Last year, I watched a lot of Brene Brown on YouTube. I watched the videos over and over because I couldn’t quite get a grip on what she said.
Her words felt true to me, but each sentence seemed to articulate a deep-seated life secret I couldn’t quite clearly identify.
I didn’t feel how vulnerability and shame related to me. I knew my boyfriend could benefit from her ideas, for sure. But how exactly did they apply to me?
Then she said it – at the very end of her TedTalk “Listening to Shame”. It wasn’t the catchiest part or the most conceptually enlightening, but it spoke to my own life:
“And I know it’s seductive to stand outside the arena, because I think I did it my whole life, and think to myself, I’m going to go in there and kick some ass when I’m bulletproof and when I’m perfect. And that is seductive. But the truth is that never happens. And even if you got as perfect as you could and as bulletproof as you could possibly muster when you got in there, that’s not what we want to see. We want you to go in”.
That’s where I was. Outside the ring preparing myself for round II, scared sh**less to go back in and ashamed that I ever came out.
My ring was staying confident in relationships.
I’d felt confident before, but a new opponent – my new boyfriend – knocked me back to a previous version of myself who hadn’t yet benefited from years of self-development. My armor slipped, so I stepped outside the ring of liking myself to regroup.
Only it was miserable out there.
Let me take you back a bit.
Two years prior I had quit my job and sold my house to pursue what I call soul happiness. I had the American Dream – a house, car, and steady job with a good salary. But it didn’t feel like a dream.
The American Dream is about reaching your potential, feeling free, successful, content, and able to provide. Yet I felt none of these things. I felt trapped by my mortgage and like I’d failed to provide myself with the basic trust, love and support I needed to make a go at my real dreams.
So I moved half way around the world to a tiny town in tiny New Zealand and I started reconstructing. I rebuilt my self-esteem, my manner of interacting, my self-acceptance, and my ability to feel emotions and be okay with those feelings. Alone on top of a mountain overlooking the sea, I collapsed and inflated and depressed and expanded until finally I reached a place verging on acceptance and joy.
Happiness flowed from within me, and when it didn’t, that was okay too.
It was on this self-bolstered, self-contained high, that I marched out to rejoin the world – to get back in the ring – and immediately met my the man of my dreams.
At first, life improved. My self-worth remained intact and even improved. Confident, independent, happy me was just now enjoying the company of confident, independent, happy him.
Until I wasn’t.
The slide was subtle at first, but soon enough, I was as self-loathing, insecure and depressed as I was when my house was falling down and I was stuck in a job without promotion.
Only this time, I could add self-judgment on top of the pile of crappy feelings because I knew better – I had just spent a year alone fixing all this!
The only thing I could think to do was leave him so I could find myself again.
Enter Brene Brown’s talk.
This was exactly the feeling she describes – that my desire to run and hide – to leave the ring – was normal. That feeling insecure, hurt, and afraid might not be a sign of weakness after all. It might mean I’m ready to show up fully.
That I’m ready to dare greatly and enter the relationship ring as myself, insecurity and all.
In the end, neither of us showed up or made ourselves vulnerable. I left and we both moved on.
We stood outside the ring, but we still got beat up.
Instead of hurting each other, we injured ourselves with our own fear, anger, and regret.
Next time, I’m going in.
What’s your ring? Why do you stand outside?
What would it take to get you in the ring?