Feeling Called to be Courageous Through the Practice of Vulnerability

Last week I watched Brene Brown’s much-anticipated event, the Netflix presentation of The Call to CourageIt ignited my inspiration. I feel not only called to be courageous, but called to live big, to get into the arena, and embrace vulnerability even more than I ever have before.

 

I’ve been a fan of Brene Brown’s for several years now. I’ve read many of her books and watched her Ted Talks. In the process, I have discovered a great deal about shame and vulnerability and courage. Brene is a gifted storyteller that has a knack for taking academic research and language and transforming it in a way that hits you in your heart. You feel the truth of it. She artfully weaves in humour and sadness, sharing real-life stories of trauma and resilience with integrity and passion.

I was impacted in so many ways, I hardly know where to begin, so I’ll just dive in.

Brene shares how devastating it was after her Ted Talk on vulnerability went global. While the accolades were many, the criticism she received felt overwhelming. She was in a rough space, but then she describes how she had this “total God moment,” after reading a quote by Theodore Roosevelt.

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“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives vigilantly; who errs, who comes short again and again… who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

That was the moment when she chose to live in the arena, to have the courage to be vulnerable. Because the thing is, you can’t speak up without discomfort. If you’re not in the arena getting your asked kicked, she’s isn’t interested in your criticism. And neither am I.

Vulnerability is the key to whole-hearted loving.” I am so jazzed about being in full-on, authentic connection. I learned at a very young age how being vulnerable was a key part of creating the space for others to trust being open and honest with me. Loving whole-heartedly has brought me more joy and bliss in my life than anything else. In fact, creating deep, meaningful relationships is my life purpose.

“You have to be vulnerable to be brave.” In all honesty, I have never considered myself to be a brave person. I’m just doing what feels natural for me. When I listen to Brene, though, I get it. Being vulnerable creates the opportunity for deep love, joy and a sense of belonging. But it also opens the door for heartache. The pay-off has just always felt greater for me than the risk.

Vulnerability is the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.” This is the part that I struggle with; controlling the outcome. It has been the nemesis in my entire letting go journey. Especially when it comes to my kids. I know they are adults. I know they are capable, wise and resilient. Still, I intervene and advise when it isn’t my place. I worry that the path they are on could possibly lead to an unfavourable outcome. It turns out it not only takes courage to let yourself be vulnerable; it takes courage to allow the people you love to do the same.

In a Call to Courage Brene Brown posits that time is our big, precious, un-renewable resource. I have to agree, because it is only after a precious moment is gone that we feel the weight of what we didn’t accomplish. The truth is, sometimes we rock it out of the park, living our lives with energy and enthusiasm and accomplishing great things. At other times we are shut down, emotionally or physically, mentally or spiritually, and time seems to just slip by. And it’s all good. Our best has to be good enough, no matter what that looks like. When you get knocked down in the arena of life, you need some recovery time. The important thing is to get back in.

According to Brene, one of the magical sentences that can help you to deconstruct the obstacles in communication and relationship is, “the story I’m telling myself is…” We all have stories we have created that get in the way of seeing one another and being seen, a critical component of vulnerability. For example, when our partner or friend or colleague is tuning us out, instead of being curious and asking why, we tend to make assumptions based on our stories that it is something about us. Usually it is not. We have to be brave enough to question.

Practicing gratitude is a powerful tool towards joyful living. Pausing to be grateful for the ordinary moments fuels joy, love and a sense of belonging. When we are grateful for the gifts we have been bestowed, we develop healthy self-esteem and we don’t have to look outside ourselves or change ourselves. In fact, if you’re changing who you are, you aren’t achieving belonging, you’re just trying to fit in.

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Many movements have been springing up recently that are supporting this courage to be vulnerable, to speak up in the face of discomfort. The #Me Too movement opened the door for millions of people, mostly women, to tell their stories of abuse. They stepped into the arena. Their bravery has incited criticism from those privileged enough to feel uncomfortable. But the tough conversations have to be had. Change is never easy.

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We, as a global community, need to excavate the myths that get in the way of progress and change. We need to elect brave leaders who are committed to equality and boot out those who are corrupt, greedy, and unethical. We have to be willing to make mistakes and to say the wrong thing. We have to get into the arena. We have to speak up.

As for me, I’m feeling affirmed in my vulnerability journey, ready to continue being open and honest with my heart and my mind. I’m feeling grateful for my life, especially for my Mister, who creates space for me to be my authentic self and loves me unconditionally, who not only supports me to be vulnerable, but embraces it. I’m inspired to continuing risking rejection, submitting my queries to agents and dreaming of being a published writer. I’m going to speak my truth through the platform of my writing.

So yeah, I’m feeling called to be courageous through the practice of vulnerability.

Feeling Devastated, Wanting to Speak Up About How to Identify and Recognize Predators

I woke up sometime after midnight. Hot. Anxious. I checked my phone and there was a message: We need you.”

Within 24 hours I was on a plane.

As it turned out, we all needed each other.  A family secret was uncovered that had us all instantly and thoroughly plunged deep into the darkness, having to somehow wade through the horrifying details. I can’t be more forthcoming; it is still too raw, too unresolved. It was and is the single most agonizing time of my life.

The feelings. An anvil of heaviness, of guilt and shame, sitting on my chest, crushing my heart. My mind exploding in agony, trying to reconcile what I thought was my life with what is. My spirit, crushed, with the shame, anger, grief, regret and despair. These are only a few. They stay with me, my first thoughts upon rising, my last before sleep. They even haunt my dreams.

Despite everything, or perhaps because of, I was blown away by the integrity, courage, and solidarity of my family. I know that in time there will be healing. I don’t know if there will ever be any earthly justice. But I do know that each when the time is right I’m ready to speak my truth, go to battle, and be a warrior in the fight to bring down the patriarchal legacies of abuse and power.

I took inspiration from Oprah’s Golden Globe speech where she addressed a myriad of issues. She talked about the media’s insatiable dedication to uncover the truth and expose corruption and injustice. She called out to the tyrants and victims and secrets and lies. She spoke about the MeToo movement.

 

The words that Oprah spoke which impacted me the most were, “What I know for sure: speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” When Oprah concluded that “their time is up,” and that survivors overcome because they have an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning even during their darkest nights, I took solace. Oprah proclaimed, “A new day is on the horizon,” and that “we will fight for a time when nobody has to say ‘me too’ again.”

I wrote about my own MeToo story in my blog, Feeling Anything but Shocked, Compelled to Action by the MeToo Movement.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes in The Women Who Run with the Wolves about the archetype of the wild woman, of our feminine instinctive nature and the Life/Death/Life force. She identifies the wild woman as the one who thunders after injustice and maintains that the remedies for repair are contained in stories.

Estes writes about the natural predator, the most deceitful and powerful fugitive. She tells the story of Bluebeard, the dark man, the innate predator, who fools the naïve woman with his false charm. He is filled with a heartless pursuit of the light of others and to restrain him it is necessary for women to remain in possession of all of their instinctual powers.

Many women have lived the Bluebeard tale, including me. They enter into relationships while they are still naïve or are have injured instincts and they choose someone who is destructive to their lives. They are determined to cure that person with love. My bluebeard even tried to warn me once, admitting he cared for no one but himself, but I refused to believe his confession, thinking I could love him into rekindling the light I imagined still lived inside him.

Predators desire superiority and power over others. It is unfortunately the harsh reality that all beings – young and old, male and female – must learn that predators exist and look to understand the predator so that they are not vulnerable out of naiveté, inexperience or foolishness.

Clarissa states, “when a woman is attempting to avoid the facts of her own devastation her night dreams are likely to shout out warnings.” This was true for me. When I was first dating my Bluebeard, I had a vision of a wolf coming to my window. I didn’t know at the time what the wolf signified in my own psyche; I discovered much later, in therapy, that the wolf represented the sexual predator of my childhood. I didn’t have the teachings. I didn’t trust my intuition. I was vulnerable.

In, The Women Who Run with the Wolves, Estes describes how to retrieve and restore intuition:

  • Expose yourself to the shadows and navigate the dark
  • Be your authentic self, even if it causes you to be exiled by many others
  • Feed your intuition by listening to your heart
  • Respect great power and recognize your power as a woman
  • Live and learn
  • Honour your cycles
  • Learn fine discrimination and discernment
  • Observe and learn about the Life/Death/Life cycles
  • Trust that some things belong to God
  • Refuse to allow anyone to repress your vivid energies, opinions, thoughts and values

In our society, we do the opposite. Instead of educating our girls we train them to be nice and ‘make pretty’, which causes them to override their intuitions. This must end now. We need to dismantle the predators by maintaining our intuitions and instincts and resisting the predator’s seductions. We also need to learn to recognize the predators who live amongst us.

Which brings me back to my story, my truth. I was absolutely and completely shocked that I did not recognize my predator. But in the time since my discovery I have become educated. First of all, predators who prey on children are most likely a male in your family. We’ve done a great job teaching about ‘stranger danger’ and warning our children about men in vehicles offering candy. But that is a myth. Child predators gain access to their victims by carefully constructing facades that fool us into trusting them. They are master manipulators and cunning concealers.

Predators by the very nature of their sickness should be identified as sociopaths. They possess a clear disregard for the feelings of others and have the ability to lie in order to achieve their goals. When they do something wrong they accept no responsibility but instead they blame others or circumstances. They are often delusional to the point they believe their lies are truth. They lack emotional empathy and are great at charming people. They understand human weakness (and who more vulnerable than a child) and exploit it maximally. They use diversion tactics as smoke screens. They think they are superior. They are selfish, needy, and often highly intelligent.

If someone you know demonstrates several of these tendencies, you should consider them red flags. An appropriate response would be to cut them out of your life completely, but at the very least you should do some investigating.

I ignored the red flags. I fell for the manipulations and lies. He offered evidence of his true character in a drunken confession, but I toned it down and tried to bury it. I was sickened and disgusted. I wanted to leave. But I was afraid. I sought counselling and was advised that it wasn’t appropriate to condemn him for a disclosure that was a thought, not an action. And it is something I will forever regret.

I felt ashamed that I was duped, but as I dug into the issue of child predators I discovered that it isn’t just us who are naïve and trusting who get fooled. In fact, lawyers and judges in our legal system make these errors in judgement too. A devastating example is the recent case reported in the news in Victoria, Canada.

A judge ordered shared custody despite reported violence and sexual abuse and now two little girls are dead. Andrew Berry, the father, filed for shared custody. The mother, Sarah Cotton, fought against him in Supreme Court for five days before the judge declared, “this is not a case where family violence is a significant factor,” and proceeded to grant shared custody. This decision was made despite knowing that Andrew Berry had a previous restraining order and two investigations by the Ministry of Children and Family Development for inappropriate touching.

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/father-charged-with-two-counts-of-second-degree-murder-in-deaths-of-bc-sisters/article37490258/

A complete opposite conviction was ordered in the case of the judge who, disgusted with his abuse of power and privilege, sentenced Larry Nassar for up to 175 years in prison for molesting young female gymnasts.

As I endeavoured to identify the predators amongst us I conducted a search on Ted, one of my favourite forums. I found an interesting talk by Pamela Meyer titled, How to Spot a Liar that gave me a few more tips to add to my growing file. Apparently, when giving a statement, liars will use more formal language than usual, will use distancing language such as that woman (think Bill Clinton) or the boy, the child, and they use qualifying language like, in all candor. Liars sometimes have body language slips like freezing their upper bodies. You can fake a smile with your lips, but not your eyes, so if their smile doesn’t reach their eyes, it is likely inauthentic. And there is often a discrepancy between their words and actions.

 

Of course, these again, are only red flags, not proof. But as in the markers for sociopaths, if someone in your family or circle of friends displays these lying tendencies, it is worthwhile to at least conduct an investigation.

Brene Brown is one of my role models who speaks the truth even when it is uncomfortable. On Super Soul Sunday she spoke out about sexual abuse and shame. She stated that victims keep sexual abuse a secret from a feeling of shame, but secrecy, silence and judgment allow the abuse to continue. In her book, Braving the Wilderness, she talks about facing the challenging social injustices of our time with, “a strong back, soft front, wild heart.”

 

So yeah, I’m feeling devastated, wanting to speak up about how to identify and recognize predators.