I’ve been thinking about this topic for a long time. In fact, it’s part of what prompted this blog in the first place. In my “About SWOG BLOG” section, I write about the struggle many women have with being strong, confident and self-assured while maintaining dignity, grace, approachability and humility.
Brené Brown talks about this in her book The Power of Vulnerability. She has worked on this not only through her research but personally, herself, to the point that she uses a mantra to try to combat shame and maintain the delicate balance between strength and grace. She repeats the following “authenticity mantra” when she finds herself in sensitive situations including when she is triggered by events and people in her life:
Don’t shrink; don’t puff up; just stay in your sacred ground. Brené Brown
Humility, I think, is something we develop toward over time. Rohr said the following in a recent blog post on humility:
Space, time, and patience reveal the patterns of grace. This is why it takes most of us a long time to be converted.
I am speculating–very unscientifically by the way– that we go through phases or stages on our way to the potential of humility, and there are a variety of reasons why we struggle to get to a balance of strength with grace. Let me mention a few here in this post and, as always, I’m interested in your comments and wisdom. Please keep in mind, I’m reflecting from my own experience and perspective; yours will add to the richness of the post.
As women we are notoriously insecure, frequently compare ourselves to others, are more prone to experience shame including body image issues, and we are generally convinced our worth isn’t as substantial as that of our male counterparts. So we somehow end up in an inferior state of mind, in jobs where we don’t work to our potential, in unequal pay situations, in a state of burnout from continually trying to prove ourselves to—–well frankly—-to ourselves….and so on. When we are feeling these things, according to Dr. Brown, we tend to “shrink” or move away from the shame we feel.
Then somewhere along the way we get angry about all that. That’s when we start to “puff up.” The large chip shows up on our shoulders, and we tell anyone who will listen and a lot of people who don’t (listen) that we deserve “more.” More respect; more money; more recognition; more adulation; more proof of love; more, more, more. At that point the pendulum has swung to the other side, and we are women– hear us roar. In this reaction, we’re using shame and blame to fight our shame. We are no closer to the actual issue when we “puff up.” The actual issue is loving ourselves, accepting ourselves and our imperfections, being honest with our shadow sides and understanding what triggers us. We’re just directing our shame outward.
Some women never “puff up” but they turn that anger inside and it shows up in a form of depression. They are convinced they will never be good enough so why even bother to try. Self-defeating behaviors show up here and the spiral downward only continues. This is another form of “shrinking.”
I also think because of this insecurity, we are prone to look for affirmation in not-so-healthy ways. This is the classic people pleaser. This is where we fall into relationship traps. This is where we make job changes for the wrong reasons. This is where we feel a need to tell people how special we are or celebrate out loud things that may be best absorbed within our spirits. We crave others recognizing our “superiority,” and we do a lot of “resume-sharing” and one-upping during conversations, cocktail parties, and work events.
Two other potential threats to leading a humble life are knowledge and experience. In his book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga, Deepak Chopra writes:
The Yoga of Understanding has been referred to…as the razor’s edge and we are cautioned to tread carefully on this path. As we gain understanding about the laws of nature we run the risk of arrogance. Arrogance inflates the ego and the ego overshadows the spirit. The original sincere quest for discovery leads to an alienation from the very source which intimacy was sought. Truly great scientists are known for their humility. For even as they explore and unravel the secrets of the unknown, the unknown looms larger and becomes evermore mysterious. Humility leads to wonder which leads to innocence. The return of innocence invites us to enter the luminous mystery of life and surrender to it. Yoga of Knowledge can be a wonderful path if we are mature enough to understand that there are seductive temptations that may entrap us for awhile in diversions of the intellect.
But the Bible does not make transformation dependent on cleverness at all; rather, transformation is found in one of God’s favorite and most effective hiding places: humility. Read the opening eight Beatitudes in this light (Matthew 5:1-12). Such “poverty of spirit,” Jesus says, is something we seem to lose as we grow into supposed adulthood.
We all need what Jesus described as the mind of a curious child (see Matthew 18:1-5). A “beginner’s mind,” which is truly open and living in the now or in what some call “constantly renewed immediacy,” is the most natural and simple path for all spiritual wisdom.
Experience, knowledge and a degree of “success” in the career world can lull us into “puff-dom” (that just sounds like a cool new word–doesn’t it??!!). We just KNOW what’s the right way because it was our way of doing things that reaped rewards. Judgments and polarizations abound and anything that resembles a different path from ours has to be the WRONG way or at least inferior to our way of thinking or doing. All or nothing. Right or wrong. Good or bad. My way or the highway. This can also be disguised more subtly as “counsel,” “advice,” or “wisdom” from one who “knows the ropes.”
The reason I speak about all this is because I have struggled with it. I have lived it. I seek to develop away from it. And, I think it’s like smokers who quit or try to quit. Many of them have difficulty being around other smokers. At first, it tempts them to start smoking again, and they have to guard against being sucked back into the habit. Self promotion, judgment, finger pointing and competitiveness are very contagious. Just like gossip, it’s easy to get drawn back in. Then later, the former smokers struggle with being around the smoke. They are hyper sensitive to it, and it just flat out annoys them. They become a bit self-righteous about the behavior they used to engage in. So goes the recovering “puff-upper” (ANOTHER new word!!). For those of you following the adult stage development reading, this is why the “Individualist” or “Self-Questioning” stage has difficulty with the “Expert” or “Skill-Centric” stage folks. They are both self-righteous in their meaning making.
How to overcome shrinking/moving away, people pleasing and/or puffing up? Loving and accepting ourselves first–whatever that takes–maybe through coaching, counseling, meditation, spiritual studies & practices, self-improvement reading, Ted Talks by thought leaders like Brené Brown and whatever else works for you. Taking care of the company you keep because it does impact you. My coach likes to say, “Keep yourself out of the line of fire.” Try not to subject yourself to people and situations who try to shame you, try to suck you into a competitive relationship, and/or demonstrate the kinds of behavior that you are trying to overcome. It doesn’t mean you can’t regard those people with love and compassion, but like the addict, you may not be able to be around them and stay free of the behavior you are trying to change. And finally, Rohr’s quote above is a good source of advice…maintain a “present” focus and approach life with curiosity instead of a knowing certainty.
Those are ideas I’ve pulled from men and women much wiser than me. What are your ideas?
“Don’t shrink; don’t puff up; just stay in your sacred ground.”