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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How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.
When things feel hard or the world feels big, children will be looking to their important adults for signs of safety. They will be asking, ‘Do you think I'm safe?' 'Do you think I can do this?' With everything in us, we have to send the message, ‘Yes! Yes love, this is hard and you are safe. You can do hard things.'

Even if we believe they are up to the challenge, it can be difficult to communicate this with absolute confidence. We love them, and when they're distressed, we're going to feel it. Inadvertently, we can align with their fear and send signals of danger, especially through nonverbals. 

What they need is for us to align with their 'brave' - that part of them that wants to do hard things and has the courage to do them. It might be small but it will be there. Like a muscle, courage strengthens with use - little by little, but the potential is always there.

First, let them feel you inside their world, not outside of it. This lets their anxious brain know that support is here - that you see what they see and you get it. This happens through validation. It doesn't mean you agree. It means that you see what they see, and feel what they feel. Meet the intensity of their emotion, so they can feel you with them. It can come off as insincere if your nonverbals are overly calm in the face of their distress. (Think a zen-like low, monotone voice and neutral face - both can be read as threat by an anxious brain). Try:

'This is big for you isn't it!' 
'It's awful having to do things you haven't done before. What you are feeling makes so much sense. I'd feel the same!

Once they really feel you there with them, then they can trust what comes next, which is your felt belief that they will be safe, and that they can do hard things. 

Even if things don't go to plan, you know they will cope. This can be hard, especially because it is so easy to 'catch' their anxiety. When it feels like anxiety is drawing you both in, take a moment, breathe, and ask, 'Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?' Let your answer guide you, because you know your young one was built for big, beautiful things. It's in them. Anxiety is part of their move towards brave, not the end of it.

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