I met a little girl recently- she was coming in for her first counseling session to find a way out of her fairly extreme anxiety and worry. Given this knowledge of her current state of mind, I anticipated she would feel a little nervous getting started. As I usually do upon meeting a child for the first time, I asked her, “how do you feel about being here today?” She shifted a bit in her seat, straightened her back to assist her in sitting as tall as possible, and then responded,
"I am trying to feel confident."
A bit taken aback by this statement, I responded, “Well, in here it is okay to feel however you really feel. Confident. Shy. Nervous. Scared. Happy. Sad. Whatever.”
“Oh.”, she replied as she relaxed her back into the chair, easing her shoulders into place. “Okay then.”
I am trying to feel confident….
The honesty in this statement astounded me. It struck me as so reflective of not only what this child was experiencing, but as quite the common method many of us use when approaching life on a daily basis….
Trying to be in control of our feelings when we feel out of control of the situation.
Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “Fake it til you make it”. The first time I heard this phrase was in the context of pretending to know how to do something so as to give off the impression of expertise despite novice and the true internal feeling of:
“What the hell am I doing here?!? I don’t know what the bleep I’m doing here!”
Fake, but somewhat adaptive as well. This method can be quite useful in pushing through fear by sort of tricking your brain into feeling more confident than you actually are.
I have to wonder though, is this the only way towards developing true confidence? You see, my reservation about “faking it til you make it” is that by not paying homage to the fear, the anxiety, the insecurity, we may actually be translating the message to ourselves that it’s not okay to feel this way. Or rather, teaching ourselves to fear the fear.
“Go away fear! I will ignore you until I no longer sense your presence within me. Poof! Be gone.” I have to admit, I wouldn’t mind having this super power.
But really, I am seriously starting to consider that there is far greater power in stating our fear, anxiety, and worry honestly. As the saying goes in the counseling world –
When you identify and label a feeling, you remove its power over you.
This sounds like to opposite of “faking it til you make it” kind of thinking, if you ask me. And, bonus, when you’re this kind of honest with yourself and others, you pass the baton onto them to offer this type of acceptance to themselves. Paying it forward in a sense.
In this past week alone, since sharing my vulnerability post, I find that I am experiencing a shift in my own ability to more comfortably admit my fear, my anxiety, my worry not only to myself but to others. Its a small shift, but it’s in the right direction at least.
More specifically, I am experiencing myself feel more open and accepting of my experience even when it’s not as pleasant as I or others would like it to be.
Anxiety. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is.
The biggest trick about anxiety is that it tries to convince you that you need to do something to stop it, to ease it, and as quickly as possible. The results are usually damaging in some way, so there must be something better.
For me, and according to words of mindfulness teachings, its better to see the feeling for what it is, in its purest form, without trying the change or mold it in any way. Just let it be.
Coincidentally, when we offer this type of unadulterated acceptance — we, ourselves, our feelings, begin to change. Naturally.
So, as with the little girl at the start of our story here, “In here it is okay to feel however you really feel. Confident. Shy. Nervous. Scared. Happy. Sad. Whatever.”
I can live with that.