This chapter immediately brought to mind the first deep conversation I had with my boyfriend. We talked almost every day for 14 mos before we decided to see if there was something more to our friendship. We live 500 miles apart. He works a Monday – Friday 7-5 schedule. I work 3 12 hr night shifts a week. So usually to see each other I visit him. It was my last night there and we started having a conversation about more than books, television and food.
One of the things he said to me is “I think there’s a whole side of Amber that I’ve never seen. I think I’m only seeing a shell of you. And if I’m ever going to take you from girlfriend to fiance I’m gonna need to see her.”
And he was absolutely right. For the 14 mos that we were friends and talking, we were keeping each other at arms length. Our conversation was superficial. But that moment, where he called out my mask, was intensely vulnerable. Because he could see right through me. He could see that there was a mask. He might not know what’s behind the mask, but the thing is, I don’t think I know what’s behind the mask either.
For most of my adult life, I’ve lived in fear. In fear of getting hurt. In fear of being abused. In fear of never being good enough. I coped with that fear by becoming a people pleaser, to the max. My driving force behind everything I did was to ensure other people were pleased with me. Over the last year, I’ve been working on that, transitioning away from people pleasing and doing what genuinely interests me.
Throughout this chapter Brown talks about a multitude of different shields we all use to protect ourselves from vulnerability and different shields are going to strike you than what may strike me. I’m going to talk about the two that resonate most profoundly with my. Foreboding Joy and Perfectionism.
The Shield: Foreboding joy, combated by practicing gratitude
- Joy comes to us in moments- ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.
- Be grateful for what you have
- Don’t squander joy.
Joy makes us stronger. But we have to learn how to embrace in the hard moments, we have to find the courage to allow ourselves to fully feel the joy in those ordinary, life moments.
The Shield: Perfectionism combated by appreciating the beauty of the cracks.
“The most valuable and important things in my life came to me when I cultivated the courage to be vulnerable, imperfect, and self-compassionate. Perfectionism is not the path that leads us to our gifts and to our sense of purpose; it is the hazardous detour.”
Brown defines perfectionism as follows: “Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: if I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame. Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because perfection doesn’t exist. It’s an unattainable goal. Perfectionism is more about perception than internal motivation, and there is no way to control perception, no matter how much time and energy we spend trying. Perfectionism is addictive, because when we invariably do experience shamge, judgement and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough. Rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to look and do everything just right. Perfectionism actually sets us up to feel shame, judgement and blame, which then leads to even more shame and self-blame:It’s my fault. I’m feeling this way because I’m not good enough.” (found on pg 130 of Daring Greatly).
This is hands down one of my greatest downfalls. I want to be all things to all people. I struggled so much with perfectionism and people pleasing through college that I actually convinced myself I was an extrovert. Turns out I’m most definitely introverted. Some of my favorite days and favorite moments are those spent alone in my bed with a good book or hiking through a park by myself, lost in the depths of my thoughts.
I struggled with perfectionism to the point that I gave myself tension migraines, one of which lasted for 6 mos and involved 4 mos of physical therapy, antidepressant therapy, and more sleep than I thought was humanly possible. From there it was learning how to better manage my stress and how to say no to people. But in reality, this is only a piece of my struggle with perfectionism. I tend to assume people don’t like me. I tend to assume that I’m not good enough.
Brown teaches that the antidote for perfectionism appreciating the beauty of the cracks, but I think this goes hand in hand with gratitude. Gratitude teaches you to see the beauty in the ordinary moments of life. Gratitude teaches you to acknowledge the gifts of your day – a beautiful sunrise, feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin, a kind note from a friend, flowers given to you (dandelions from little kiddos count).
Gratitude will help you to see the beauty of the cracks in yourself.
But what Brown write about this topic, seeing beauty in the cracks, is too good to not share verbatim – …if we want freedom from perfectionism, we have to make the long journey from “what will people think” to “I am enough”. That journey begins with shame resilience, self-compassion, and owning our stories. To claim the truths about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, and the very imperfect nature of our lives, we have to be willing to give ourselves a break and appreciate the beauty of our cracks and imperfections.
I think breaking the cycle of perfectionism is learning to accept that our flaws make us human, and they are what makes me uniquely me. This is just a funny example – I snort when I laugh sometimes, not all the time, only the really good, I’m completely at ease type laughs, but I always feel insecure after it happens. I’m learning to embrace it when it happens, that’s one of my quirks, one of those things that is uniquely “amber”.
It’s all a matter of saying, thanks world for making me the way I am, with all my quirks and flaws. It’s learning to love who you are. It’s learning to let go of what others think and genuinely sharing the pieces of your heart with those who truly matter. It’s letting go of fear, and learning to trust.
It’s a matter of letting the walls of self-protection be knocked and allowing wholehearted love and compassion for yourself and other be the warriors that break down the wall you’ve built.
“When we stop caring about what people think, we lose our capacity for connection. When we become defined by what people think, we lose our willingness to be vulnerable. If we dismiss all criticism, we lose out on important feedback, but if we subject ourselves to the hatefulness, our spirits get crushed. It’s a tightrope, shame resilience is the balance bar, and the safety net below is the one or two people in our lies who can us reality-check the criticism and cynicism.” (pg 169 Daring Greatly)