Tell Me if I’m Wrong…Because I Want to be Right– Part 2

13 May

Listen and LookIn my previous post I posed this question:

In science, researchers seek out data than can disprove their hypotheses. Contradictory evidence shows them where their biases lie and signals how a new direction might need to be explored. They search for plausible rival explanations. Do you? Do you challenge your first thought and work at discovering alternatives that might prove you wrong?

Brene Brown, a social scientist, psychologist, and researcher at the University of Houston, calls this ‘showing up’ behavior, an act of vulnerability. In essence, it’s inviting in the discomfort that could ultimately prove to bolster your creativity, connection, and sense of belonging. Because to err is human, without the courage to experience failure, and to trust others to be with and hear our shame when we fail or make mistakes, we actively build a wall around the most basic psychological needs that determine our desire to be bold, to be resilient, to step into the arena, to show up even when we’re scared, and to keep trying despite numerous falls.

These needs include autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Take a few seconds to let these three words sink in, and recall the moments when in an effort to “fit in”, to feel accepted, to feel a part of the group, you’ve let go of your uniqueness. In essence, to enhance one need you’ve actively disengaged from another. I know that you feel the inner twinge that goes along with relinquishing what’s true to your core self though. Moving closer to one need does not demand that you leave the others behind. In fact, what we call those individuals who can intentionally create experiences in which they are both proactively indulging their desires to achieve uniqueness and authenticity, and demonstrate their core talents, virtues, and values outside of whether they are congruent with those of others and simultaneously dive into activities that connect, require empathy, and relate on a deeper level to others even if their views are discrepant, is differentiation. In other words, a person who is differentiated has the ability to  maintain a solid sense of self (i.e. non-negotiable values) within situations of stress and among relationships. Someone who lacks differentiation falls apart or becomes fractured when there is disagreement or when others feel or think in contradicting ways. But you can be so tied into who you are right now, feeling compelled to protect your self as a consequence of perceiving that a difference of opinion means you are “wrong”, that the ability to remain objective and unemotional disappears. Increasing differentiation requires a We do not see things as they are...defining of your principles and values– what makes you, you. Don’t mistake this, however, for “finding” a way and then rigidly clinging to it “because it’s who you are.” A rigidly differentiated person is inflexible, unyielding, and unwilling to explore how or why others believe differently. You might actually, through discovery, realize that what you’ve believed no longer resonates with you anymore, and through a process of filtering, you may redefine your principles or beliefs or “refine” them. Can you imagine how your life would change if you didn’t actively avoid others who might disagree with you?

In my final year of graduate school I wrote my thesis on differentiation and the first year of marriage. Care to guess why I was compelled to research this topic? I had never experience more internal and external conflict than during those 12 months after being married, and I needed to understand what was happening for me. What was this incoherent, chaotic, messy, craziness that had infiltrated what felt like every fiber of…me? I challenged myself during the next year to engage and disengage in new and often uncomfortable ways. I walked into the swamp land of mucky emotion, of tumultuous disagreements, and of quicksand-like consumption, and the whole time I actively pursued to discern what was mine and what was his and how I was well-practiced in entangling the two to the point that my heart-felt ripped to shreds. (Keep in mind that this feeling can be quite normal in relationships– you’re so close to a person that of course you’re going to feel a tremendous amount of emotion. But there is a very salient difference between a fractured, splintered, torn to pieces, completely disintegrated heart and one that has broken but is still open).

In my first year of marriage I was far, far from understanding myself or from understanding the foundation of who I was and how to weave my intricacies into the fabric of another life that I was to share. I had entered into the relationship initially because I was scared and uncertain and, just like I At any given moment...described at the beginning, desiring security and certainly. Well, I found it. This man not only had his life, but mine also, planned out for the next 50 years. As I embarked on the process of dissecting the words of my story– the one I had been telling, the one that had been told to me, the one I was currently writing, and the one I wanted to write–the lens I was looking through became clearer, the fog seemed to dissipate, and I experienced a sense of clarity. Comfortable? Not even close. But something in my spirit was recaptured despite it.

Brene Brown is the first to admit, and in doing so, reveals tremendous vulnerability, that she “doesn’t do vulnerability.” She has spent decades researching it, and still finds herself activity avoiding it. In her TED talk, she explains how it is not in her nature, but how the data she has collected on human connection, vulnerability, and shame has changed the way she “lives, loves, works, and parents.” I would argue that it’s not that she doesn’t do vulnerability– she recognizes and has shown through her research that we can’t avoid it  because it’s there, inherently, and we know when it’s there because we feel it–it’s that she doesn’t do it as well as she’d like to. Vulnerability is that “deer in the headlights”, “oh shit”, “what do I say?”, “how do I respond?”, “I can’t believe that just happened…I just want to hide” feeling.   You know it. We have all experienced it. So as Brene explains, it’s part of humanity. But many of us are great at– or think we’re helping ourselves by– numbing it. In my first year of marriage and in the years that preceded it, I numbed vulnerability, and in turn, anesthetized my heart.

In his inspiring book entitled Healing the Heart of Democracy, Parker Palmer describes his experience of feeling “like a displaced person in my own land.” I recall vividly describing to a friend post-divorce how I had lost my self in the marriage and the immense and liberating grief and freedom I experienced when I listened to my heart and made the decision to move out of the land I had built with this person and set off on a  new, growth-oriented journey that would undoubtedly present more obstacles and scary detours, but opportunities that I would gladly unveil. I grieved for what I had lost and the time I had spent closing doors on my heart for four years, and I grieved out of gratitude for finally seeing my power to be courageous enough to open every door from that point forward. I don’t believe now that I had “lost” my self.  I believe that I’d not done the work to ever “find” my self in the first place.

Courage is what is takes...Palmer reminds his readers in the prelude of his book, after unabashedly yet carefully and humbly explaining his tendency toward depression and using his experience to create a meaningful foundation for describing how to nurture the essence of life, that the word heart stems from the Latin root cor, where the word courage comes from. When I read this the first time I had to pause. The familiar heavy, pressing intensity of emotion I feel in my chest when tears are planning their escape cued me to pay attention. “Listen,” my body reminded. Cor— when spoken, is the sound of me– the name my mom has called me since I was a little girl. Cor, as Palmer defines it, is where our emotions, intellect, intuition, intelligence, and the physical, relational, experiential, and imaginative aspects and centers of our lives converge to create the cores of who we are.  I had realized that my core was expanding. And retraction no longer seemed like a viable option if I was to engage in the “finding” of me. Even after the friend I had confided in said she no longer wanted to associate with me, the doors didn’t close. Comfortable? Not even close. And I still find myself wounded from what at the time I perceived as a rejection. But I was not fractured.

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