I just finished the chapter The Vulnerability Armory in Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly. It has reminded me how defending and protecting our selves from fear of making a mistake or looking like a mess or just opening our hearts to life and feeling and expressing our full genuine selves really ends up contracting our existence in all kinds of ways. The main tools in the vulnerability armory according to Brown are : Foreboding Joy, Perfectionism and Numbing and my intention here is not to go into great detail about them as you can read the book or watch some of her videos on You Tube.
However just to explain a little, foreboding joy is the fear of disaster that we automatically can start to feel as soon as things feel good or seem to be going right. In this scenario instead of opening fully to those powerful good feelings we tend to block them or divert them with thoughts of all that could go wrong. Foreboding can close down our passion or longing in many ways and may cause us to sabotage.
Perfectionism is a huge defence which exists due to being raised in a society or family where we were not valued and loved unconditionally but on the condition of looking good, getting it right, or not provoking uncomfortable feelings that others did not really want to deal with.
And numbing, well that is just such a huge part of our culture and we now have a thousand ways or means we can stop feeling what we are feeling or have come to believe is just too much for ourselves or others to cope with.
I was thinking about this thing of defending against true feelings and feeling too much because it comes up all the time for me today and I am at the point in Jeanette Winterson’s autobiography which occurs when she seeks her adoptive mother out after a major psychological breakdown/breakthrough in which she begins to understand how much of her own life she has spent running from and defending against her feelings due to the trauma of not only being separated from her true mother at birth but raised by a religious zealot who never accepted Jeanette’s sexuality.
At this stage in her life, which occurs after a ‘breakdown’ she actually begins to fall in love with psychotherapist and author Suzie Orbach and realises how little she actually knows of what it means to truly love another human being, since such unconditional love was never mirrored to her in her childhood.
The following paragraphs really spoke to me when I read them today.
In the economy of the body, the limbic highway takes precedence over the neural pathways. We were designed and built to feel, and there is no thought, no state of mind, that is not also a feeling state.
Nobody can feel too much, though many of us work at feeling too little.
Feeling is frightening.
Well, I find it so.
I cannot help but wonder where all our fear of feeling really comes from. It was enlightening to me in my first few years of sobriety to read the view of the Jungian analyst and author, Robert Johnson, that our culture is a ‘feeling wounded’ culture. Last week I was reading through some comments on another blog on thought disorders where someone was saying they had tried Cognitive Behavioural Therapy but it hadn’t helped them much, I left the reply that the wound to feeling cannot be healed by thinking and I still believe that to be true. Fear of our feelings, being ashamed of them, being taught that there is something wrong with us for ‘feeling so (or too) much’ well its a pretty common thing that people with high sensitivity go through and if we spend a lot of our life trying techniques that don’t take that into account, that teach us to numb, or deny we are in trouble. Until we know what our deep wound are just changing our thinking or reacting patterns may not work or may only heal us superficially,
For myself I never used to know so well when I intellectualized or rationalised feelings away, it was something I was taught to do by family and religion…. it didn’t work as in the end I do believe it made me an alcoholic when I was consistently not dealing with feelings that never got recognised or seen in my family and which I was never helped to deal with.
This is not to say that we should just be acting our feelings out all over the place if we are in a difficult state of mind but even that may be necessary for a time until we get to develop some deeper mindfulness of how and why we feel the way we do. Early childhood trauma or separations or other painful events not only in our own lives but in the lives of our parents and of their parent’s parents do affect us into the next few generations. It is something Mark Wolynn covers in the chapter The Core Language of Relationships in his book on multigenerational trauma It Didn’t Start With You : How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle.
We may be carrying feelings from generations back which is really a subject for another post. The armour we wear often exists of defences that operate unconsciously and of scripts or core beliefs that have often not originated with us but collectively and familially. The following chapter in Brown’s book asks some questions about what drives our beliefs, reactions and feelings in personal, family and cultural life and then shapes the way we react.
Getting a grip on our vulnerabilities and fears is not easy but our culture is getting a bit better at it now. People with issues are encouraged to open up, they may not always be well received by every one as there are those who Brown identifies as Vikings who think that to show any vulnerability at all is to become a victim and there is great fear even shown in this approach. There is a time for us to be warriors and don our armour and we do need to fight back against invalidation abuse or disempowerment, it is an essential step in our healing for many of us. But there also comes a time to drop the armour and open our hearts to the full force power and vulnerablity of love and joy which may confront us with fears that we have to do some deep work to become fully conscious of.