vulnerability

The Secret to Cultivating Aliveness

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What is your biggest secret?

What hidden part of your life are you terrified to reveal for fear of being rejected?

What’s the part of your story that you don’t like to look at, that you wish weren’t true?

Bruce Muzik’s secret was simple: he was a racist.

Listen to him talk about it himself:

Bruce’s main point is that in order to fully embrace the feeling of being alive, you must own up to the secrets you’ve kept in your life: from yourself and from others.  As you embrace your true identity with authenticity and vulnerability, he acknowledges that it will be painful.  In fact, he admits to the consequences he suffered in his own marriage after admitting to a long-term affair.

But the gift of being alive and authentic to yourself and others is worth it.

Why is telling the truth worth it?

Keeping secrets makes us question who we truly are.

Have you ever told a lie so many times you start to believe that it’s true?  Or told a story over and over again, each time exaggerating the details until it becomes unrecognizable?

As we deceive ourselves and others enough times, we start to believe the lies.  We become confused as we grapple with what deep down we know to be true about ourselves, as compared with the lies we’ve been telling.  Eventually we end up uncertain about who we are and what we stand for.

When we look outside ourselves to feel alive, we end up self-destructing.

Our world is filled with messages about what will make us happy.  Marketing and advertising are based on telling us that we’re not complete without a fancy car, makeup product, or even toothpaste.  We’re encouraged to find our value or worth in what others think of us or our outward actions.

What happens, however, is that those foundations of our value will inevitably fail.  We will find ourselves lacking as we compare ourselves to others.  We’ll lose the approval of someone close to us.  The power or authority we’d gained in our lives will slip away.  And to numb the pain, we turn to things like addiction. 

Honesty releases us from the nondescript pain of numbness.

The opposite of feeling alive is feeling numb, or disconnected from our emotions.  The things that brought joy, laughter, and delight in our younger years are no longer having the same effect.  We get caught in striving to prove ourselves or in the drudgery of day to day life without any awareness of how we can be cultivating aliveness.  This is inherently dissatisfying, and will lead us to moments of pain.

But we don’t like pain.  It’s uncomfortable and inconvenient.  And so then we look for ways to get back to the state of numbness we had before, through addiction, media, shopping, food, sex – whatever serves to create that temporary escape until the pain crawls its way back in. 

Honesty invites intimacy and connection.

Releasing ourselves from the cycle of pain and numbness requires stepping into honesty and authenticity with ourselves and others.  Often we long for intimacy, to be accepted and loved for who we are rather than what we produce or the identity that others give us.  But we cannot receive that connection with others if we’re hiding our true selves.

Brene Brown, in her TED talk about vulnerability, talks about the close relationship between vulnerability, shame, and connection.  Honesty flies in the face of shame and allows yourself to be fully seen, known, and accepted by those you love.

How can I start becoming more alive?

Get honest with yourself.

The first step is breaking through denial and practicing honesty with yourself.  What are the secrets you’ve been hiding, even from yourself?  If deception has been masking your true self and making you uncertain of who you are, take some time to rediscover your identity.  Find the experiences that create joy and life in you.

At the same time, make a list of the secrets you’ve been hiding.  Using principles from the 12 Steps (like Steps One and Four) can help you realistically assess the areas you’ve been hiding from the truth.

Begin sharing with the people you love.

This might be the biggest risk you’re asked to take: share the secrets you have with someone close to you.  The point of this exercise is not only to create connection and honesty in your relationships, but it is also intended to help you feel more alive.  If you can be fully yourself and vulnerable with those around you, you’ll experience greater connectedness and life. 

Start with your biggest secret first.

The biggest secret is often the one that you are most afraid of sharing.  Step into sharing this one first.  The rest will come easier as a result, almost like a waterfall just after the dam has broken through.  Once you see how honesty brings aliveness, you’ll want to continue.

One helpful principle to keep in mind is the effect of your honesty on others.  Dumping your secrets onto others may make you feel better, but it leaves them carrying the burden.  Before you share your secret, you have to be willing to take responsibility for any consequences that may come your way.

Expect things to get worse before they get better.

Something I tell every new client when they come in my door for their first session is that oftentimes, the pain will worsen before it improves.  When you are honest, there is a strong possibility that your honesty will increase pain for a time.  You’ll likely be facing areas of your life you’ve kept hidden for a long while.  But that pain will break through your numbness and eventually lead to greater feelings of connection with all your emotions, positive and negative.

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Do you feel plagued by the secrets you’re keeping from the ones you love?  Are you confused and unsure of who you are because you’ve been allowing yourself to be defined by others?  Are you hesitant to own up to taking responsibility from the consequences that will come?  At Restored Hope, I know honesty is difficult, but I also have faith that it is the best decision.  I’d love to help you on your journey to living more alive.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to set up your first appointment at my Novi or Ann Arbor counseling offices.

Why Honesty Is So Important In Addiction Recovery

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Did you ever lie about anything when you were a kid?  Maybe you broke your mother’s favorite vase.  Maybe you snuck out of the house in the wee hours of the night.  Or maybe you just took an extra cookie out of the cookie jar.

Check out how this kid responds to being found out.  Did this ever happen to you?

Why do you think this little boy lied about eating the sprinkles?  It’s obvious to everyone else around him that he’s lying – the evidence is right there on his face and between his teeth.  I imagine he probably felt ashamed about what he had done.  He didn’t want to be found out, and he figured that since his mother didn’t see him eating the sprinkles, she probably wouldn’t know he had done it.  I wonder if, by the end, he’d been lying about the sprinkles for so long that he actually believed he hadn’t done anything wrong.

Notice the boy’s response when his mom does confront him about the sprinkles on his face.  He continues to deny that he ate them, and he slowly backs away from her.  Have you ever done this?  When you’ve been caught in a lie, do you hide?  I wonder if he was afraid of punishment.  Maybe he wanted to be a “good boy.”   Or maybe he worried about what his mom would think of him, if she would still love him.

When you’ve been caught in a lie, do you hide?

This pattern of deception, denial, and eventually getting found out characterizes the stories of most sex addicts.  Addicts likely feel shame about their behaviors, so they hide from their spouses or loved ones as long as possible.  This pattern of deception continues to the point that the addict begins to believe his or her justifications for the lies, and may begin to forget or discount the consequences of his or her behavior.  Particularly for women, hiding is common because sex addiction is perceived as a male-dominated issue and can carry intense messages of shame for women.

Eventually, addicts get found out.  Whether the shame of living in addiction eventually becomes too much, or the addict is discovered, the spouse or their friends will eventually discover how the addict’s behavior affects them.  But even after being found out, addicts often continue to hide, either through denial (which makes their spouse feel crazy) or only telling parts of their story.

Particularly for women, hiding is common because sex addiction is perceived as a male-dominated issue and can carry intense messages of shame for women.

I recently read a memoir written by a female sex addict in which she talked about the pivotal moment of her recovery coming when she chose to be honest about a relapse.  In the past, it would’ve been easy for her to hide instead of coming clean about what she had done.  However, when she did share in the midst of her 12 Step meeting, she was met with kindness and grace from the fellow members of the group.

Honesty is the first principle tied to the 12 Step program for a reason.  There is no recovery when there is continuing deception.  We need to learn to be honest.  If we deceive ourselves and others through denial, justification, and entitlement, we will never experience healing.  We need to admit that we are powerless over our addictions in order to grow.  Chances are, someone in your accountability group or 12 Step program has probably already suspected that you might be lying or hiding information.  Just like the boy in the video, we give cues and often later realize that others knew more than we thought.

There is no recovery when there is continuing deception. 

And yet, honesty is often one of the most vulnerable places we can find ourselves in.  When we choose to be honest, particularly about behaviors or desires tied to addiction, we often are admitting flaws or areas of intense, overwhelming shame.  Shame thrives in isolation.  As we continue to hide and run away from others because of fear that they will see us as flawed and broken, we confirm the message to ourselves that we are unlovable. 

As Brené Brown says in her TED talk about vulnerability, we must connect with others in order to move through shame.  And the only way we can connect with others is to be honest with them.  Honesty invites intimacy.  Imagine the life you could be living in freedom from your addiction.  In order to grow in this freedom, it is crucial to be honest with ourselves and with others in the process of recovery.

As we continue to hide and run away from others because of fear that they will see us as flawed and broken, we confirm the message to ourselves that we are unlovable. 

My challenge to you this week is to be honest with someone safe in your life, like a sponsor or accountability partner.  Maybe there’s an area of your addictive behavior that feels too shameful to admit.  Maybe there’s an area you’ve been in denial about for years, and you’re starting to believe that you might be more impacted by it than you realize.  Maybe there’s a dark side to your desire that frightens you.

Open up.  Share that weakness with a trusted confidante.  It will be vulnerable, and it likely will be painful.  But as you open up with others in your life, you’ll be able to experience genuine connection, intimacy, grace, forgiveness, and love.

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Do you live in fear of someone finding out your long-held secret of sexual addiction?  Are you terrified of your spouse finding your secret stash?  Are you worried that freedom from the pull of addiction is impossible for you?  At Restored Hope, we believe that you can experience freedom from and that you are not alone.  We offer counseling services at our Novi and Ann Arbor therapy offices to treat sex addiction, particularly for women who are affected by it.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here today to hear more about how we can help. 

Empathy in the Face of Vulnerability: Responding to Authentic Communication

Last week on the blog, we talked about a formula on how to communicate authentically about your feelings with people in your life: “I feel _________ about/because of ____________, and what I need is __________.”  In light of that, it seems fitting this week to take a look at how to respond when you’re on the receiving end of this style of communication.  How do you respond when someone expresses difficult thoughts or feelings to you?

For most of us, it is unusual for someone to communicate emotions directly and in an assertive way like this.  We can feel insecure or uncertain of how to respond.  We want to be empathetic, but sometimes we worry that our words will be trite or dismissing.  Or maybe we’re uncomfortable with the fact that they shared this information with us in the first place, and managing that discomfort takes all of our attention.

We tend toward a few possible ways to respond when someone approaches us to share their emotions.  In general, we can be uncomfortable around negative or painful emotions.  We might avoid painful emotions in our own lives, so seeing or hearing someone express an emotion vulnerably might lead us to put pressure on ourselves to put a positive spin on it.  Or we can become defensive, particularly if the emotions being expressed are in response to something we’ve done.  Perhaps the person’s vulnerability in sharing feelings or needs from us require us to apologize or identify changes we need to make in our own lives.

What holds you back from responding with empathy?

Ultimately, expressing emotions and responding with empathy to others is vulnerable, in that we have to connect with uncomfortable or painful emotions inside ourselves in order to understand them in others.

In order for us to truly empathize with someone else, we have to step into their shoes and look at the world through their perspective.  We may not fully understand, as we may not have had the same experience in our story.  But as they share emotions of anger, sadness, fear, or hurt, we can look at ways we’ve felt those same emotions before to get a picture of what they’re going through.

Brené Brown, a well-known researcher on shame and empathy, briefly explains the difference between empathy and sympathy here:

I love how she underlines the idea of “silver-lining” someone’s pain – looking for the “at least” or the message.  In Christian circles, we can sometimes jump too quickly to platitudes like “God works all things together for good.”  While that does hold truth, it can silence any emotion or pain the individual is experiencing.  True empathy creates space for emotions to be felt.

How have you tried to “silver lining” someone’s pain?

In relationships, John Gottman talks about the importance of validating one another’s perspective in order to create intimacy.  Couples in conflict tend to get stuck in push and pull arguments that become battles to win or lose.  Slowing down and engaging in this practice of empathy rather than seeking to make your partner feel better or stop feeling the negative emotion creates intimacy in your relationships.

Take time to validate your partner.  Validation involves responding to another’s expression of feelings and experiences in a way that communicates you understand or you can see from their perspective.  In so doing, you don’t necessarily have to agree with them.  For example, your partner might interpret you forgetting to take out the trash as disrespecting him or her.  Even if that wasn’t your intention, you can still respond by expressing that you understand that feeling and how it might have affected them.  This diffuses the tension, as your partner will likely feel more heard and understood.

Here’s some examples of validating responses:

  • I can see why you felt this way.
  • I understand how my actions communicated that.
  • It makes sense to me why you responded that way, knowing what you were thinking and feeling.

There is no perfect response here: you can’t say any magic words that will instantly fix any problems you have in your relationships.  But the more you are able to validate and empathize with the experiences of others, the more likely you are to build strong relationships where your loved ones feel safe sharing difficult emotions and experiences with you.

“Rarely can a response make something better.  What makes something better is connection.” – Brené Brown

At Restored Hope, we know relationships can be messy.  Whether you’re noticing conflict in your marriage that feels like a battle between winning and losing, or if you’re having trouble empathizing with others around you because of difficult emotions in your own life, we’d love to talk with you and support you in your desire for authentic relationships. Restored Hope is a Novi and Ann Arbor based therapy office where we focus on skills and strategies to improve your relationships, as well as gain greater insight into your own emotions and needs.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to talk with us today.

The Importance of Being Instead of Doing

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase, “being instead of doing”?

We live in a culture and a country that prizes achievement and success, which we attribute to working hard.  The “American dream” promises that hard work and sacrifice will bring you happiness and fulfillment.  I think about all the books and blogs out there about productivity and getting things done.  We are encouraged to “hustle.”  We wear 50 to 60-hour work-weeks as badges of pride.  “Doing,” and always “doing more,” is glorified. When something is broken, we want to find a solution, fix it, and make it better.

“Doing” can also look like filling our time to escape from painful emotions or experiences. You can numb out by watching TV, eating, shopping, or any other type of behavior that takes your mind off your present reality, but those behaviors often still leave you feeling drained.  You may not be achieving goals, but you’re still not allowing yourself to “be.”

I am someone who struggles with the idea of resting or waiting.  I feel much more secure and in control when I do something productive.

What are some ways you tend to get caught up in this attitude of “doing”?

As a therapist in private practice, I feel this pressure to “hustle,” both for the sake of my business and for the best care for my clients.  This drive to achieve can be a good thing in small doses – until I push it beyond what I can handle.  It can warp into pressure to work hard that can either paralyze me or drive me into the ground.  It can lead to perfectionism, overwork, and ultimately to burnout.

Like most behaviors we come back to in our lives, keeping busy with work serves us somehow.  We wouldn’t do it if there weren’t some benefit.  Maybe it’s the pride of accomplishment, the sense of control and order it gives us, or the approval of others.  Or maybe you’re constantly doing something because you’re running or avoiding.

How might you fill in this blank: “If I constantly keep myself busy, I won’t have time to stop and think about _________”?  You can run away from your own awareness of your weakness and neediness by chasing achievement and accolades.  You can run away from your loneliness or desires by working for the approval of others.  You can even run away from the responsibility that comes with success by filling your time with purposeless activity.

What might you be running from when you’re “doing”?

As I sit, listen, and “be” with my clients, what I notice is I am much more alive and authentic than I would be if I were trying to fix them.  I often find that my clients can perceive this attitude, and they are more willing to be genuine themselves. This idea applies with relationships in your life as well.  As you sit and empathize with friends or family, being present with them instead of thinking of what you’ll say next or what advice you’ll give them, you are bringing more of your true self and presence to the conversation.  This can extend to work too: how many times have you puzzled over the solution to a problem for hours, and the answer comes to you when you’re not thinking about it?

As a therapist, I can feel pressure to be perfect or “enough” for my clients.  To say exactly the right words, or to offer the perfect response.  I can feel the pressure to have all the right training and education, to have the PhD, or to know all the answers.  There is freedom in realizing that I will never be perfect.  On my own strength, I will never be enough for my clients or for the people around me.  And when I give up trying to be perfect and instead offer myself as a fellow traveler and support to clients or to other relationships in my life, I’m much more genuine and authentic to my true identity.

How would it change your relationships if you could be more authentic with the people you love?

We have to make an intentional choice to “be” instead of “do.”  Personally, I had to make this choice while writing this post.  My original intention was to stay up late and get it done so that I’d have it completed by my deadline.  But in order to do that, I’d be missing needed sleep and down time.  Instead, I chose to spend the evening relaxing and wrote the post the next day, even thought that means it’ll be posted later than I intended.

How can you start to make this intentional choice in your life?  Practice mindfulness.  Rest.  Play.  Take a nap.  Read a book.  Take a leisurely walk.  Pray.  Sleep in.  Give yourself permission to take a break, to simply “be.”

What does it look like in your life to “be” instead of “do”?  How can you embody this in your life this week? 

 

At Restored Hope, we believe it is important for you to be able to have a place where your identity is not defined by your performance or your success.  We want to offer a space where you can bring your true self, with all your insecurities and weaknesses, and feel safe and supported. Restored Hope is an Ann Arbor and Novi counseling office designed to help you cultivate a more wholehearted and vibrant life.  Give us a call today at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to get started.

The Power of Vulnerability: Ted Talk by Brené Brown

When you think of the word “vulnerable,” what immediately comes to mind?  For some of us, it might include connotations of being naïve, easy to take advantage of, or weak.  In research, we talk about “vulnerable populations” as people who are disadvantaged and who don’t have resources readily available to them to protect themselves.  Defining oneself as vulnerable lies in direct contrast with our individualized American culture’s values: independence, strength, and confidence.  When we think of character traits we’d like ourselves to embody, vulnerability isn’t necessarily one that we’d put high on the list.

When we inevitably begin to see vulnerabilities in ourselves, we often begin to experience shame.  Brené Brown defines shame as “the fear of disconnection.”  We fear that our weaknesses and vulnerabilities will turn others away, and we may find evidence of broken relationships in our past that occurred once we revealed our weakness.  We fear that we’ll be “found out.”  We are afraid that we won’t be enough.

Where do you feel like you are not enough?

In her TED talk, Brené Brown goes into depth about her research on shame and how it influenced her into experiencing this vulnerability in her own relationships with others.

Think for a moment about the last time someone was honest with you about a weakness of theirs: and when I mean honest, think brutally honest.  For some, it may have been a conscious choice to risk in sharing with you, as they valued your relationship highly and trusted you to stick with them through it.  Or perhaps it was a situation where they couldn’t help but show the pain they were feeling, as it spilled out almost unconsciously.  What did it feel to be entrusted with that information from a friend?

Sharing our weaknesses with others puts us in a vulnerable place by risking rejection, pain, or misunderstanding.  We reveal the darker side of ourselves in a way that could have negative consequences.

But when we risk showing weakness and being vulnerable in relationships, we invite connection and intimacy.

Brené defined those individuals who could resist shame as experiencing “wholehearted living.”  She connects this to a fundamental belief in their own worthiness, specified as believing they are “worthy of love and belonging.”  When that fundamental belief is in place, these people aren’t afraid of connecting with others and showing their true selves: why should they be, if they know they are worthy of love?

What would be different in your life if you believed you were worthy of love and belonging?

In exploring commonalities between these shame-resilient people in her research, here are the aspects of wholehearted people that stood out for Brené:

Courage, Compassion, Connection…and Vulnerability.

Here, vulnerability is held up as an ideal instead of a flaw or something to hide.  But why is that?  I believe it’s based in the fact that we all live in an uncertain world.  We’d have to hide under a rock to remain completely safe, free of risk, and without pain.  Since we all experience this uncertainty, there is power in being able to admit the ways in which we are weak.  When we open ourselves up in relationships and admit the ways in which we aren’t perfect, we allow others to see us as human.  They can see similarities in their own experience that lead them to feel as if they aren’t alone, and they are drawn to us in relationship as a result.

Take some time to listen to this TED talk below. After doing that, my challenge for you is to spend some time thinking about how you might choose to risk being vulnerable in relationships instead of choosing to cover over your shame with numbing and avoiding.  How might you take a step to embrace your vulnerability and invite intimacy today?

It can feel terrifying to think about revealing vulnerabilities or weaknesses in your relationships with others (or even with yourself!).  If vulnerability feels impossible to you in this season of life, and shame feels like a familiar friend, we’d love to help you break free from shame.  Restored Hope is an Ann Arbor and Novi therapy office that offers counseling and support for individuals who are stuck in repetitive patterns that are causing pain and unhappiness in their lives.  We’d love to support you on your walk into greater freedom and a more wholehearted life.  Give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to contact us.