Vulnerability and Courage

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

-Brene’ Brown, Rising Strong 

In an earlier post I wrote about vulnerability and how it has been an important tool in fighting my social anxiety.  However, the more I practice vulnerability, the more I realize how much courage it takes to be truly known by people. I’m learning that vulnerability is risky business and that practicing vulnerability carries no guarantees.

Vulnerability often begets deeper connection, empathy, and intimacy.

However, vulnerability can also result in rejection, disappointment, and pain.

Lately, I’ve been wrestling with what to do when I risk vulnerability and it doesn’t work out.

I think that for people with social anxiety, experiences of rejection are especially painful. In moments of rejection, it’s so tempting to shut down the heart and vow not to risk vulnerability again.

However, I know that this isn’t the way God intends for us to live.

God intends for us to live in community with others— to know and be known. Although relationships can lead to hurt and disappointment, they are also one of the most powerful ways that God brings healing to our lives. Vulnerability is truly worth the risk.

It takes courage to get back up after a disappointment. 

But I’m determined to keep practicing vulnerability, even when it’s painful.

Weakness

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

-2 Corinthians 2:9 & 10

I think that the reason I am so hesitant to share about my social anxiety is that it feels like the weakest thing about me. As humans, we prefer to share our strengths with others— the areas where we have things figured out. It’s so much harder to talk about areas of our life that are works in progress.

However, God has been showing me the power of embracing my weakness. I would rather Him use the strong areas of my life where I feel confident and able. However, I’m realizing that if I can fully embrace this part of my story, God can use it in the lives of others. Only by journeying through anxiety can I understand the anxiety that others experience.

Even more importantly, God has showed me that my social anxiety is actually in many ways a gift. It reminds me that I’m human and desperately need God’s help. My anxiety forces my normally independent and self-reliant self to depend on other people to help me.

Although I am confident that Jesus wants so much freedom for me (which I am starting to experience) I often wonder if anxiety may continue to be a struggle in my life. Like the Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”, my anxiety is a constant reminder of my humanity and need.

Moreover, my anxiety is an opportunity for Christ’s power to be evident in my life.

I’m learning by experience that His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

Beloved

“Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we were spoken to by the voice of eternal love. Our preciousness, uniqueness, and individuality are not given to us by those who meet us in clock time— our brief chronological existence— but by the one who has chosen us with an everlasting love, a love that existed from all eternity and will last through all eternity.”

-Henri Nowen, Life of the Beloved 

I just love this book and the beautiful truth that is described in this quote.

As Christians, we are the beloved of God.

However, I’ve found from personal experience that it is much easier to know this truth than to actually live like I believe it.

I think that one of the greatest roots of my social anxiety is a fear of rejection. In my opinion, rejection is one of the most painful experiences that we can have as humans. We were created by God for love and connection and that is why rejection is so incredibly painful. 

In my research about anxiety, I’ve learned that most people who struggle with social anxiety can pinpoint specific memories (usually in their teenage years) where they felt rejected, excluded, or unwanted.

As I’ve sought healing in my life, God has taken me back to specific memories of rejection and exclusion. I’ve tried to identify the lies I started to believe about myself through those experiences. Sadly, I’ve realized that I’ve allowed fallen human beings to speak my identity over me, rather than my perfect heavenly Father. 

Over the past year or so, God has been taking me on a journey of reclaiming my own belovedness. I’ve set aside a lot of time this year to intentionally focus on scriptures about His unconditional love for me. In the process, God has started to reveal to me my true identity as child, friend, and beloved of God.

Along the way, something surprising has happened. My capacity to love others has increased. There is a strong correlation between the way I view myself and the way that I judge others. It’s hard to truly love others when I’m viewing myself harshly or with self-criticism. As I’ve come to believe that God truly loves me just as I am, regardless of how I perform or measure up, I’ve realized that the same is true about other people too. And this profoundly impacts the way I see and treat the people around me.

Reclaiming my own belovedness frees me to call out the belovedness in others.

What a beautiful gift!

The Battle of the Mind

“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”

-Romans 8: 5&6

This verse has had such an impact on me lately. Oh how I want a mind governed by the Spirit, filled with life and peace!

Since anxiety always begins in the mind, I think that as Christians we need to pay more attention to our thoughts. I once heard it said that our minds can be one of two things. The mind can be a Wild West where anything goes and criminal thoughts are allowed to enter and wreak havoc. Or it can be a Garden of Eden, disciplined by the Spirit and ruled by truth and peace.

This sounds ideal but in reality, a mind governed by the Spirit requires so much discipline and intentionality. I know from personal experience that controlling the mind is a battle that is not easily won! In this post, I want to share some practical ways that God has been helping me win the battle for my mind.

Questioning anxious thoughts: When I’m overcome with an anxious thought, I first try to carefully examine it. It’s almost like I’m putting my thoughts on trial to see if they actually hold up.

In her book How to be Yourself: Quiet your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety (highly recommend!), author Ellen Hendriksen suggests two important questions to ask oneself in an anxious moment:

  1. What is the worst that could happen? Although this might seems dramatic, sometimes playing out an anxious thought to its end is actually very helpful to me. It helps me to realize that no matter what happens, I’m going to be ok. As a Christian I can rest in the truth that no matter what happens, I always have Jesus and He is all I need. This may sound simplistic, but honestly this reminder is so important when I’m in the midst of anxiety.
  2. How would I cope? This question is equally important because it takes away feelings of powerlessness. I remember how much support and love I have in my life through dear friends, family, and especially my faith. Remembering my support system lessens the power of anxious thoughts and ideas.

Distinguishing truth from lies: There is so much power in identifying lies, many of which are the root of social anxiety. However, I’ve learned that I have to be close to the Lord in order to recognize lies from the Enemy. Only by spending time in God’s presence, reading His Word, and studying His character can I be equipped to identify thoughts that are harmful and untrue.

I’ve also realized that it’s not enough to simply identify lies. Victory comes through replacing those lies with truth. Sometimes I’ll keep a list on my mirror of truths from God’s Word. I will read them each morning as I’m getting ready for the day. In another season, God laid it on my heart to journal every scripture I could find about His love for me. This is something that I can go back to when I feel overcome with lies and need to remember the truth about myself. 

Healthy processing. I don’t think it’s every helpful to wallow in anxiety. However, I have found that healthy processing can be a good strategy for releasing anxious thoughts.

Journaling is one of my favorite tools. If I go to bed feeling overwhelmed with anxieties of the day, sometimes I’ll write an “offload list” in my journal. This is a place to write anything that I feel unsettled about that is absorbing my attention. Sometimes I’ll even draw a picture of a present next to each item as a visual reminder that I’m giving that anxiety to God and refusing to dwell on it any longer.

Sometimes processing with a friend or family member is also helpful. We aren’t meant to walk through challenges alone. Sometimes it’s so relieving to speak out the things that are swirling around in my mind. Additionally, I’ve found that someone coming from an outside perspective can more easily identify the lies that I’m accepting as truth.

Self compassion: I am a big fan of self compassion, but I don’t love the terminology. I think that a better term might be “God compassion”. When I’m in the midst of anxiety, I need to talk to myself kindly, treating myself with the compassion that God has for me.

As someone who is very self-critical, this is a challenging strategy to implement. Sometimes I find it helpful to imagine that a dear friend is experiencing the anxiety I’m facing. I then try to to talk to myself in the same way that I would talk to them— with grace, compassion, and validation of their feelings.  The following are helpful phrases to speak to myself:

“This is hard for you right now and that’s ok.”

“You’re feeling really anxious and that’s not a good way to feel.”

“This anxiety is going to pass.”

“You’ve been victorious over anxiety before and you can do it again.”

Gratitude: This is probably my favorite strategy for reclaiming my mind. In my opinion, gratitude is the most helpful remedy for critical, negative thoughts. A few years ago, I started documenting “evidences of grace” in my journal. My habit is to daily (or at least every few days) make a list of the places where I’ve seen God’s grace in my life. This could be anything from a warm cup of tea to a moment of connection with someone. This practice has been revolutionizing my mind. I am more aware of the beauty, gifts, and blessings in my life that I so easily miss. When my mind is filled with thankfulness and gratitude there is no room for anxieties and worries to enter.

The battle for the mind isn’t easy, but it’s so worth fighting. I don’t want you to think I have this figured out. The truth is that sometimes my mind still feels a lot more like a chaotic Wild West than a peaceful Garden of Eden. However, I no longer feel powerless when unruly thoughts enter my mind. I have tools that I can use to discipline my mind, allowing it to come under the government of the Spirit, not my flesh.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. How do you combat anxious thoughts in your life?

Social Anxiety and Vulnerability

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” 

-Brene’ Brown, Daring Greatly

I can honestly say that vulnerability has been one of the greatest keys to battling social anxiety in my life. However, when I initially identified social anxiety, my first instinct was to avoid vulnerability at all costs.

For people who struggle with social anxiety, vulnerability is especially terrifying. After all, social anxiety centers on a fear of being seen, known, and rejected by others.

Additionally, I know from personal experience that people who struggle with social anxiety tend to also battle shame. And shame likes to stay in the dark. However, the interesting thing about shame is that it loses its power when it is brought into the light. I’ve found this to be so true in my own life.

I remember feeling so overwhelmed by my social anxiety. I felt stuck and trapped. Honestly one of my greatest fears was that someone would find out about my anxiety. It made me feel defective and unworthy.

However, one day I mustered up the courage to talk about my anxiety with my counselor. Next, I talked with each of my family members. Not long after that, I let several of my closest friends and a dear older mentor in on my struggle.

Although this didn’t immediately fix my anxiety, I felt so much lighter. I now had people lifting me up in prayer. I also was touched by how each of these people responded to me. Rather than condemning or rejecting me, they expressed deep love, empathy, and compassion. Their gracious responses reflected to me the love of Jesus which was exactly what I needed to combat the shame that I felt.  That was such a gift.

Although I believe that vulnerability is an important step in battling social anxiety, I would like to give a word of caution. Vulnerability is a powerful force that must be used carefully. As research professor Brene’ Brown wisely suggests:

“Share with people who have earned the right to hear your story.” 

When I was in the midst of my struggle, it wasn’t wise for me to share about my social anxiety with anybody and everybody. I only shared with people whom I truly trusted and knew would respond with empathy and understanding.

Vulnerability can be so terrifying, but I have become convinced that it is such a powerful tool for healing. I have also discovered that it is such a powerful tool for connection. Over the past couple of years, I have been amazed at how God has used my vulnerability to give others a safe place to share their own vulnerability and pain.

Vulnerability begets connection and that is such a precious gift.

Brokenness

“We have to dare to overcome our fear and become familiar with it. Yes, we have to find the courage to embrace our own brokenness, to make our most feared enemy into a friend, and to claim it as an intimate companion.”

-Henri Nowen, Life of the Beloved

I absolutely love this quote and have been deeply impacted by its truth. My natural inclination is to simply avoid the brokenness in my life because facing it is just too painful. However, the Lord is teaching me that the journey to healing involves facing my brokenness and even befriending it.

A couple of years ago, I identified a new area of brokenness in my life:

Social anxiety.

Although social anxiety had been a struggle for me for many years, it reached a new level of intensity a couple of years ago. In the past, I had attributed my extreme discomfort with unknown social situations to my introverted personality. However, as the symptoms of my anxiety kept increasing, I began to wonder if my difficulty was more than introversion. One day I started researching everything I could about social anxiety. I was shocked to read my personal experience described so succinctly and clearly. I also took a detailed online test that suggested I had “marked social phobia”.

This realization was incredibly overwhelming for me. Honestly, I felt a lot of shame about my anxiety and didn’t want people to know about my struggle. I also felt sincere regret as I realized how many opportunities I had missed because of my anxiety.

At the same time, I actually felt relieved to have language to describe what I had dealt with for so many years. I also was comforted to learn that I wasn’t alone. As I researched about social anxiety, I learned that 18 percent of the US population battles anxiety disorders and 7 percent of the population struggles specifically with social anxiety. This showed me that social anxiety isn’t a unique struggle, but rather a challenge faced by a significant percentage of people.

Additionally, as I gained courage to open up about my anxiety with trusted friends and family members, I was shocked to discover how many people in my life also struggle with anxiety. It was encouraging to see how God used my brokenness to offer understanding and hope to others with similar struggles.

God has brought so much freedom to me in this area. But this freedom hasn’t been easy. It has required facing the deeper reasons and roots beneath the surface of my anxiety. I’ve had to be vulnerable with the people in my life and let them in to help me. I have started seeing a counselor for support. I’ve also had to put myself in situations that stretch me way beyond my comfort zone.

Even after all of this work, anxiety is still a struggle in my life. Social anxiety is no longer my constant experience. However, It does pop up from time to time, especially during seasons of stress and change. I would rather write about something that is completely healed and no longer an issue. However, I feel compelled to write about this even though I am still a work in progress.  God is bringing freedom into my life day by day and I’m excited to share my journey from brokenness to greater wholeness.