Finding the Courage to be Vulnerable

finding courage

“Daring greatly means the courage to be vulnerable. It means to show up and be seen. To ask for what you need. To talk about how you’re feeling. To have the hard conversations.” – Brene Brown

Being brave is not about the absence of fear, it’s about having the courage to be vulnerable – to press on in spite of fear. The first memories I have of someone using the word “brave” is when I was a little kid.  For most kids, it usually revolves around doing something scary, such as sleeping alone in a dark room or having to get a shot at the doctor, then an adult telling us to be brave.  In cartoons, the hero/heroine is often characterized as someone who is “brave” -- someone who will ride into battle despite danger.  Usually, I’ve seen bravery show up as someone who appears stoic and doesn’t show any vulnerability or cry.  This is where I think the definition of bravery starts to diverge from what it actually means.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve put a lot of thought into what it means to me to be brave.  To be honest, trying to avoid feeling and showing difficult emotions has been one of the harder parts of bravery for me.  Bravery means actually letting yourself feel those emotions without letting them defeat you or change your path.  This discussion could get complicated really quickly, especially when it comes to masculinity.  Men, especially the older generations, feel pressure not to show or feel vulnerable emotions. Perhaps, then, my childhood view of bravery initially came from men, since I used to think masculinity was associated with strength and bravery.  (Oh, how wrong I was about that!) I still struggle with comments about women being emotional, or “crying like a woman.” Being a woman, I do struggle with some of my emotions, so I can only imagine what it must feel like for some men. One important takeaway from this blog is that vulnerability is a courageous act – it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman!

TO BE “VULNERABLE” IS TO BE…
If you go to the dictionary, bravery and courage go hand in hand.  Being brave is “to have courage” and courage is “the ability to do something that frightens one” or “strength in the face of pain or grief.” In that sense, the willingness to be vulnerable means the willingness to face things like humility, uncertainty, discomfort, saying “no,” and feeling fear. If that doesn’t sound brave or courageous, I don’t know what does!

BEING BRAVE IS NOT THE ABSENCE OF FEAR
It’s feeling the fear and doing it anyway.  It’s doing it in spite of the fear. Now this doesn’t mean doing something irrational like saying “I’m brave” and then walking out into traffic. It’s not saying “I’m brave” and putting yourself needlessly into a dangerous situation. The million dollar question is: How is someone able to conjure up enough bravery to willingly face something they’re afraid of? Personally, it’s been considering my outcomes and asking myself what the worst-case scenario would be: Minor injury? Embarrassment or shame if I fail? Wasted time? Simply not being able to do it? Often, the fear of the thing preventing us from being brave is way worse than if it actually were to happen in real life. Simply considering what the worst case will be might help you overcome your fear. 

BEING BRAVE IS NOT BURYING YOUR EMOTIONS, IT’S SITTING WITH THEM
I’ll admit it: I hate it when I cry. It doesn’t feel good and it makes me feel weak. This is a really negative and untrue view of crying, layered with all kinds of baggage and unfair judgements.  It takes courage to sit with discomfort, whether it be emotional, physical, or sometimes both simultaneously. Burying and denying emotions because they hurt does not make you stronger; it’s actually unhealthy. In the past, I would hide from painful emotions by keeping myself busy with tasks or exercising. While it is healthy to “blow off steam” every once and awhile, it isn’t healthy to continuously run away and hide from what you feel; you’ll have to face them sooner or later. Lately, I’ve been working on letting myself feel some of those emotions I would hide from. Learning to say to yourself “I feel angry” or “I feel sad right now,” and then adding “…and that’s okay” is such a powerful exercise. Not only is this an act of bravery, but it is also an act of mindfulness and self-compassion. Learn to recognize the space between feeling the emotion and automatically reacting to it by taking the time to identify what it is, then challenge yourself to sit with it and remind yourself that it will pass.

BEING BRAVE MEANS SETTING BOUNDARIES AND HAVING HUMILITY
Sometimes, being brave means speaking up for yourself and putting yourself first. This may look like saying “no” to others and setting boundaries, or even saying “no” to yourself if you notice you’re engaging in critical self-talk or patterns of overplanning that could lead to burnout. It takes courage and confidence to say no, to do less when you’re tired, or even to rest when it feels like you’re falling behind. Other examples of being brave can look like standing up for yourself or for others, and even just taking the risk of being vulnerable and open, trusting others, and loving deeper.

BEING BRAVE MEANS MOVING FORWARD DESPITE UNCERTAINTY
In my own life, I’ve had to be brave when facing new situations where there was a lot of uncertainty and lack of control. Simply moving forward in my career has been an act of bravery, of putting myself out there, of accepting disappointing rejections because of other people’s biases of what I am capable of.  There were days I’ve wanted to give up and felt like my idea of the future was impossible because other people didn’t believe in me, but I kept moving forward and I will continue to do so.  Uncertainty and fear can be the same thing, but being brave means showing up and choosing to keep trying in the darker moments when you don’t know what it’s going to look like, when it feels like everyone is against you or doesn’t understand you.

The more times you sit with those difficult emotions and feel them, the more times you choose to not give up even when the outcome isn’t what you had hoped, the more times you press on even when no one else believes in you and you emerge on the other side -- that’s when your own hero comes out. That’s when you say, “Hell yeah, this is what it means to be brave.”

Maigen-Pham-flip

Maigen Pham, LMFT, CST-Candidate

Maigen has worked with children, adolescents, adults, and couples – in addition to providing behavioral therapy to children with autism. Her approach to counseling is holistic, eclectic, and collaborative in order to help individualize sessions for each person. Additionally, as a Certified Sex Therapist-Candidate, Maigen provides therapy for individuals experiencing problems with sexual intimacy.

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