"Daring Greatly" and How Counselling Can Help You Do It
You may have already heard of Brene Brown -- her TED talks on vulnerability and shame went viral on the internet and have been viewed by millions of people. If you haven't seen them, I highly recommend that you watch them, because they are great. (You can find them both here.) She is a funny, engaging, and likable speaker, and her message is a very powerful one. Several of my clients have told me how touched they were by her words, and what an impact the talks had for them.
In addition to her scholarly research on shame, happiness, and vulnerability, and her public speaking, Brown has also published a few books, the most recent of which is called Daring Greatly. I recently joined a book club with a group of women who were interested in reading this book, and exploring vulnerability, together.
One of the take-aways from the book is her "Ten Guideposts for Whole-Hearted Living". Through her research, Brown noticed a few trends emerging among those who are, in general, happy and fulfilled with their lives, despite whatever challenges it may present. She distilled these guideposts which describe what she has seen in common among people who are living their lives in a whole-hearted way. I wanted to share them here, and talk a bit about how I see their relevance to the experience of being in counselling.
The Ten Guideposts
- Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think
- Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism
- Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness
- Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
- Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty
- Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
- Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth
- Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle
- Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and "Supposed To"
- Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and "Always in Control"
I think what I really appreciate about this list is that to me, it speaks directly to what I believe therapy can help to cultivate. In my work as a counsellor, I have seen first-hand, over and over, the pain of all of the things that Brene suggests we let go of. Perfectionism, numbing, the need for certainty, comparing ourselves to others, accepting chronic anxiety as par for the course, self-doubt... these things feel epidemic in our culture, sometimes.
The good news is that it is possible to change. And while you can certainly set out to work on these guideposts alone, a relationship with a therapist can be a very useful support in this process.
Here's the thing -- vulnerability is something that happens in the context of relationship. We only feel vulnerable when there are other people (whether real or imagined) around to see us - or more likely, we fear, judge us. And it can be scary, if not downright overwhelming, to start practicing these ten guideposts. It is one thing to think "Yeah, I would probably feel better if I just let go of the need for certainty", and quite another thing to actually do it! Each one of these guideposts is deeply linked to all our our most implicit beliefs about life -- the things that feel so true that we don't even recognize them as beliefs, because we just think they are reality. And sometimes we need support and guidance to begin re-wiring those old stories.
A safe and trusting relationship with a therapist can provide a place to practice being vulnerable. And then, as you experience the parts of yourself that inevitably resist this new vulnerability, that want to default back to your usual ways of protecting yourself and preventing exposure, a good therapist can help you explore those parts. A good therapist can help you track what is happening inside yourself, cultivate gentle curiosity and compassion for yourself, and try something new. A good therapist will journey with you, so that you do not have to be alone in the vulnerability, and so that you do not get caught in a "shame spiral" (which is a decidedly unhelpful place to end up).
If you are in the Victoria BC area, I would be happy to talk to you about whether I might be the right therapist for you. Please contact me! If you are located somewhere else in the world, I would encourage you to shop around for someone you feel you can trust. Consider looking for someone who is well-versed in Attachment Theory. The AEDP institute has a directory of therapists that you might want to check out for this kind of approach.
I will probably have more reflections to share as I make my way though this book. If you are interested in receiving my blog posts by email once a month, please join my e-newsletter list.