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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I’m so excited for this! I’m coming back to Perth in February for another parent talk on 'Strengthening Children and Teens Against Anxiety'. Here’s the when and the where:

⏰ 6:30-8:30pm | 📆 Wed 22 Feb 2023
📍 Peter Moyes Anglican Community School, #mindarie

For tickets or more info google:

Parenting Connection WA Karen Young anxiety Mindarie Perth

💜 Thanks to @ngalaraisinghappiness for hosting this event.

#supportingwaparents #parentingwa
Let them know …

Anxiety shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️

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