Love and belonging give purpose to our lives. We often engage in fear-based behaviors to “try to fit in” or try to protect ourselves from losing the potential of love and belonging, but these behaviors end up separating us even more from feeling fulfilled, living loved, and connecting to others. Ultimately, some of the behaviors we engage in end up doing the exact opposite of our intention and we end up feeling lonely and disconnected from ourselves and others. We end up living lives that lack authenticity.
Brené Brown, a qualitative researcher who extensively studied shame, vulnerability, courage, and empathy has written and spoken on these topics extensively. In some of her works, but more specifically “The Gifts of Imperfection” (2010), she wrote about some of the shared characteristics of people who live wholeheartedly. Below is a list of practices to incorporate in daily living in order to enhance your life. Practicing the tenets below can be scary as it would mean leaning into the “scarier,” “less comfortable” emotions of vulnerability, fear, and shame. But, by leaning in, we can live more fully and have the rewards of courage, compassion, connection, and authenticity.
- Let go of what people think and practice being authentic
Talk about a scary undertaking! We fear judgments and potential reactions/consequences and so we end up catering to what we think people think. If our actions are not aligned with our values or what we really think, we end up feeling a sense of dissonance within ourselves and often feel fraudulent and a lack of connectivity–a sense of “not belonging”. It actually places distance between us and the person of whom we are trying to obtain the approval. This is a practice of honesty with ourselves and others-a practice in integrity. This doesn’t mean we don’t regard others or respect others, we still live among others, but it does mean working towards respecting ourselves. And when we respect ourselves we end up being able to respect others too.
- Let go of perfectionism and show yourself some compassion
Similar to the first guidepost, this is a practice in being authentic and allowing yourself to be human. When was the last time you met someone that hasn’t made a mistake? I’m sure that you’ve met people that have tried to not make any mistakes and perhaps have gotten upset from making a mistake (not many people enjoy making them), but there are zero people that have been 100% mistake-free. ZERO. Setting a bar for perfection will lead to disappointment, anger, and a fear filled life. The saying “practice makes perfect” has been drilled in our heads, but in reality, practice makes more natural, not perfect. It is a disservice to ourselves and others to expect perfection. The antidote? Compassion towards self and others. Perfection separates us from others while compassion connects us to others and ourselves. Being gentle and compassionate towards yourself is brave and at times difficult. When we’re able to be kind to ourselves in the midst of shame (or disappointment with self/experience), we’re more likely to reach out and be connected. It allows us to not feel alone because truly we are not alone.
- Let go of self-numbing and powerlessness to build resiliency
People often think of numbing as alcohol or drug-related, but really, numbing can take so many different forms that it would be difficult to list it all here. Numbing is pretty much any time that we engage in things/activities that distance us from feeling our emotions and from vulnerability. So, sometimes even seemingly positive things (i.e. “staying busy”-through work, chores, errands) can be considered numbing activities. The issue with numbing is that it not only numbs us from uncomfortable feelings, but it also numbs us from love, creativity, belonging, and empathy. It puts us in a more powerless position and our ability to work through whatever the issue is negatively impacted. So, if you find yourself engaging in some activities repeatedly, a good question to ask might be “Am I distracting myself from something or am I avoiding something uncomfortable?”.
- Practice gratitude
This is more than just having “an attitude of gratitude”, it’s actually being intentional in the practice of gratitude. It’s a practice in focusing on the “haves”, not the “have nots”. It’s not dismissing what the struggles in your life are (there is benefit to being honest with limitations), but oftentimes when we focus on what is going “wrong” in life, we have a very difficult time accepting anything that is going “well”. Make it a daily practice and see how life can transform. Be mindful of the small things. Research shows us that those who are actively practicing gratitude have more joy in their lives. Not happiness—that fleeting feeling that is often based on external circumstances, but joy. “Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow” (Melody Beattie). Gratitude allows room for growth and builds resiliency.
- Let go of the need for certainty and trust faith and intuition
Another scary-sounding one! We humans seem to be terrified of uncertainty. We want to know things and feel unsettled, antsy, and perhaps even anxious when we have to wait on something or don’t know what’s going on. This is about letting go of things outside of our control. It’s also about being attuned to our intuition. Dr. Brown defines that “intuition is not a single way of knowing—it’s our ability to hold space for uncertainty, and our willingness to trust the many ways we’ve developed knowledge and insight, including instinct, experience, faith, and reason” (Brown, 2010, p 88) . At times, we’ve neglected or pushed down our intuition and so it may take some practice to realign ourselves with it, but it is worth it. Other times we confuse intuition with fear and then emotionally reason one way or another and get ourselves into trouble. Using your intuition doesn’t just mean letting feelings rule—it’s a skill that incorporates feeling AND reason AND experience, it incorporates multiple factors. There are times when we absolutely cannot have one hundred percent certainty about a situation and being able to let go of the worries associated with not knowing can be so freeing. Try it with small things and see how life can change!
- Let go of comparisons and practice creativity
When we compare ourselves, we actually limit our ability to be ourselves and limit our ability to grow within our strengths. We often try to be like others and others may be completely different than us (different strengths/weaknesses, likes/dislikes, circumstances, etc.). Whoever said “Comparison is the thief of joy” (Theodore Roosevelt, I think), seems to have made an astute observation. We often tend to compare down from others (how we are deficient in some way) and it puts us in a losing fight. Because we are NOT the people we are comparing ourselves to, we can once again set ourselves up for disappointment. Even though we share similarities with others, we are unique and comparing ourselves to others often impacts our ability to allow for our own specialness to be present. We are all creative beings. Not everyone’s creativity looks the same, but there are no uncreative people, just people who have stifled down or not used their creativity. So, go out and explore what creativity looks like for you, you may surprise yourself!
- Practice engaging in play and rest—let go of having your self-worth be dependent on productivity
This is different than numbing! This is being mindful about engaging in “fun” activities and “rest” activities. It has a purpose and that purpose is not to numb. In the U.S. “staying busy” and “productive” has become almost a status symbol and anything else can be viewed as “wasting time”. At times, we get so ‘busy’ with the responsibilities of life that we even put sleep on the backburner—an essential ‘rest’ component that helps restoration of our mind and body. Play helps us connect with others and it helps release “feel good” hormones in your brain including endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. These hormones are the key to mental health benefits including reduced stress and improved mood.
- Practice calm and stillness
In a world full of chaos, it is imperative to take some mental “downtime”. This doesn’t mean sitting in a room being bored to tears. Boredom is not peaceful or calming and often times it can lead to feelings of restlessness. Dr. Brown defines what calm and stillness look like. Calmness is about “creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity” (p. 106). In a sense it’s being able to take an observer approach to situations—rather than being engulfed and potentially overwhelmed by the different variables, it’s the ability to step back and look at what’s going on more clearly. Stillness “is not about focusing on nothingness; it’s about creating a clearing. It’s opening up an emotionally chatter-free space allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question” (p. 108). So, practicing calm and stillness is about creating space, or a clearing to look at things without reacting to things.
- Practice meaningful work
This tenet encourages us to utilize our gifts and talents. Sometimes we end up stifling our gifts/strengths/qualities/etc. because of what we “should be”/”ought to be”/”have to be” doing. It’s not telling us to not be responsible, but it is telling us to also be responsible with the gifts and talents that we do have. If this means that you have a job where your gifts can’t be utilized, then use the gifts after work. To help explore what can feel like meaningful ‘work’, ask yourself the questions “What are my gifts and talents” (sometimes we need to dig a little because we’ve covered them up with the “have tos” of life), “What am I passionate about?” “What could I spend my time doing if I didn’t get paid?”. Take the time to explore what makes you feel “alive”. Again, this is not to escape from uncomfortable feelings, but rather to live life more fully.
- Engage in laughter through silliness
This is another guidepost that encourages us to let go of control. It’s giving ourselves permission to laugh as hard as we can, to sing, to dance and move, to allow ourselves to be silly. It’s once again encouraging us to be human and not be this shell that we show the world and kill our spirit in the process. It encourages us to be free. And freedom to be yourself (even when there are consequences) is a freedom that only you can set into motion.
There is risk in practicing these tenets and at times life can feel more turbulent as others may not always respond in the way we’d like them to, oftentimes because they may not understand. But, practice makes natural and over time these turbulent times become moments of growth and moments that lead to a more fulfilled life—it also allows us to feel a sense of belonging even when we don’t fit in. In the meantime, to help you navigate the ins and outs of these practices and to assist you with areas of life that have been more difficult, we have skilled clinicians that are willing and prepared to help you along this part of the journey. At Perspectives, You need not walk alone, and we are here to help you maneuver through the difficulties of life.
– Brown, B. (2017): Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. Description & contents.
– Brown, B. (2015): Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution.
– Brown, B. (2012): Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York City, NY: Gotham
– Brown, B. (2010): The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.***
– Brown, B. (2007): I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power. New York: Penguin/Gotham.
– TEDxHouston 2010: “The Power of Vulnerability”, June 2010
– “The Power of Vulnerability” — Brown’s talk at the Royal Society of Arts (2013)