Living Brave: How to make the right moment right now.

Living Brave: How to make the right moment right now.

Sometimes we make the decision to keep the best of ourselves – the richest, warmest, most engaging part of ourselves – unseen. It happens when we hold back – from relationships, possibilities, opportunities, discovery, adventure. From the world. We lid our potential. We stand back, pull back and wait until the moment is right to take that chance, go for that job, start that business, make that change, fall in love, say the words. 

But what if the thing that was going to make the moment ‘right’ was us. Our willingness to take a risk.

The courage we need is in all of us. Too often, we never know how ‘right’ we could feel, because of the need to keep ourselves safe. There’s a reason for this. And there’s a way to stop it getting in our way.

Why we hold back.

When it comes to the decision to take a risk and move towards something we want, the fear of shame is spectacularly powerful in keeping us back. It’s the wolf at the door and it will stop us walking fully into the world before we’ve even reached for the knob.

We’ve all felt it. That feeling of not being good enough, clever enough, hardworking enough, loveable enough. Of being too forward, too silly, too much. It’s that feeling of being stripped back to nothing, placed on show, judged and reduced. That feeling of being scooped out with a spoon. 

The memory of shame remains long after the original experience is gone. The memory scars and it spreads. And that’s how it stifles us.

Whether the memory of our original shame experience is gauze thin or whether it remains vast and searing, the fear of feeling shame again is enough to keep us in check. The fear can cripple, squandering potential, possibilities, love and life. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

There’s something we need to understand about shame and it’s important: Shame doesn’t come to us to stifle us, but to protect us. It’s not shame that holds us back, but our fear that we will be shamed again and that we won’t see it coming.

Shame isn’t the enemy we think it is. But our fear of it is.

Shame feels thick. It feels heavy and unmoveable. It hurts. Shame really hurts. But it also protects. It settles itself to somewhere inside us to remind us that a particular situation, behaviour, person isn’t safe, or can’t be trusted. If it could talk in it’s purest form, it’s voice would be kind and its words would sound something like, ‘Hey now, careful. Remember what happened last time?’

In the right amounts and in the right situation, shame works hard for us. It keeps us safe from hurt, from humiliation, from falling. It’s there to warn us about the people and situations that can’t be trusted. 

The problem with shame is is that it doesn’t stay isolated. It spreads from the original experience into similar situations, sounding a warning and pulling us back when there is no need. This is when shame becomes oppressive – when we expand our fear of it into situations that seem similar to the original experience, but aren’t.

The fear of feeling shame again is what stifles us – this, together with our tendency to see all situations and all people in the same light as the one that originally hurt us.

For example, instead of being careful not be ‘silly’ in front of the mother who criticised our ‘silly’ behaviour, we keep that daring, fun loving spirit under wraps in front of everyone, and in every situation. We stop seeing each situation as new and unique and we respond to them with old behaviour that is no longer useful. We see everyone or everything as having the same capacity and the inclination to hurt us as ‘that’ person (or people or environment) did back then.

We also make the mistake of believing that we are the same person, with the same vulnerabilities we’ve always had and the same rawness and capacity to be hurt. Perhaps we do have the same capacity to be hurt, but it’s also likely  that we  have a greater capacity to deal with it. With every hurt we get stronger. We get wiser and braver. Our potential to deal with the things that go wrong, gets bigger. 

The fear of shame is enough to stand us still, but by seeing it for what it is, we can lessen its influence and move it gently out of our way. 

It’s difficult to deal with shame directly because in many ways, in its purest, most adaptive form, it’s there to look after us. What we want to do is keep it as a warning for the right situations, not all situations.

What we can deal with is the way we let those feelings of shame filter through into situations where it doesn’t need to be. Shame doesn’t do that. We do. That’s good news, because it means we can change it. Here’s how.

Are you sure you want to do this? (Spoiler Alert: Yeah. You do.)

The feeling that something is missing can feel physical. So too can living short of our potential. We’ve probably all felt it at some point but perhaps not all in the same way. For me it feels like a pressing from the inside. Usually from my chest. For some it might feel like an ache or a heaviness. Sometimes a numbing. Sometimes it’s a modern day hunting and gathering – we eat, drink, buy, attach, but still there’s that feeling that something is missing. Often, we know what it is that would make the difference but stop ourselves from moving towards it. Here’s how to change that.

  1. Look for the differences.

    Sometimes, there’s a good reason to hold back and sometimes there isn’t. Living fully is about knowing the difference – knowing when to move forward and when to pull back. To do this, it’s important to see every situation for what it is, rather than through a filter that has shame, or experiences of shame, as its lens. A situation or person may look the same as one that has triggered shame, but in fact it may be very different.  

    It’s so important to see all situations with open eyes and an open heart. If you feel that you’re holding back from something or someone, first ask yourself who or what this situation or person reminds you of. Are you responding to the situation in front of you? Or to a previous one?

    Let me give you an example. I once had a neighbour who was awful – no other way to say it. He had a long grey beard and wore round glasses. After my experience with him, I had an automatic response to all men with long grey beards and round glasses. My automatic response was to bristle. I would see these men as I saw my neighbour, not as separate people with their own personalities. Seeing these people for who they were – as different to my neighbour – took a deliberate effort. When I was able to do that, the bristling that would always be my first response would ease.

    If you’ve experienced shame in one situation, it’s normal and understandable to want to protect yourself from it ever happening again. Our natural response then, is to generalise our ‘potential shame situation’ radar to many similar situations, and respond to them all the same way. You’ll limit yourself though if you respond to new situations with an old response that is perhaps no longer helpful. To turn this around, look for the differences. How is the situation different? How is the person different? Is it in a different environment? How are you different? 

  2. Find your lift. 

    The damage of shame is done through the self-talk that tends to happen automatically and out of our awareness. To counter this, we need a lift statement – a statement that will speak to us above our fear of shame. Here’s how:

♦  Find the words that hold you back.

What’s something (or someone) you feel like you’re holding yourself back from? What’s the belief that’s stopping you from moving forward? Maybe it’s that you’re not good enough? Loveable enough? Capable enough? Worthy enough? Try to get a handle on what it is for you. It might be around the way you look, what people think of you, your capacity to earn money, your capacity to get what you deserve.

I’m going to share mine with you so I can illustrate how this works. We’re in this together, right? For me, the general one that takes up space in my head from time to time is ‘I’m not enough.’ The two specific ones that creep in are ‘I’m not likeable enough,’ and ‘I’m not capable enough.’

I know where they come from so they’ve lost a lot of their kick, but sometimes when the guard’s asleep, they sneak in. They can be bold like that. What’s the one that’s pressing in you? You’ll know when you have it – you’ll feel it. 

♦   Now, to what makes it work agains you.

The worst thing about these beliefs is the way they keep us hidden from the world. These words dress the beliefs up as truths and direct our behaviour, usually by finishing off our beliefs with ‘so I won’t‘ at the end.

‘I’m not enough, so I won’t ….’; or

‘They won’t like me, so I won’t (talk to him/ her/ ask them out / approach the group);’ or

‘I’m not smart enough, so I won’t (go for a better job/go for the promotion/start my own business).’

This is how we keep ourselves hidden. 

Now, see if you can finish your sentence ‘ [ Your belief  ] so I won’t.

♦   Time to rework it. (Because you’re way too good to let a few words get in your way.)

Examine your beliefs as fears rather than truths. For example:

Rather than, ‘I’m not enough’, try ‘I’m worried I’m not enough.’

Bring them into the spotlight. These thoughts often work automatically. They’re just there and sometimes, they’re so good at what they do, they direct our behaviour without us even realising they’ve been in the area. All we know is that we’ve held ourselves back.

If someone you cared about was telling you that this was what they say to themselves, what would you say? Chances are you’d smother it with loving words and an open heart. They’re the words you need to say to yourself. It’s the rebuttal. The negation. The ‘but …’. Play around with the words until they feel right. You’ll know it when you have it. For me, it’s this ‘… but I’ve got what it takes.’

‘I’m worried I’m not enough – but I know I’ve got what it takes.’

After a while, this will become the automatic thought. It will step up and take front and centre when the fear of shame holds you back. Try it now for yourself. 

‘I’m scared that [ your belief  ] but I know …

♦   Now we’re going to supercharge it.

Research has shown that self-talk is more powerful when we use ‘you’ instead of ‘I’. Change your statement to reflect this. This will be your new self talk.

‘You’re worried that [ your belief ] but you know you’ve got what it takes.

Now that you’ve got the idea, change the statement so it doesn’t feel cumbersome for you. For me, it looks like this:

‘You’re worried you’re not enough but you know you’ve got what it takes.’

This is the statement that will move you forward. It will give you the lift you need. Whenever you start getting in your own way, this is the statement to call on. I feel it physically when I say mine. It’s the words that you need to be deliberate about when you feel like your holding yourself back. They might not feel like they belong at first. They might feel awkward and cumbersome. All habits do at the start. But that’s a sign that you’re doing something different. That’s growth. 

The thought of doing something you’ve been wanting to, but have held yourself back from, can feel overwhelming. Of course it will. If it didn’t, you would have done it long ago, right? You don’t have to know how it will end and what it will look like you get there. You don’t have to have the full path in your view. You really don’t.

The truth is, the path you think you’ll be taking from the start will likely end up looking completely different. You’ll be redirected, you’ll take wrong turns, you’ll go right when at the beginning, you thought left. As long as you know the general direction and have an idea of what’s involved at the beginning, just take the first step. It’s the hardest one. Do that, and the rest will unfold. The most frightening time is just before the first step but sometimes, the only way through to the very best things is straight the middle. 

Now, take the step. Say the words. Take the chance. Move towards him. Or her. Go be amazing.

4 Comments

Chantel

Thank-you for such insightful articles. Whenever I’m in doubt or require a little reminder, I always find myself back here finding some little gems to apply.

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eman

iam 42years i am broken down all my life was nonesence my father was so cruel he destroied me inside and draw my carear as he thought no as i wished i hate him now he wants to control my life after my devorce from an un successful marriage as a woman and agirl and a femal i am dis appointed but i try to work have a house of my own i hate to feel getting older wuthout having my happiness help me i need support

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Hey Sigmund

Eman I can hear how much pain you are in. There are people who can give you the support you need. You have been strong for such a long time – you would not have got through what you have been through if you weren’t. You don’t have to do this alone. There will be links on this page to people who can put you in touch with the right places, depending on where you live https://www.heysigmund.com/about/if-you-need-more-support/. Please have a look and reach out so you can heal and move towards the life you deserve.

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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