Brene Brown has said “Choose courage over comfort. Choose whole hearts over armor. And choose the great adventure of being brave AND afraid at the exact same time.” (Emphasis added)
After months of living through the pandemic, homeschooling two of my four children, having a newborn and busy toddler vying for attention during homeschooling, working over Telehealth, quarantining from family and friends, kissing my husband goodbye as he goes to works with sick people, and managing my own thoughts and anxiety about the world I have learned a very important lesson. You can feel brave and afraid at the same time.
My emotional journey the last several months has been sporadic. At times, I have felt very hopeful and optimistic. Other times, I have felt sad and anxious. After experiencing an anxiety attack in April, I realized I had to change my thought process. My mantra became “cautious but not fearful.” I pushed fear away and decided to let hope reign supreme. Gone were the days of worrying about what would happen if my parents contracted the virus. Say goodbye to stressing about exposure to people, and what it would be like if/when my family got sick. My mind was aware of the hospitals and medical staff, but I would not let that transfer into fear and worry. I let myself think that if I felt any fear at all I was letting fear win. I was wrong.
What have I learned about myself during this pandemic? I have learned that I can feel brave and afraid at the same time. In reality, the worried and stressful thoughts were and are still coming at regular intervals. The difference is when the fear comes, I no longer hide from it. Pushing the fear/worry/anxiety down gives it more power. Locked in the recess of your mind fear-or whatever you would like to call it-is biding its time until you are not ready for it. Then BAM out it comes with a lethal vengeance. Covid-19 has taught me to acknowledge the fear. When those fearful thoughts come into my mind I identify them and acknowledge their existence. Instead of running from the thoughts, I put my arm around them and let my bravery take over.
I can be fearful and brave at the same time. I can worry about what is happening across the world and still have hope that it will get better. I can be worried about our healthcare workers while allowing my gratitude for them to overshadow that worry. I can stand in the face of my husband, children, parents, and loved ones contracting the virus because I know that there are people and enough love in my life that will help me get through it. I have learned to hold both of these things in my hands and heart and be alright with that. And Brene is right…it is truly an adventure.
I, like many of you, spend a lot of time in my car. I always feel like I’m rushing from one thing to the next and I never have enough time for anything. As I was driving to work the other day there was a car that I ended up behind in the turning lane that didn’t increase its speed once it turned. At first, I found myself annoyed and thought “Are you kidding me? Come on, GO!!” I was looking in my side and rear-view mirrors to try to change lanes but there was a steady stream of cars in the lane next to me. I, then, realized that I didn’t need to rush, I was going to have half an hour in the office before my client’s appointment and I calmed down.
I thought to myself as I paid
more attention to the car in front of me that it was probably someone old
driving the car because I couldn’t see the driver’s head above the head rest.
When I was finally able to change lanes and go around this car, I looked over
at the driver as I passed. Sure enough, it was a little old lady, hunched over
and barely seeing over the steering wheel. A smile came to my face as I thought
of this woman who likely had slowed down in many aspects of her life, only one
of which was driving, and how I am always in such a rush. It made me wonder how
often I missed things from not paying attention and always rushing from one
thing to the next.
We live in such a fast-paced
world with so many things demanding our attention at once. I find myself
getting lost in the mundane routine that is my life as crazy and busy as it is
right now. But when I can slow down and just be present in the moment, I find
that while there are parts of my life that are mundane, there are also pretty
amazing things that happen around me and inside of me every single day. If we
are constantly chasing the next thing, we can never truly just be with
ourselves. But maybe that is part of why we don’t slow down.
Slowing down can be vulnerable.
When we allow ourselves to be still, things can surface that we’ve been avoiding.
We constantly measure ourselves by what we do and what we accomplish, so who
are we when we slow down? Maybe we aren’t enough, maybe we are too much, maybe
our emotions are too overwhelming, maybe it will be too vulnerable. Brené Brown
has dedicated her life to studying vulnerability, authenticity, and courage. It
takes courage to be still, to allow vulnerability, and to show up
authentically. She says, “authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of
who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are.” Slowing down,
embracing who we really are, and being still with whoever we are right now can
be scary but can also be powerful.
So how are you going to
demonstrate your courage to slow down, be still, and embrace that you are
It is no secret to the people I work with that I love the work of Brene Brown. Her books, podcasts, articles, Netflix special, and basically everything else she has done is phenomenal. One of the key topics she speaks regularly on is the idea of vulnerability. This is an important key to any successful relationship. I first noticed this when I started doing marriage therapy, almost fifteen years ago. Brene Brown helped me put a name and research behind what I had been seeing for so long. Couples and individuals that are struggling in relationships have a difficult time being vulnerable.
What does someone who struggles with vulnerability look like? It is the person who has a difficult time identifying and expressing primary emotions-or in other words those really hard sticky emotions like hurt, sadness, loneliness, grief etc. For countless years I have seen couples come into my office and as they express their feelings of anger they create a solid wall or barrier between themselves and their partner. As we work on knocking that wall down and identifying those hard emotions it is very difficult for these couples because they have stopped the vulnerability in their marriage for so long. Sometimes years. Sometimes decades. What happens when vulnerability is turned off? That wall between the couple gets higher and thicker. Emotions are not expressed, except through anger or passive aggression. Resentment grows. Communication decreases. Emotional and sexual intimacy decreases. The couple starts to lead completely different lives.
In therapy, we work tirelessly on creating a safe space where each person in the relationship can express their feelings and be truly vulnerable. It is amazing to see the progress when they can look at each other and state they feel lonely and unimportant rather than yelling. The couples I work with laugh because I am always saying to them “turn to each other. Talk to each other not to me.” Through this sometimes uncomfortable process comes true vulnerability. Through vulnerability couples are able to better share their emotions, thoughts, and feelings without the fear of judgement. These couples communicate better, fight more productively, and have better emotional and sometimes sexual intimacy. The ability to be vulnerable with your partner is a game changer!
I challenge you to work hard to implement more vulnerability into your marriage. If your marriage is in trouble and you feel this is lacking please come in for counseling! Working on this and other essential keys can help rejuvenate your marriage.
Here is a list of some of my favorite recommendations for books and podcasts to help keep the therapy going outside of therapy. These books and podcasts cover a variety of topics, from brain and behavior, child care, depression, and mindfulness. I particularly like Tara Brach’s mindfulness podcasts, as she offers listeners a dose of humor along with insight, and guided meditation.
Do you watch or listen to Ted Talks? I do, and I love them. There’s something satisfying about listening for ten to twenty minutes while I clean my house. I recently listened to one that is fantastic and really taught me a lot.
Dr. Guy Winch is a psychologist who writes and speaks about the discrepancy between physical first aid and emotional first aid. His thesis is that we are very quick to take care of our physical health, but we often put off taking care of our emotional health. This discrepancy becomes difficult because we often experience more emotional problems than physical ones. One of the most consistent conversations I have with people in my practice is about the importance of taking care of ourselves emotionally. For some reason, we don’t see it as weakness when we break our leg and need a doctor. However, when we are struggling emotionally, we may find it difficult to see a therapist. We brush our teeth daily to maintain dental hygiene, but what do we do to maintain our emotional health?
I invite you to listen to this talk and take some notes on how to administer some emotional first aid to you, your spouse, and children.
The second Ted Talk I love is by Brene Brown. Watching this talk is a common homework assignment I give people I work with. Vulnerability is such an important, and difficult thing. As you watch this talk, I hope you think about ways you can be more comfortable being vulnerable with yourself, and especially your spouse.
The #MeToo hashtag (and the subsequent exposing of many high-profile figures as sexual predators) has given us as a society a lot to grapple with. From a Latter-day Saint perspective, some are questioning how appropriate it is for bishops to be talking about sexual matters with young people (particularly girls). I recently sat down with hosts Peggy Fletcher Stack and David Noyce, and former LDS bishop Richard Ostler to talk about these critical issues for the Mormon Land Podcast. Here are some highlights from our discussion:
Why does this type of conversation take place in the first place? Why does the Church ask about sexuality at all? Part of our faith regulates sexual behavior, so there needs to be some questioning about that. Typically, bishops ask to what extent an individual is following the last of chastity for two reasons: the first is to grant a temple recommend (which requires a worthiness interview to determine whether the person is living the standards). The second is a general meeting that the bishop has with the youth about once a year to see how he/she is doing. What we may need to re-examine is the nature and the manner that these questions are asked in; how much detail is appropriate? How do we differentiate between issues like pornography usage, masturbation, or other sexual acts? What about cases of sexual abuse? All these nuances are important to consider in this very delicate subject of discussing sexuality with children.
I recently listened to a fabulous podcast where Brene Brown was being interviewed. (For those of you that don’t know, Brene Brown is a very well known therapist, researcher, and author. She has written several, brilliant books about embracing vulnerability and recognizing the difference between guilt and shame. Her books have had a big impact on my personal and professional life. I highly recommend all of them.) In the podcast Brene focused on being comfortable in experiencing vulnerable emotions. In particular she spoke about joy.
In Brene’s research she stated that joy was often associated with fear. Her example was simple, but profound. She spoke of a parent lovingly watching their child sleep at night. In that moment of joyful contemplation the parents often reported a high degree of fear right after having the feeling of joy/contentment. What if my child dies at an early age? What if I contract cancer? Everything is so good right now, something has to go wrong soon. When I heard this example I knew exactly what she was talking about! I have had those same thoughts and feelings as I tucked my children into bed. As I thought about it, a lot of times I feel joy I realized it was very often followed up with fearful thoughts that my happiness could only last so long before something went wrong.
The answer to challenging this commonplace problem showed up in Brene’s same research project. She stated there were a number of people that reported after they had joyful feelings they purposely stated thoughts of gratitude to themselves. Instead of leaving the situation feeling fearful and worried, like so many did and do, this second group of people reported feeling joyful, happy, and grateful. These people made mention of giving gratitude to a higher being, a thoughtful spouse, their jobs, health, and many other things that allowed them to feel happiness in that moment.
I took this to heart. Over the last week or two when I have noticed feeling happy with my family, marriage, house, holiday season, or really anything, instead of following up with a negative or fearful thought I immediately stated how grateful I was in the moment for that joyful feeling. What a difference! It seemed like the joy I was feeling multiplied and lingered much longer than when I had chaotically thought about what may go “wrong” next to ruin my happiness. It has made me a better wife, mother, friend, and daughter to practice this easy technique.
This holiday season I challenge you to experience true joy. In those loud or often quiet moments when you find yourself feeling happy, follow those thoughts/feelings up with thoughts of gratitude. Why are you happy? Who helped you achieve that happiness? Why are you grateful for having the joyful feeling? Extend your Thanksgiving list of gratitude into the Christmas season, and notice the difference it will make.
Much publicity has been made in recent years about the dangers of overscheduling (and the resulting overstressing) of our children. Books such as The Over-Scheduled Child (2001) by Dr. Alvin Rosenfield, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist and former Head of Child Psychiatry at Stanford University; The Pressured Child (2005) by Dr. Michael Thompson, clinical psychologist; and The Hurried Child (2001) written by David Elkind, PhD, professor of Child Development at Tufts University, all document the issues surrounding the phenomenon of this generation of parents and their children who have become more frenzied than ever, so much so that some areas of the country are now offering Yoga classes and structured stress-reduction classes for children as young as three (3) years old to help them deal with all their stress from their crazy schedules! (Kirchheimer, 2004)
If its bad for our children, it cannot be good for us adults! In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection (2010), Brene Brown states, We are a nation of exhausted and over stress adults raising over-scheduled children. We use our spare time to desperately search for joy and meaning in our lives. We think accomplishments and acquisitions will bring joy and meaning, but that pursuit could be the very thing thats keeping us so tired and afraid to slow down. Many even wear their busyness like a badge of honor, you probably know someone like this: who has-to-tell-you-everything-they-have-to-do-today-and-how-important-it-is-and-how-exhausted-they-are-and-how-late-they-have-to-work-after-all-the-important-errands-they-will-run-and-they-are-soooo-tired and then, add a big yawn for emphasis at the end of their monologue.
Are you crafty? Do you enjoy sewing or making elaborate designs to adorn your house or entertain your children? I’ll admit that craftiness is not really my thing; I prefer musical expression and writing, but everyone has different creative outlets, and for some, crafts are enjoyable and fun!
For this segment of Studio 5, I wanted to change things up a bit and offer my perspective on another therapist’s work. Dr. Brené Brown has become a household name since her famous TED talk a few years ago. To say I’m a huge admirer of hers would be an understatement; the insight she offers about vulnerability, shame, and courage are transforming our culture. This week, I sat down with Brooke to talk about Brené’s new book “Rising Strong.”