Dare to Be Brave - Part Three: Free Yourself from Social Masks and Emotional Armor
In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown writes, “As children, we found ways to protect ourselves from vulnerability, from being hurt, diminished and disappointed. We put on armor, we used our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as weapons; and we learned how to make ourselves scarce, even to disappear. Now as adults, we realize that to live with courage, purpose, and connection – to be the person whom we long to be- we must again be vulnerable. We must take off the armor, put down the weapon, show up, and let ourselves be seen.”
Social Masks and Emotional Armor
I can look back and identify the times in my life when I lived uninhibited and embraced life wholeheartedly and other times when I felt it necessary to protect myself with social masks and emotional armor. The insights I gained by reflecting on my life from these two vantage points helped me to realize that the most satisfying success I’ve experienced so far in my personal and professional life has come during those periods when I am actively engaged with living life wholeheartedly, and free of society’s preconceived limitations.
From the energy I embodied which defined how I show up in the world, to the people and opportunities that suddenly begin to show up in my life, to new experiences that allow me to expand my consciousness and faith in the possibility of new possibilities when I am embracing life wholeheartedly, my soul feels awakened and life tastes delicious.
I’m not saying that during these periods of my life, everything was perfect. In many cases, the conditions of my life were quite the opposite of perfect, yet, so often, I felt the most alive during these moments because they required me to stretch beyond my comfort zone, learn new stuff and share ee myself from a more empowering perspective. During these moments, I gave little thought to not being enough. I accepted the fact that there’s a learning curve for most things. As I continued to consistently apply what I was learning, tweaking my actions as necessary, I would eventually develop practices of execution that reflected my smarts, skills, and strengths.
Whereas, during periods of my life when I took on the persona of various social masks for the sole purpose of “pleasing and impressing people” and built walls around my heart because of unspoken emotional pain, I was unhappy, and a lot of the success I experienced was hollow. During these moments, I spent way too much energy and time concerned about seeking the approval of others versus deeming myself worthy because of my intrinsic value.
Yes, it’s important for each of us to feel valued, loved, and appreciated by others, however, I don’t believe our need for love and belonging should be to our own detriment. And, what I’ve learned from my life experiences is this, you and I have to first deem ourselves worthy of love and belonging before we can embody the fullness of that energy and begin to experience it whether we are alone or in a crowd. This level of embodiment helps us to express ourselves with a limitless mindset.
The love and support of others may cause us to feel valued and appreciated, and, yes, this is important to our well-being. What I know for sure is this, there is HUGE difference between having a confident knowing within yourself about your worthiness to be loved and feel connected THEN feeling that you are worthy of love and connection because other people say you are! The difference: one is within your control, the other is not.
False Notions about Masks & Emotional Armor
When we maintain the false notion that social masks and emotional armor protect us, we are less likely to embody and show up in the world expressing our authentic power. This is detrimental to the seeds of greatness lying dormant in our potential. Most of the time, tapping into a greater measure of one’s potential requires vulnerability.
Once we’ve adapted and defined our way of being and living based on the social masks and emotional armor that disconnects us from having genuine connections with others, it becomes difficult for us to lay aside the masks and emotional armor to be vulnerable.
Common Vulnerability Arsenal
In her research, Brown found that there are three common forms of shielding that we incorporate into our personal armor in some way. They include:
1. Foreboding joy, or the paradoxical dread that clamps down on momentary joyfulness.
The shield of foreboding joy is reflected in those moments when you:
1. Find yourself talking yourself out of fully enjoying a moment because you’re afraid that your joy won’t last.
2. Living your life expecting the worst so that if it happens, you feel prepared and if it doesn’t, you feel pleasantly surprised.
Brené Brown writes, “The reason we forebode joy and aren’t able to embrace our present moments is that “we don’t want to be blindsided by hurt. We don’t want to be caught off-guard, so we literally practice being devastated or never move from self-elected disappointment.”
Happiness is an emotion that’s connected to circumstances whereas joy is a spiritual way of engaging life that is fueled by the practice of gratitude. The practice of gratitude is the antidote to foreboding joy because it helps you develop and cultivate a state of mind that believes that there’s enough and that you’re enough.
2. Perfectionism, or believing that doing everything perfect means that we’ll never feel shame.
The shield of perfectionism is reflected in these moments:
1. We hide our flaws and create campaigns to manage people’s perceptions because we want to win them over.
2. We’re constantly hustling for more attention and approval from others
Perfectionism is not the following:
1. It is not the same as striving for excellence. Perfectionism is a defensive move. It’s the belief that if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.
2. It is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is all about earning the approval of others.
3. Perfectionism is not the key to success. In fact, research shows that perfectionism hampers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and paralysis-analysis or missed opportunities.
4. Perfectionism is not a way to avoid shame. It is a form of shame. Where we struggle with perfectionism, we struggle with shame.
Brown writes, “To claim the truths about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, we have to be willing to give ourselves a break and appreciate the beauty of our cracks or imperfections.”
Appreciating and accepting our imperfections requires that we develop a practice of self-compassion toward ourselves. Remember, empathy is the antidote to shame. And as we appreciate the fact that we can be imperfectly perfect and love ourselves for being so, we begin to rid ourselves of all the hustle required striving to be perfect.
3. Numbing, the embrace of whatever deadens the pain of discomfort and pain.
Brown shares, “We are a culture of people who’ve bought into the idea that if we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives won’t catch up with us.”
All of us numb our feelings to some degree. Staying crazy-busy is one of the strategies we use to avoid our truth and mask our vulnerability.
Other Common numbing tactics:
1. Illegal legal drugs
3. Sixty to eighty hour workweeks
4. Prescription pills
5. Calendar filled with activities
6. No space in your calendar for rest, reflection, and quiet time
7. Habitual use of social media
In her book, The Life Organizer author and personal growth teacher Jennifer Louden has named our numbing devices “shadow comforts.” When we’re anxious, disconnected, vulnerable, alone, and feeling helpless, the booze and food and work and endless hours online feel like comfort, but in reality, they’re only casting their long shadows over our lives.
She writes, “Shadow comforts can take any form. It’s not what you do; it why you do it that makes the difference. You can eat a piece of chocolate as a holy wafer of sweetness-a real comfort- or you can cram an entire chocolate bar into your mouth without even tasting it in a frantic attempt to soothe yourself-a shadow comfort. You can chat on message boards for half an hour and be energized by the community and ready to go back to work, or you can chat on message boards because you’re avoiding talking to your partner about how angry he or she made you last night.”
This particular shield resonates strongly with me because of what once my go-to solution for facing challenging circumstances and adversities without being side-tracked by my feelings. This is definitely a tactic I learned during my childhood. It was not until the unexpected death of my son and the aftermath that occurred in my life as a result of my numbing tendency that I knew that I had to learn a healthy way to process my emotions and feelings.
When I began to practice mindfulness meditation, it was a Godsend. This practice continues to strengthen me from within by helping me to see that I can allow and accept what I feel without judgment. This is one of the most radical self-love practices that I know which is why I share it often. This practice and technique have helped me to elevate my capacity to manage my emotions and feelings without numbing and dismissing my emotions.
I say that to say this, I’m not of the belief that because I feel something that means what I feel is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And depending on the intensity of the energy of an emotion, it can feel overwhelming as if we aren’t in control of our feelings. Most of the time when I feel this way, I revert to numbing my feeling until I’m able to get a handle on the energy and story triggering the emotion. I don’t hit a home run all the time, however, because I consider myself a recovering master of numbing my emotions, it is still somewhat easy for me to revert to this tactic when necessary.
In either case, if you find yourself engaging in numbing tactics that are clearly detrimental to your way of being, it’s important that you seek out additional knowledge and support that will help you develop healthier ways of coping with your emotions.
Personally, the daily practice of feeding my spirit with God’s word, reading and listening to inspirational messages, and interacting with people who I know genuinely care about me helps me to cultivate the courage to live wholeheartedly.
Brown writes, “The most powerful moments of our lives happen when we string together the small flickers of light created by courage, compassion, and connection and see them shine in the darkness of our struggles.”
Daring to be brave requires each of us to embrace vulnerability. Although it may be a scary thought the reality is, as we live, we are always vulnerable. It’s not a matter of whether we are vulnerable. It’s a matter of whether we will be proactive and be vulnerable in ways that expand our capacity to express our authentic power!
In the upcoming week, begin to become aware of those moments during your everyday life when you feel a need to shield yourself with a social mask or emotional armor.
If you are genuinely interested in living wholeheartedly, you will have to be brave enough to begin the process of excavating the stories, beliefs, opinions, and assumptions shaping your tendency to shield or dismiss your emotions.
This journey leads to the awareness of your innate worthiness. A very powerful place to embody and express as you show up in the world!
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Go Be Great,
Brown, Brené. Daring Greatly. USA. Penguin Group. 2012.
Louden, Jennifer. The Life Organizer. China. New World Library. 2014.