We’ve all fallen, and we have the skinned knees and bruised hearts to prove it. But scars are easier to talk about than they are to show, with all the remembered feelings laid bare. And rarely do we see wounds that are in the process of healing. I’m not sure if it’s because we feel too much shame to let anyone see a process as intimate as overcoming hurt, or if it’s because even when we muster the courage to share our still-incomplete healing, people reflexively look away. ~Brené Brown from Rising Strong
“We all offload hurt and emotion instead of feeling it. Instead it comes out through anger, blame and/or avoidance. Some push it down so far it’s called “chandeliering,” a term coined by Brené. These folks push down anger so far that they think they have control of it and then a seemingly innocent comment sends them straight up the ‘chandelier’ in a rage. This is an eggshell environment for others to live in. We think we can ignore the pain but the body keeps score and it always wins.” This is why so many people get physically sick from stress induced environments.
“When we’re in the midst of struggle we make up stories. We are neurologically hard-wired to make sense of a struggle as fast as we can. If we can make up a story and make sense of it, our brain chemically rewards us for the story, whether we are right or not.We all do this. So when you struggle, the stories you make up really need to be tested.”
I’m guilty of doing this in one of our Thrive small group meetings. On the first night Russ and I always share our story. We both share our hearts and are very transparent about our mistakes and pain. The pain in my story always brings me to tears. It is a very vulnerable exercise. Afterwards, I am a bit sensitive to how it is received. Side note: We’ve done this 12 times with 12 different groups so I’ve learned that sharing our story helps others know they are not alone but it still doesn’t change how vulnerable I feel in the moment.
I’ve learned from Brené Brown’s research on vulnerability that sharing openly and baring your soul feels weak but is seen as courage by others. So I choose to ignore how weak I feel because it’s more important to us to share and help others learn from our mistakes.
SHE ROLLED HER EYES
So back to sharing my story in front of a new small group. After I concluded, I noticed a wife, who had attended without her husband, let out a sigh and rolled her eyes. I immediately personalized her negative body language that she was either bored with my story or I was too emotional for her liking. Anxiety and fear set in.
- “She probably doesn’t like me.”
- “I’m too emotional.”
- “We’re not representing the church well.”
With those thoughts in my head I came up with a (crazy) narrative and this narrative will determine how I treat her the next time we are in group. I could stop here and short change all the relationships in my life with this kind of behavior or I could acknowledge my thought process and choose to get curious about what it is. What we typically do is stay with our crazy story.
Brené suggests for us to recognize when we are emotionally hooked. This step is the easiest step…recognizing when we’ve been hurt. The next step is not so easy and that is to get curious about it. Most people are not curious about emotion. They would rather keep their version of the story than get clarity. Curiosity was beat out of us growing up. You don’t talk about feelings…that’s weakness.
Realize you’re triggered and get curious about it. ~Brené Brown
PASSING ON THE PAIN
Most people are better at causing hurt than feeling hurt. We are much better at inflicting pain than acknowledging pain. An example of this would be after group my husband goes over a to do list he wants me to do while he is out of town and I snap at him “Just because you’re going out of town doesn’t mean you get to dump all those chores on me.” So I’ve now passed on the pain I was feeling in group on to my husband. As Brené says, “we offload pain instead of feel it.”
Some people like my husband, when he is triggered, will find himself in the pantry. You’ll find me mentally looping over and over about the event. While others will want to punch someone in the face. Learning the signs of being hooked are critical to recognize. What is causing me to be so anxious in this moment? It truly is not about the other person.
The story you tell yourself is usually self deprecating. Am I right? It’s usually telling ourselves that we are not enough. We come up with confabulations.
Confabulation is a lie told honestly. ~Brené Brown
For example, when Russ asks me what’s wrong after I bit his head off with his to do list, I tell him that I noticed the one wife sighed and rolled her eyes after I emotionally shared my story. The wife probably thought I was too emotional and will probably quit the group. Aren’t we all guilty of making up these kind of stories? Your stories may not be along these lines but watch what you tell yourself after what appears to be a negative interaction with someone.
THREE QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
How do prevent yourself from coming up with assumptions without any facts?
Brené Brown suggests 3 questions to ask yourself:
- What more do I need to learn and understand about this situation?
- What more do I need to learn and understand about the other people in this situation?
- What more do I need to learn and understand about myself in this situation?
This process is scary because we feel shame, perfectionism, mistrust, etc… One of the best suggestions I learned from Brené is to ask for clarity. For example, after group I would go up to the wife and thank her for attending the group, especially without her husband the first night. Without any further questions she dives into how frustrated she is with her husband missing the best part of the evening…our stories. I jokingly said I thought your sigh was reflective of us talking too long and she immediately replied how much her husband could have learned through the similarities of our stories and was bummed he wasn’t here.
This example has taught me to be careful not to jump to conclusions. This is not easy for me to do…ask my husband. I am soooo certain once my mind is made up, even if I don’t have the other side of the story. I am certain, I know what just happened or I know what they are thinking. Call it aging with grace or maturity but I refuse to take my stories and run with them anymore. In the past, I would have kept a safe distance from this wife. I would have engaged with her and made her feel welcomed but I would not have let her into my heart. Guess what? Because I no longer take what I interpret at face value anymore this wife is one of my great friends now. I can’t imagine my life without her.
Do you interpret difficult events at face value? Do you get curious to find out the other side of the story? Is it easier to keep your distance than step into another possibility of truth? Next time you get triggered, stop and recognize you’re triggered. Then do your best to get curious about what just happened. What story are you telling yourself? Will you allow additional clarity into your story or will you stay stuck with only your version of the story. It will be safer but over time you will become more and more isolated. Step out and get curious.
We’d love to hear if you ever heard of the word ‘confabulation’ and do you find yourself stuck with similar storylines?
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Hillary Kee says
Danielle, this was an incredible article your wrote. Way to Go! So Helpful to many of my relationships.
danielle west says
It’s not easy sharing these crazy stories in my head but I’m learning how other people are experiencing the same struggles. Certainly keeps me more accountable by exposing my thought life, huh?! haha So thankful for your encouragement!