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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Growth doesn’t always announce itself in ways that feel safe or invited. Often, it can leave us exhausted and confused and with dirt in our pores from the fury of the battle. It is this way for all of us, our children too. 

The truth of it all is that we are all born with a profound and immense capacity to rise through challenges, changes and heartache. There is something else we are born with too, and it is the capacity to add softness, strength, and safety for each other when the movement towards growth feels too big. Not always by finding the answer, but by being it - just by being - safe, warm, vulnerable, real. As it turns out, sometimes, this is the richest source of growth for all of us.
When the world feel sunsettled, the ripple can reach the hearts, minds and spirits of kids and teens whether or not they are directly affected. As the important adult in the life of any child or teen, you have a profound capacity to give them what they need to steady their world again.

When their fears are really big, such as the death of a parent, being alone in the world, being separated from people they love, children might put this into something else. 

This can also happen because they can’t always articulate the fear. Emotional ‘experiences’ don’t lay in the brain as words, they lay down as images and sensory experiences. This is why smells and sounds can trigger anxiety, even if they aren’t connected to a scary experience. The ‘experiences’ also don’t need to be theirs. Hearing ‘about’ is enough.

The content of the fear might seem irrational but the feeling will be valid. Think of it as the feeling being the part that needs you. Their anxiety, sadness, anger (which happens to hold down other more vulnerable emotions) needs to be seen, held, contained and soothed, so they can feel safe again - and you have so much power to make that happen. 

‘I can see how worried you are. There are some big things happening in the world at the moment, but my darling, you are safe. I promise. You are so safe.’ 

If they have been through something big, the truth is that they have been through something frightening AND they are safe, ‘We’re going through some big things and it can be confusing and scary. We’ll get through this. It’s okay to feel scared or sad or angry. Whatever you feel is okay, and I’m here and I love you and we are safe. We can get through anything together.’
I love being a parent. I love it with every part of my being and more than I ever thought I could love anything. Honestly though, nothing has brought out my insecurities or vulnerabilities as much. This is so normal. Confusing, and normal. 

However many children we have, and whatever age they are, each child and each new stage will bring something new for us to learn. It will always be this way. Our children will each do life differently, and along the way we will need to adapt and bend ourselves around their path to light their way as best we can. But we won't do this perfectly, because we can't always know what mountains they'll need to climb, or what dragons they'll need to slay. We won't always know what they’ll need, and we won't always be able to give it. We don't need to. But we'll want to. Sometimes we’ll ache because of this and we’ll blame ourselves for not being ‘enough’. Sometimes we won't. This is the vulnerability that comes with parenting. 

We love them so much, and that never changes, but the way we feel about parenting might change a thousand times before breakfast. Parenting is tough. It's worth every second - every second - but it's tough. Great parents can feel everything, and sometimes it can turn from moment to moment - loving, furious, resentful, compassionate, gentle, tough, joyful, selfish, confused and wise - all of it. Great parents can feel all of it.

Because parenting is pure joy, but not always. We are strong, nurturing, selfless, loving, but not always. Parents aren't perfect. Love isn't perfect. And it was meant to be. We’re raising humans - real ones, with feelings, who don't need to be perfect, and wont  need others to be perfect. Humans who can be kind to others, and to themselves first. But they will learn this from us. Parenting is the role which needs us to be our most human, beautifully imperfect, flawed, vulnerable selves. Let's not judge ourselves for our shortcomings and the imperfections, and the necessary human-ness of us.❤️
The behaviour that comes with separation anxiety is the symptom not the problem. To strengthen children against separation anxiety, we have to respond at the source – the felt sense of separation from you.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person, there will be always be anxiety unless there is at least one of 2 things: attachment with another trusted, adult; or a felt sense of you holding on to them, even when you aren’t beside them. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it needs more than an adult being present. Just because there is another adult in the room, doesn’t mean your child will experience a deep sense of safety with that adult. This doesn’t mean the adult isn’t safe - it’s about what the brain perceives, and that brain is looking for a deep, felt sense of safety. This will come from the presence of an adult who, through their strong, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for them, and their joy in doing so. The joy in caretaking is important. It lets the child rest from seeking the adult’s care because there will be a sense that the adult wants it enough for both.

This can be helped along by showing your young one that you trust the adult to love and care for your child and keep him or her safe in your absence: ‘I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.’ This doesn’t mean children will instantly feel the attachment, but the path towards that will be more illuminated.

To help them feel you holding on even when you aren’t with them, let them know you’ll be thinking of them and can’t wait to be with them again. I used to tell my daughter that every 15 seconds, my mind makes sure it knows where she is. Think of this as ‘taking over’ their worry. ‘You don’t have to worry about you or me because I’m taking care of both of us – every 15 seconds.’ This might also look like giving them something of yours to hold on to while you’re gone – a scarf, a note. You will always be their favourite way to safety, but you can’t be everywhere. Another loving adult or the felt presence of you will help them rest.
Sometimes it can be hard to know what to say or whether to say anything at all. It doesn’t matter if the ‘right’ words aren’t there, because often there no right words. There are also no wrong ones. Often it’s not even about the words. Your presence, your attention, the sound of your voice - they all help to soften the hard edges of the world. Humans have been talking for as long as we’ve had heartbeats and there’s a reason for this. Talking heals. 

It helps to connect the emotional right brain with the logical left. This gives context and shape to feelings and helps them feel contained, which lets those feelings soften. 

You don’t need to fix anything and you don’t need to have all the answers. Even if the words land differently to the way you expected, you can clean it up once it’s out there. What’s important is opening the space for conversation, which opens the way to you. Try, ‘I’m wondering how you’re doing with everything. Would you like to talk?’ 

And let them take the lead. Some days they’ll want to talk about ‘it’ and some days they’ll want to talk about anything but. Whether it’s to distract from the mess of it all or to go deeper into it so they can carve their way through the feeling to the calm on the other side, healing will come. So ask, ‘Do you want to talk about ‘it’ or do you want to talk about something else? Because I’m here for both.’ ♥️
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