I’m a big fan of Brene Brown’s work. Daring Greatly felt like it was written for me and my family. I saw shame and armor at every turn. When I read it, I was thrilled to finally have a target for releasing so much of the tension written into the way I see the world. Embrace vulnerability, even though it’s painful – it’s worth it. Clear, concise, even some practical examples of how to do so. It was still difficult and unnatural and exhausting, though. Then came Rising Strong, with some more tips and examples of how to take the lows and use them to bounce back better than before. How to make that vulnerability a little less scary and learn from it. Helpful, but still painful and difficult.
Then I read a simple picture book, The Conquerors. With it’s clunky drawings and war theme, I was a little turned off, but then it changed my life. In the book, the general goes and invades all the countries around and conquers them all because he has the best, strongest army. Then he goes to the last country that was so small he hadn’t bothered before. This one, however, he can’t conquer like he’s used to. They welcome him and his army with open arms and teach them all about their way of life. The soldiers go home and bring the little country’s customs with them. The general sees it as “spoils of war” but the little country isn’t destroyed in the slightest. Everybody wins.
When I think about Brene Brown’s vulnerability with myself as the little country, that it’s not me against the world, but rather me showing the world how I do things… Then it becomes really easy to just show up and be myself. Be seen. There is no threat, the threat is just a perception. I can be completely myself and not have to use tons of defensive armor, because this is *my* turf and therefor I’m in charge and you can’t touch me. If someone comes in and doesn’t respect that, then it’s easy for me to see that it’s their problem, not mine. Because this is *my* turf and nobody is in control of it but me. For someone else to try and take control is laughable. Show up, be seen, live my authentic life. Ask for help when I need it, learn from my mistakes, go see how other people live *their* lives (but don’t think that I can control the place just because I’m there). Aaaahhhh. I can feel the shame melting into a puddle on the floor and leaving me there, strong, myself, and with the strongest boundaries yet.
Then. Then. Then, power and love surfaced as relevent topics. The idea of using my power to do things on my own, power to ask (not demand) for help when I need it. Power to stand up for what I believe in. Power to make change. Power to choose my own life. Power to keep trying when the first, second, hundredth time doesn’t work out. This is personal power, and it’s in direct contrast to using power over someone. With power over someone, you take away their choice. You gain power while they lose it. Or else you give your power away to them. Let them control you. You create power dynamics, power struggles. It’s the opposite of consent, and it’s what most of us think of when we think of power as a dirty word. Or as a holy grail. Striving for promotions, sibling rivalry, parents yelling at their kids. Evil overlords.
Finally, love. Mr. Rogers said, “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle.” If love is an action, what are the everyday actions we use to show we care? How do I love someone? How do I show my love? What does love feel like? What does it take to be lovable? What is self love? I realized that the actions I use to express love – helping, guiding, teaching, protecting, preventing pain, not causing hurt – those are all power dynamics. If I show love by helping, then to receive that love, you need to be helpless. If I show love by guiding, then to receive that love, you need to be malleable without strong will of your own. If I show love by protecting, then you need to be weak. If I show love by preventing pain, then when you are in pain, I’ve failed and I’m not lovable. If I show love by not causing hurt, then how do I speak up for myself when it conflicts with you? How do I hold strong boundaries and stay true to myself when you are helpless and weak? And how do you stay true to yourself when I need to feel lovable and I’m trying so hard to help and guide you? This kind of love feels like strength and weakness. Power and control. It’s easy for me to see how we get our identities wrapped up in power dynamics. I am the teacher. I know stuff. Lots of stuff. More than you, so I can show you I love you by teaching you. I am lovable because I teach. How dare you tell me I’m wrong? How dare you not accept my teachings? How dare you be uninterested? Don’t you understand that those things hurt my identity? Don’t you LOVE me? Am I not lovable!!?!? And if I’m hurting, then who caused it, and why wasn’t I protected?? I must not be lovable.
I want love to feel like acceptance, to feel expansive, like being understood, like safety and security. Like the best place to explore and experiment and figure myself out. The safe landing pad. Open, cozy arms. Shoulders to cry on. And so I’m upgrading my love actions with listening, understanding, and respecting boundaries. Self love as understanding myself, figuring out my own boundaries, and respecting them. I’m releasing the power dynamics and outgrowing the need for an identity in order to be lovable. I am unconditionally lovable purely because I exist. I am lovable because I have needs and limits and I communicate them. I am interesting because I’m a person and I have a story. I’m lovable because I don’t have it all together. I can see and respect and love you and not be threatened by you, because there are no power dynamics in our relationship.
And just like that, the vulnerability armor explodes into a cloud of glitter that sticks to the puddle of shame on the floor. And I’m free, and can walk away. There is pain, and there is hurt, there is old trauma that I can finally process and it will cause tears, but there are shoulders to cry on and feeling low is just another way to be lovable. Conflict is a chance to better understand someone (love!). Failure is an opportunity for understanding (love!). In order to be lovable I just need to exist. I just need to exist. And when there isn’t someone right there to shower me with love when I need it, there’s always self love – it’s not a booby prize. I can always understand myself and my own needs and limits better, and use my power to get them met. And that feels really, really good.