Signs of Growth (pt. 1)
Signs of Growth (pt. 2)
Taking a Leap of Faith
Resistance to feeling our vulnerability is normal. When we open up to the experiences that can grow us we are challenged in many ways. Growth asks us to take a leap of faith.
One Choice Love or Fear
Anxiety vs. Feeling Signal Anxiety
Anxiety is not the same thing as signal anxiety. Anxiety is one pathway for people to get away from the vulnerable body sensations of signal anxiety. Anxiety leads to constriction in the body and in life. And the trick to opening up and embracing life is to do the opposite of what comes naturally when signal anxiety arises.
Core vs. Defensive Emotion
Emotion is the engine for personal growth. But not all emotion is created equal. Core emotion is the gold that we are aiming for, and we need to be able to distinguish between the precious power source of core emotion, and the “fool’s gold” of defensive emotion…
The 3 Principles of Growth
Growth, like all forces of nature, follows natural principles. If we want to take an active and conscious role in our personal development, it is valuable to have a deeper understanding of just how growth works.
Intention, Courage and Compassion
Making change is hard. To commit to growth we need to develop three qualities: intention, courage and compassion.
Your Call to Growth
Inside each of us is a powerful tool for transformation. We have all been given this tool. It is wired into our bodies and our brains. That tool is “signal anxiety” – the felt sense of vulnerability that is at the heart of being human.
Anxious All the Time
People often say that they feel anxious all the time – but if that is the case then they are not actually feeling the sensations of anxiety. They are feeling the story they have made up to explain and move away from the discomfort in the body. If we are actually tuning in to the sensations of signal anxiety, the body is soothed by that attention, and our tension decreases.
There are fluctuations and changes, ups and downs – we do not stay in a chronic state of anxiety when we come home to the body. This is a capacity that we need if we are to grow: the ability to stay with ourselves in the physical sensations of signal anxiety, holding ourselves with warm interest and nonjudgement, and truly mattering.
In this video a simple but essential equation is presented: Anxiety + Emotion = Overwhelm.
Feelings are vulnerable, and they therefore often evoke little signals of anxiety in the body. When we take care of those signals with warmth, interest, and non judgement, we soothe the body and can benefit from all the riches in our emotions. But, if we do not take care of signal anxiety, emotion can become overwhelming, and we do not reap its benefits. In fact, the feeling of overwhelm reinforces the urge to stay away from feelings. But if we do that we cannot grow. We need to take care of signal anxiety first, then we can allow the power of emotion to carry us where we need to go. And grow.
Meaning and Purpose
Personal meaning is central to a sense of aliveness. It emerges out of a connection to who we are at our core, a connection to our emotional self. Contact with that core sense of ourselves allows us to determine the important values that can then shape our actions and choices. So that we are living proactively, from the “inside out”, rather than reactively, from the “outside in”.
When we have a sense of meaning we can find value and worth in activities and goals, our emotions and physical senses bringing a richness and vibrancy to our experience. Meaning and purpose also provide a holding environment for us in times of difficulty, allowing us to maintain a sense of hope.
Meaning and purpose arise not out of ideas but out of core feelings. And it is vulnerable to feel. We need to grow our ability to tolerate vulnerability in order to access the deep emotional direction we each have inside of us. And that means we need to grow our ability to notice signal anxiety, take care of it, and soothe it in the body.
Making Change that Lasts
Why is it so hard to keep the changes we make? Why is it so easy to understand the good advice out there, and so hard to make use of it in a way that sticks?
So many of us know the frustration of reading a new self help book, or hearing a motivational speaker, or watching a program on personal growth, hoping to make change in our lives, only to find ourselves unable to make and keep lasting change. What is going on?
The secret is that change is vulnerable. All change involves things that are uncertain, new, different, and not entirely within our control. And the felt sense of vulnerability is a signal in the body that feels like threat. Signal anxiety. If we cannot attend to and take care of signal anxiety, we cannot be present and stay present. We do not feel safe. And if we do not feel safe, we cannot grow.
We need to be able to tolerate the felt sense of signal anxiety in the body, a feeling that naturally arises when we try to make change, if we are to be able to keep the change we make.
Intimacy and Connections
Fear of intimacy is common. When we open to another person we open ourselves to the possibility of abandonment, exposure, merger, or attack. And yet the deepest, most meaningful, and most growth promoting experiences are interpersonal. We miss out on a lot if we cannot let ourselves get close to others.
Intimacy is the experience of allowing ourselves to be known in the depth and complexity of who we are. It is revealing our true self to another, “warts and all”, and letting them see us as we are. It is also opening ourselves to receive another – allowing ourselves to know who they truly are, and letting them in.
Intimacy requires that we be able to tolerate the discomfort of vulnerability. We do not have ultimate control over whether or not someone will care about us, take an interest in us, or judge us when we open up to them. This means that we need to be able to trust that we can manage what comes up in ourselves, that we are able to stay with and take care of ourselves, regardless of how the other person behaves.
The Relationship that Grows You
There is a way to know when growth is calling, and a way to answer that call for maximum personal power. It is in your relationship with yourself – and specifically your relationship with little signals of anxiety in the body, asking for your attention. As you grow your ability to attend to your signal anxiety, and to hold yourself in the felt experience of vulnerability, you can risk feeling the depth and truth of your core emotion. And you can grow.
Getting at the Heart of Depression
Depression is not sadness; it is a loss of connection with the powershouse of core emotion inside us. Depression is an experience of having lost touch with ourselves.
When we are depressed we have disconnected from the truth of our emotions, from the information and energy that flows through us like a river. As a result we become paralyzed and stuck, and we lose hope that things can be different.
It is vulnerable to experience deep feelings. If we have not had repeated experiences of being held in the heart and mind of another when we have faced intense emotion, we may have felt overwhelmed. Overwhelm is a frightening state that leads us to shut down our feelings.
When we are able to reconnect with the flow of emotion, even if it is painful or difficult, we are able to reclaim our energy, concentration, passion, and aliveness. We need to grow our ability to tolerate the felt sense of vulnerability in order to free ourselves from the suffocating numbness of depression.
Anxiety is not Danger
Signal anxiety feels like threat, and our first reaction is to think that we are in danger. We are biologically wired to move away or avoid when we feel this way. But signal anxiety is really a message to you from your body telling you that you are vulnerable, not that you are in danger.
Vulnerability is not danger. The body has only the language of sensations with which to speak to us, and we must learn to distinguish when our arousal is speaking to us of human limitations that are painful or hard, but not dangerous, versus situations where we need to actively fight or flee. So that we can hear our call to growth accurately, make use of it, and grow.
Defending Against Yourself
Growth is optional. We need to make certain choices in order to grow. Growth feels vulnerable. It evokes a sense of threat. But while that feeling of threat is uncomfortable, it is not dangerous. When growth calls we need to choose to answer the call, despite the discomfort in our bodies.
If we ignore this call, if we try to escape from the discomfort of its vulnerable feeling, we will find ourselves trapped in patterns that cripple our freedom, limit our joy, stifle our expression, and exhaust our energy.
We end up feeling anxious, distracted, depressed, disconnected from our truth, isolated from others.
We end up living a life that is defended – cut off from the information and energy that resides in the flow of core emotion beneath the signal of anxiety.
Defenses are many and varied and they all work to remove us from the felt sense of vulnerability. Defenses against the experience of vulnerability take us away from the body, the moment, from the information in our emotions. People walk away from themselves in the felt sense of anxiety all the time. But relief from the unpleasantness of anxiety comes at a high cost: the loss of who we really are, and the loss of opportunity to grow into all that we can be.
You matter. The time for neglect is over. Make the choice to pay attention to yourself. Listen to your anxiety, your call to growth. And grow.
Dealing with Anxiety
Worry, generalized anxiety, panic, obsessing, compulsions, and other forms of pathological anxiety arise out of experiences of feeling overwhelmed. Anxiety problems are ways that we try to regain control when we feel that we might be out of control.
Yet all these anxious behaviors do is distract us away from another feeling in our body that is actually normal and healthy. That feeling is signal anxiety. It is the feeling of vulnerability.There is a fundamental human truth: we are not in ultimate control of many of the important things in our lives. Aging, illness, the economy, other people’s choices or feelings or opinions, even the flow of our own feelings, are all things that are determined by more than just our will. And the vulnerability that arises from that truth is uncomfortable. If we are to be calm, grounded, and comfortable in our skin we need to grow our tolerance for the discomfort of that hard truth. We need to be able to stay with what being vulnerable feels like. We need to be able to stay in the body and feel and deal with the sensations of vulnerability. And that feels like signal anxiety.
Coping and Resilience
The ability to bounce back from stress is called resilience. Since stress is an inevitable part of life, we need to familiarize ourselves with the signals that tell us we are being affected by it, and be able to take care of the situation and ourselves. Resilience means we are able to effectively manage both our external environment, and our internal experience.
When we are resilient we are confident about our ability to recover from stressors. We can see problems as opportunities. We feel more hopeful, can take more risks, and have a bigger life. One key factor associated with good coping is the capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses. We need to be able to tune in early and take care quickly. We need to be able to identify the felt sense of vulnerability inside us, not deny it, and be able to tolerate what that actually feels like in the body. That feels like signal anxiety. Our confidence that we can stay with ourselves in the discomfort of our human vulnerability is the foundation for resilience.
Connecting to Motivation
Motivation is not a matter of willpower. You probably already know that, because you have probably used willpower again and again to make change – on the very same issue. Will is a short term device. If you are looking for long term change you need to use the power of core emotion.
Emotion is the most potent driver of attention and behavior. Emotion tells us what is important to us, focuses us, and gives us the energy to do something about it.
When something matters to us emotionally we are able to connect with complex subconscious brain structures to support us in attaining our goal. We are able to set a goal and work in a consistent way toward meeting it.
But harnessing core emotion to motivate and energize us requires that we be able to tolerate and manage the felt sense of vulnerability that naturally arises when we have feelings. We need to be able to notice, and pay attention to, and stay with the uncomfortable bodily cues that herald the flow of emotion under the surface of our experience.
Being Vulnerable, Being Human
The most human experience of all is the knowledge that we are vulnerable. We do not actually have ultimate control over the most meaningful aspects of our experiences. This is because the most important dimensions of our lives arise out of our feelings.
Core emotion flows through us like a biological river, originating in our reactions to internal and external stimuli. So while we can learn how to ride that river of feeling, we cannot actually control it.
Our vulnerability arises in our relationships with others: we cannot make others respect us, be generous with us, care about us, or leave us alone unless they so decide. Our vulnerability arises in the outer circumstances of the world: the economy, the weather, the forces of gravity or other forces of nature, the passage of time. It is there in our own bodies: we get sick, injured, we age, and we inevitably will die.
We do not control others, the world, our bodies – and even more, we do not ultimately control what we feel. We can make choices about that flow of information and energy within us – to notice and regulate and express it appropriately – but it is what it is. We can be hurt in so many ways. And that is the message that arises in signal anxiety.
Whether you are aware of it or not, your anxiety is trying to talk to you. It speaks to us of this tender human truth. We are vulnerable. And if we listen we can enhance our capacity to be present. And we can grow.
Authenticity is the ability to be genuinely ourselves in a range of circumstances. It is a sign of wholeness, maturity and mental health to be who we really are. Becoming your real self means knowing what is true inside, being able to fully experience that, and feeling confident in your ability to share that real self with others.
Being authentic means risking finding out what we truly feel deep inside – not just living out ideas and expectations of who we are or who we should be – and even being willing to be surprised by ourselves. We need to be able to tolerate the bodily experience of vulnerability that arises when we risk being real. That feeling is signal anxiety. We are not able to force others or the world to meet us with warmth and interest when we show up in our geneuine selves. And that is vulnerable. We need to be able to stay with ourselves to feel and deal with the discomfort of that in our bodies, if we are to live an authentic life.