I got emotionally triggered today. This post follows the process I went through of feeling vulnerable, scared, and weak, before realizing that taking that scary step into the unknown actually takes a huge amount of strength and courage, and is the opposite of weakness.
One of my triggers that I’ve been working on with my coach, Theresa Vigarino, is when I send a message to someone I care about — specifically someone I am courting or in a relationship with — wherein I say something that makes me vulnerable. In the time between my sending the message and waiting for their response, my brain has a tendency to freak out, over-analyze, and enlist itself in negative fantasies about the hurtful things the other person might say/do in response.
I won’t go into intimate detail about the full context of the message, but basically the whole message I wrote was out of my comfort zone. The reason: in the past month or two, I’ve managed to slip into a bit of a spiritual rut without noticing it until it had already fully taken hold, and I’ve only just started to dig my way back out of it. One by-product of this rut has been that my old emotional habit of relationship codependency has re-surfaced. And in this email, I was essentially making a point to prioritize something I wanted to do with my partner, which is a very out-of-the-comfort-zone thing to do when you’re still in that codependent role of feeling inferior and having low self-worth.
Upon examining my message as I was journaling, I learned that it wasn’t the “prioritizing my wishes” part of the message that made me feel vulnerable, though. No, it was the part at the end of the message, where I let my partner know that the very act of sending the email was scary and out of my comfort zone, and that I was battling with my codependency + fear of abandonment the whole time I was writing it, because that fear in my mind would have me believe that if I wanted to do a different weekend activity than her, she would simply leave me and find someone else. (I know, it sounds like a very silly thing to be scared of when you see it written out like that.)
So there I was, knowing that that was the part of the message that was triggering me, but still not knowing why. And after thinking further about it, I saw that it was because I thought that admitting to being scared of such a silly, irrational thing was a sign of weakness. And women don’t like weak men. This is the story I was telling myself.
But then I thought further about it. Weakness is not characterized by the mere presence of obstacles or challenges — weakness is being so paralyzed by fear that you either can’t, or more likely, won’t even try, to conquer them. It doesn’t take strength or courage for me to just say “fuck it, it’s too hard” and perpetuate old, self-destructive habits because it’s what I’ve always done in the past. It does, however, take courage to be scared of something — and admit to being scared of it — and still do what you set out to do. This same principle applies to relationships, business, lion taming, hands-on shark breeding, and really most things in life.
And it’s worth pointing out that just because you can move through fear in one area really effectively, doesn’t mean you can do it so fluidly in other areas. I do stuff I’m scared of all the time in business — it’s just become a part of my routine — without it throwing me off or messing with my confidence. So what I’m saying is that just because you’re a super-good lion tamer doesn’t mean you’re equally-skilled at dealing with the fear of asking your boss to pay you a higher salary for your mad taming skillz, or letting your husband know just how important it is to you to go see Siegfried and Roy this weekend.
So let’s circle this back to some actionable takeaways. It doesn’t take strength or courage to pretend that everything’s okay in your life when it’s not. Holding back tears, keeping it together, powering through, whatever flavor it happens to be; trying to get your circumstances to bend to your will simply because you don’t want to accept reality does not require strength. The illusion of control feels like strength and power, sure. But it’s capricious, tenuous, and rooted in fear. Being vulnerable and being honest about what scares you, and then moving through it anyway because you know you need to? Now that’s fuckin’ hard. And that takes strength.