Part of why anxiety attracts so much stigma and shame in our society is because anxiety is so uncomfortable! Physically and emotionally! As someone who has developed a deep appreciation for anxiety and its value to our survival and well-being, I admit the experience of anxiety sucks! At times, it can even be excruciating. “Why does anxiety have to be so uncomfortable,” you may ask?
Well, first of all, anxiety would not effectively motivate us to fight or flee from danger if it weren’t so uncomfortable. Part of what makes anxiety so effective for our survival is our strong desire to alleviate the uncomfortable experience of anxiety. Therefore, anxiety naturally incites the urge to AVOID AVOID AVOID.
Also, at the heart of anxiety is vulnerability, a concept defined by Brenё Brown, researcher and leading expert on shame and vulnerability, as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” We feel vulnerable when we’re anxious. In other words, we feel exposed, uncertain, seen, insecure, weak, inferior, and so on. This feeling of vulnerability tricks us into believing that anxiety renders us weak and unworthy, but it is simply not true. Vulnerability speaks shame loudly to us (e.g., “You’re not good enough!” “You’re not attractive!” “You’re a terrible parent!” “You can’t handle it!” “They see right through you!” “They see how flawed and broken you really are!”). These are, of course, lies, but painful and powerful, nonetheless.
Naturally, we want to hide and escape to stay safe and prevent being found out (e.g., isolate, drink, binge-watch a TV series, put on a stage face). Why wouldn’t we? Isn’t escaping easier? Absolutely! At least, in the short-term. In the long-term, we buy in to the belief that we’re weak, unworthy, and unable to do [you fill in the blank]. When we fall into this vicious cycle, we get stuck in our comfort zone, we never grow, and we feel very unfulfilled with life. This is the place where depression often overlaps with anxiety.
So how do we combat anxious vulnerability? We combat it with anxious courage. That is, instead of fearing and resisting your anxious vulnerability, own it, acknowledge its presence (because when we own it and acknowledge it, we dismantle its power over us), and do what you want to do WITH your anxious vulnerability.
Contrary to popular belief, courage is not mutually exclusive of anxiety or vulnerability. Courage is having anxious vulnerability and doing it anyway. In fact, courage flourishes in the midst of anxiety when we learn to channel our anxiety for good and authenticity. I have lived it, and I have witnessed it in all of my clients. I know it is possible for all of us, because we are all inherently worthy of courageous living.
When you hear that loud, shaming voice of vulnerability, speak back to it louder. I post daily mantras and affirmations on my social media for this purpose. These can be used as tools to help us embrace anxious courage and ACT on our values and goals despite anxious vulnerability.
I am dedicated to helping people enhance courageous living defined by their values. I hope the message of today’s blog post is contagious. In fact, I encourage you to try at least one anxiously courageous act each day over the next week, even if its something as small as sending a text or letting someone see that your home isn’t perfectly spotless. Even committing to one anxiously courageous act each day can be life changing.
Since I have been talking a lot about values, next week’s blog post will include a discussion of defining values and using them as guides in courageous living. Until then,
Have courage and kind wishes!
Tannah E. Chase, Ph.D.
The Anxiety Counseling Clinic, P.L.L.C.
Barlow, D.H., Sauer-Zavala, S., Latin, H.M., Ellard, K.K., Bullis, J.R.,… Cassiello-Robbins, C. (2018). Unified protocol for transdiagnostic treatment of emotional disorders: 2nd Ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly. New York, NY: Gotham Books.
Hayes, S.C. (2005). Get out of your mind and into your life. Oakland, CA: New Harbor Publications, Inc.