrendering is best and it can take just as much bravery as fighting.

This truth has been hammered home to me lately as I’ve watched my mom dying from cancer. She was recently put on hospice for end of life care and pain management. Yet some in her support network still continue to tell her things like “never stop fighting” or “you never know what might happen.”

I understand the tendency to say those things, to feel those things – cancer is tough, everyone is just doing their best in a crappy situation. However, I can see the guilt on my mom’s face whenever she hears those words: “never stop fighting”, it makes her feel as if she should be doing more. In this case, fighting actually looks more like denial; fighting blinds my mom and others to the truth that she is, in fact, dying and prevents her from tying up loose ends or saying goodbye. In this case, surrendering is incredibly brave; being willing to look straight at the raw, painful truth is no easy feat, but doing so is what will allow my mom to move forward and find peace.

In a perhaps (perhaps not) less gloomy way, the same is true of fighting versus surrendering to anxiety. I used to think fighting anxiety was the brave way to go about dealing with it, but maybe continuing to go to the gym every morning for my daily exercise-induced panic attack or continuing to hide my struggle from everyone because I was afraid of appearing weak was maybe not brave so much as stubborn. Fighting panic attacks and endless “what if…” thoughts were really just a super fun form of denial.

Surrendering to anxiety takes incredible courage because it can be a painful truth, but surrendering is often necessary in order to move past anxiety. Surrendering is simply acknowledging the reality of a situation, and once we do that, we’re able to move forward. It’s hard to admit that anxiety is affecting or limiting our life (been there, done that, got the t-shirt), but once we do, it makes it a whole lot easier to move toward the life we want.

Sometimes fight and grit are helpful – you’ll know when because it won’t feel bad or shameful, it will feel empowering – but sometimes, especially when it comes to anxiety, surrendering is invaluable. Surrender doesn’t necessarily make anxiety go away in that moment, but it brings a sense of peace and clarity so that we can transcend the anxiety, whereas fighting the anxiety keeps us feeling stuck, or even worse, like we’re sinking.

If you are struggling with anxiety, you don’t need to fight it tooth and nail anymore; you’re still brave if you give up the fight. Instead, surrender to the fact that you are struggling with anxiety so that you can finally begin to move forward.


Kelli Walker

About the Author:
Kelli Walker, R.N., M.S.N., CSMC 
Kelli knows anxiety. For over 15 years she struggled with generalized anxiety, OCD, and panic disorder. It was only after becoming housebound and completely limited by her anxiety that she made it a priority to finally understand and address it. Kelli now works as a coach helping people move past their own anxiety in the way she did: by understanding anxiety’s true nature and the ways that we innocently get stuck in the cycle of fear and worry. Kelli is co-host of The Anxiety Coaches Podcast, has been featured in Cosmopolitan Magazine and has presented at several summits. Kelli enjoys Nutella, her dogs, world travel, hiking, kayaking and ultimate frisbee. To learn more about Kelli and her work visit www.panicandanxietycoach.com

 

3 Comments

Jenn

I love this. I have watched a friend learn to surrender when her husband had cancer. I work in the NICU and the parents who thrive are the ones who surrender to the situation. They don’t stop fighting but they start fighting for what they can actually fight for instead of the fact that their baby is sick.

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The more your young one is able to verbalise what their anxiety feels like, the more capacity they will have to identify it, acknowledge it and act more deliberately in response to it. With this level of self-awareness comes an increased ability to manage the feeling when it happens, and less likelihood that the anxiety will hijack their behaviour. 

Now - let’s give their awareness some muscle. If they are experts at what their anxiety feels like, they are also experts at what it takes to be brave. They’ve felt anxiety and they’ve moved through it, maybe not every time - none of us do it every time - maybe not even most times, but enough times to know what it takes and how it feels when they do. Maybe it was that time they walked into school when everything in them was wanting to walk away. Maybe that time they went in for goal, or down the water slide, or did the presentation in front of the class. Maybe that time they spoke their own order at the restaurant, or did the driving test, or told you there would be alcohol at the party. Those times matter, because they show them they can move through anxiety towards brave. They might also taken for granted by your young one, or written off as not counting as brave - but they do count. They count for everything. They are evidence that they can do hard things, even when those things feel bigger than them. 

So let’s expand those times with them and for them. Let’s expand the wisdom that comes with that, and bring their brave into the light as well. ‘What helped you do that?’ ‘What was it like when you did?’ ‘I know everything in you wanted to walk away, but you didn’t. Being brave isn’t about doing things easily. It’s about doing those hard things even when they feel bigger than us. I see you doing that all the time. It doesn’t matter that you don’t do them every time -none of us are brave every time- but you have so much courage in you my love, even when anxiety is making you feel otherwise.’

Let them also know that you feel like this too sometimes. It will help them see that anxiety happens to all of us, and that even though it tells a deficiency story, it is just a story and one they can change the ending of.
During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.
"Be patient. We don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. That feels really bad sometimes. Just keep reminding us that it’s okay that we don’t have it all figured out yet, and maybe remind yourself sometimes too."
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 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #neuronurtured #braindevelopment #adolescence  #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Would you be more likely to take advice from someone who listened to you first, or someone who insisted they knew best and worked hard to convince you? Our teens are just like us. If we want them to consider our advice and be open to our influence, making sure they feel heard is so important. Being right doesn't count for much at all if we aren't being heard.
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Hear what they think, what they want, why they think they're right, and why it’s important to them. Sometimes we'll want to change our mind, and sometimes we'll want to stand firm. When they feel fully heard, it’s more likely that they’ll be able to trust that our decisions or advice are given fully informed and with all of their needs considered. And we all need that.
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 #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #adolescence 
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