Mental Health Monday: Living Inside Our Stories
Today I’m continuing to read and share nuggets from Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly. You can read my first four posts about her book at these links, if you haven’t been following my blog and want to catch up on her particular brand of mental health wisdom:
Daring Greatly (February 4)
Surviving the Arena (February 11)
Shame On You (March 4)
Picture Memories and Foreboding Joy (March 11)
The title of today’s post comes from Brown’s continuing discussion about what she calls our worthiness:
Our worthiness, that core belief that we are enough, comes only when we live inside our story. We either own our stories (even the messy ones) or we stand outside of them—denying our vulnerabilities and imperfections, orphaning the parts of us that don’t fit in with who/what we think we’re supposed to be, and hustling for other people’s approval of our worthiness. Perfectionism is exhausting because hustling is exhausting. It’s a never-ending performance.
When I was in school—especially high school—I could never find a “clique” to fit into. I was friends with girls from various groups, primarily because I was an over-achiever, involving myself in the school newspaper (feature writer, advertising manager, business manager), theater guild (acting), advanced art classes (we did the scenery for the school drama and musical productions) and student council (secretary). But all those activities and achievements were, as Brown says, hollow substitutes for what I really longed for—belonging.
Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
Lacking that self-acceptance as a child—possibly due to the sexual abuse I experienced from my grandfather and the ongoing verbal abuse from my mother—I carried the wound into high school and on to college and adulthood. At Ole Miss, I pledged what I considered to be the top sorority (Delta Delta Delta) and was elected president of the pledge class. But I still felt like an outsider when I watched the friendships others in the sorority had with each other—a level of intimacy I didn’t seem to be able to find. I got engaged in the fall of that freshman year and married the following June, which took me out of one arena and dropped me into another.
Many years later, I found myself still hustling for approval—from my husband, my church, maybe even from God. I continued to busy myself with activities—church secretary, newsletter editor, Sunday School teacher, Christmas play writer and director, Coffee Hour chairman and joiner of endless committees. I learned to write (paint) icons and led workshops and gave lectures on iconography. Interactions with my students was satisfying, but those relationships never seemed to gain intimacy outside the classroom. I eventually retired from iconography and from all the activities I had been involved in at church. A dark cloud of loneliness enveloped me as I realized that I was once again, on the outside looking in.
Where do I go from here? Brown addresses my question:
Living a connected life ultimately is about setting boundaries, spending less time and energy hustling and winning over people who don’t matter, and seeing the value of working on cultivating connection with family and close friends.
I’ve already done the boundary-setting part, although I’m sure I’ve got more to learn about that. And I’m working on the connection with family and close friends. I only have two friends who call me. Well, maybe three. Over the years I’ve gotten weary from always being the one who initiates—coffee, lunch, dinner, going to an art show or shopping. So I’ve gradually slowed down the invitations, hoping my phone would ring. It rarely does, and I can’t help but see that as a reflection of my un-worthiness. When I feel that pain, it’s tempting to turn to what Jennifer Louden calls “shadow comforts” (Brown quotes Loudon in her book.) Brown says this about those shadow comforts:
When we’re anxious, disconnected, vulnerable, alone, and feeling helpless, the booze and food and work and endless hours online feel like comfort, but in reality they’re only casting their long shadows over our lives.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been working on rejecting those shadow comforts and focusing on relationships in my family. Our 35-year-old son, Jonathan, has been living with us since January, for the first time in seventeen years. A retired Army helicopter pilot, Jon is job-hunting, trying to rent out his historic, Victorian home in Savannah, and wants to relocate to Memphis. I know it’s hard for him to accept our hospitality at this stage in his life, and it’s sometimes hard for us to share our empty-nester space, but there are continuing blessings from this arrangement.
Our other two grown children and three grandchildren all live in Denver. I’ve made three trips to Denver in the past six months, and my daughter and her family have been here once and will return again in April. All ten of us will spend a week together in a house on the beach at Seagrove in May. As I’m sure is true in most families, our relationships haven’t been without struggles. But today I am so thankful for the love and connections that are growing stronger.
I struggle every day against regrets, often wanting a “do-over” in many areas of my life. But I’m working on self-acceptance and trying to live in the present moment.
Whether or not you like country music, listen to Zach Brown’s song, “Make This Day,” and you’ll feel better about yourself. I don’t think Zach and Brené are related, but I do think Zach gets what she’s saying here about living inside our stories. Listen to the chorus:
Find a way to wash away
(Way to wash away)
Any regrets you have
Don’t let this moment pass but live inside this day.
Happy Monday, everyone. Let’s make this day a little better than the last!