For me, being called brave is a trigger to anger and frustration. It’s not much different to me than “you’re so strong,” another catchphrase that I find utterly exasperating. When people use these phrases with me, I always ask or tell them, “What other choice do I have? I can either surrender to the pain and misery of my life, or I can keep fighting.” To me, there really is no choice between those options.
As I began reading Brené Brown’s Rising Strong for a book group, her words began to help me pinpoint why I find being called brave so frustrating. She writes,
We’ve all fallen, and we have the skinned knees and bruised hearts to prove it. But scars are easier to talk about than they are to show, with all the remembered feelings laid bare. And rarely do we see wounds that are in the process of healing…. We much prefer stories about falling and rising to be inspirational and sanitized…. We like recovery stories to move quickly through the dark so we can get to the sweeping redemptive ending. Yes, there can be no innovation, learning, or creativity without failure. But failing is painful. It fuels the “shouldas and couldas,” which means judgment and shame are often lying in wait.
Brown’s exploration of what it means to be brave in the face of what she calls “falls” (but what most would call failure) builds on the themes of her previous works on shame and vulnerability. It is a call for readers to live genuine lives that by definition must experience falls in order to move forward and grow. Brown states, “To pretend that we can get to helping, generous, and brave without navigating through tough emotions like desperation, shame, and panic is a profoundly dangerous and misguided assumption.” Yet most people want life to be that easy. They want to believe that being strong and brave is uncomplicated. It's not. Strength and bravery often encompass a great deal of hidden pain.
Reading Brown’s Rising Strong helped me come to terms with what others see as brave in my behavior; before reading it, I truly didn’t understand what others were seeing in me. However, for me, this is simply how I live my life. I would rather fall flat on my face from having tried and failed than to have regrets about the things I might have done. To me, it doesn’t feel brave at all. It just feels like being me. It also feels horribly painful at times.
For those who want to live their lives in a "braver" way, I highly recommend Brown's Rising Strong. It offers great insight about learning to face one's own stories that we tell ourselves to deceive ourselves and keep ourselves from living a more truthful life. The book details ways to be open and genuine with others. And most importantly, the book acknowledges the pain of falling flat on one's face when things don't go as planned. Brown truly understands all that it takes to live a genuine life, something few people in our society are strong enough to do.
©2017 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC