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

Reply
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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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.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

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 that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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