Last weekend, I watched Brené Brown’s show on Netflix and this line, among many others, took my breath away (and gave it back):
“Today I choose courage over comfort.”
She talks about the shame-storm she fell into after reading the comments when her TED talk went viral in 2006. After numbing herself on food and TV for seven hours – which she shares with her trademark humor and vulnerability – she came across this quote by Theodore Roosevelt, which she describes as a God moment:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
There are many ways that I throw myself into the arena. Every time I hit “publish” on my weekly post, I choose courage over comfort. Every time I release a course, I choose courage over comfort. Every time I walk against the mainstream, especially around parenting, and trust my own voice and decisions, I choose courage over comfort. With the upcoming release of my new book, The Wisdom of Anxiety, I choose courage over comfort.
But nowhere do I experience more vulnerability, and thus, the daily decision to choose courage over comfort, than in my relationships: with my husband, my kids, and my friends. As Brené writes here in Daring Greatly:
“I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow — that’s vulnerability.”
It’s not always easy, this warrior path called loving. There are times, especially when I’m in conflict with someone I love, that I want to run for the hills or the safe haven of a different life. The escape-hatch fantasy doesn’t last long, for invariably there will be a moment of tender and vulnerable repair that swings the doors of my heart wide open, but in those moments when it feels like the world is caving in and the ground beneath my feet is crumbling, the moments when it feels like this loving is too much to bear, being in the arena sounds like a very bad idea.
On the Warrior Path
For those of you struggling with relationship anxiety – or any anxiety – this probably sounds familiar. At the core of all of your intrusive thoughts is the attempt to find certainty: the ego’s attempt to find a foothold amidst the shifting ground of this uncertain world. You desperately want to know, without doubt, that you’re with the “right” partner, as the ego tells you that this unshakable knowing will safeguard you against future hurt and loss. It’s this fear of loss, which, when we extend the coiled strand out, is actually the fear of death and also the fear of feeling the big feelings of life (which, to a young child, feels like death and loss of control without the comfort of loving arms to walk her through the emotional storms). These fears show up in childhood as the fear of losing a parent, the fear of one’s own death, the fear of making a mistake, the fear of being “bad”, then later, in early adolescence, the sexuality spikes and health anxiety. Eventually, in your twenties, thirties, or later, relationship anxiety takes center stage.
If we were taught early in life how to attend to the tidal waves of emotions that pour through tender and sensitive hearts, we wouldn’t fear quite so deeply. If we had a loving and wise elder to hold us through the fear of death that so often plagues young, thoughtful minds, we could address the fear directly so it didn’t have to siphon off into obsessive thoughts and mutated forms of anxiety.
If you’re here, reading this blog, slogging through your anxiety in all forms, you’re in the arena. You’re taking the risk of living life fully, which often means loving and risking fully instead of remaining in the small, safe corner of a cave on top of a mountain. You may want to run; that’s normal (as I shared above). But you don’t run. You’re here doing the brave warrior’s work of peeling back the layers of fear-walls that are protecting your vulnerable heart, excavating the faulty beliefs about love and life that you’ve absorbed from a misguided culture, and learning about what it means to surrender and let go. It will be the hardest work you ever do, and the most essential.
Thank you for joining me in the arena. We’re all in this together. And thank you @brenebrown. You are a brave warrior who is charting the path of vulnerability, shame, and courage for so many.
Note: I welcome your comments, insights, and thoughts that are directly related to each week’s post. If you’re struggling with relationship anxiety and are a member of the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course, please bring your questions there. If you’re struggling with relationship anxiety and are longing to break free from its stronghold, I strongly encourage you to join the course.