It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post on the subject of my self-help journey, but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten about it, just that I’ve been struggling to think or write much in the last few weeks.
A quick check-in from last time: I said I wanted to try out some of the more mind-based skills for distraction, like imaginary scenarios or reciting a poem. I’ll be honest, I haven’t done this and it was mostly because I forgot all about it. However, I think it’s still worth trying and I don’t think that doing it will detract from my homework for this installment. Perhaps I need to make myself a reminder this time, though!
On this occasion I’ve read chapters two and three of Rising Strong by Dr. Brené Brown, ‘Civilisation Stops at the Waterline’ and ‘Owning Our Stories’. Chapter two introduces us to the idea of the second day (of three), or the second act (of three). Essentially it’s the part in the middle of a process where everything feels horrifying, and you can’t yet see even a glimmer of light at the other end. Her point is that you can’t skip it. The only way is through.
The part of this chapter that really resonated with me was when Brené was talking about story structure and mentioned how, as part of this bad time, ‘the protagonist looks for every comfortable way to solve the problem’. That rang so true for me, because isn’t that what we do? I do something that I’m ashamed of, and I try to pretend it didn’t happen. I get ill and put my life on hold on the assumption that I’m going to get better any minute now.
Listening to the Big Strong Yes podcast episode that covered these chapters, I was pleased when Lani Diane Rich and Dr. Kelly Jones also picked up on this and discussed it further. Lani, a story expert, points out that in a story not only will trying all the comfortable things first not help, but it’ll actually make things worse because the character hasn’t yet learned all the skills they need to triumph. Again, this rings true for real life too – trying to deny an action I’m ashamed of does make things worse in the long run because I can never forget it, it’s like a thorn in the knickers. Trying to pretend I’m going to recover soon just means I’m constantly disappointed.
Kelly also talked about patterns of coping, which got me thinking about what my usual, comfortable methods of coping are. Pretending it never happened and hoping it goes away is a big one. And, with small things, you’d be surprised how often it works, or if the thing doesn’t go away then it stops mattering. But not always, and that’s when the problem comes because I don’t necessarily have the skills to cope with the more difficult things.
Chapter three is a very short chapter and talks about the importance of owning our stories and how to do this – that is, the Rising Strong process. I really like what Brené says about this: ‘We own our stories so we don’t spend our lives being defined by them or defining them.’
There’s a particular incident that until recently I felt a huge amount of shame about, despite the fact that it happened years and years ago. I did something foolish and selfish and hurtful, and I simply couldn’t let it go. Brené has said that she defines shame as ‘the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.’
I tried to forget this incident, but I couldn’t. I tried to spin it to make myself look less culpable, more innocent, but deep down I knew it wasn’t true. This year I finally decided that I didn’t want to live with this incident on the outside of me, constantly and persistently knocking to come in. My refusal to let it become part of me made it loom much larger in my mind than it deserved because I could never forget it – it was defining me. And I was always turning it over, trying to define it as something it wasn’t. Even then it took me months, but I finally succeeded, in an almost tangible moment that felt like a slotting into place, in integrating it with myself.
Having so recently completed a Rising Strong process, my homework after this reading and blog post is going to be to take a closer look at exactly what I did. Brené, in chapter three, describes the three-step process* and explains that creativity is the key to succeeding with it; creating new things with what we already have. So with all that in mind, I hope to return with a step-by-step summary of what I did and how it relates to the Rising Strong process she describes.
Sending you all love from the good ship Self-Help, and may you always rise strong!
*Here’s a brief summary of Brené Brown’s Rising Strong process for those who are interested:
- The Reckoning, in which we recognise our feelings and get to know them. We are curious about them and investigate them, making connections between our feelings, our thoughts, and our behaviours. Doing this helps us to discover the stories we’re telling about ourselves so that we can Rumble.
- The Rumbling, in which we are honest with ourselves about our stories, about the things we’ve told ourselves about our struggles. We revisit and challenge them, finding out what’s truth, what’s self-protection and what’s assumption. We find a much deeper understanding of the thoughts, feelings and behaviours we first noticed in the Reckoning.
- The Revolution, in which we take all the things we’ve discovered about ourselves and write new stories which alter the way we engage with the world. Essentially, it’s the transformation that results from all the work we’ve been doing.