0404 093 865

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



Melbourne, Byron Bay or Skype sessions

Ph: 0404 093 865

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Lean into the discomfort - are you kidding?!

You may have heard the phrase ‘Lean into the discomfort’? Brené Brown talks about it in her excellent Ted talk  on vulnerability.On first impressions this sounds hard. Why would anyone want to do that? It sounds uncomfortable, challenging – scary, even terrifying. 



Basically Brené Brown’s years of research and working with people as a therapist led her to recognize that the people who are really happy, really contented – who feel truly safe and alive and trusting in the world are what she calls ‘wholehearted’ people:


“What they had in common was a sense of courage… The original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language -- it's from the Latin word coeur, meaning heart -- and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. [They have], very simply, the courage to be imperfect ...  the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can't practice compassion with other people if we can't treat ourselves kindly. And the last was they had connection, and -- this was the hard part -- as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which you have to absolutely do that for connection.


The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn't talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating … They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, "I love you" first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees, the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They're willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental."


Brené’s own personal life history and experience (including, reluctantly!, time in therapy) led her from being quite hard-headed and hard-hearted, from not wanting to be in touch with vulnerability, to being a champion of vulnerability. Her research and own therapy led her to realise that what makes ‘wholehearted’ is a belief that they are worthy of love.  These people are willing to face their fears, even to face failure and loss and discomfort, because deep down they believe they are (in Brené’s words) “worthy of love”. It’s worth watching her talk to see how she unfolds this.


Another important point she makes is that we can’t selectively numb – that is, we can’t just stop our selves feeling pain: if we try to seal ourselves off from pain, discomfort, hurt and fear, then we also seal ourselves off from pleasure and joy -   feelings we actually want to feel.


The thing is …. (at least at first, until we get into the habit), that it’s very hard to open to discomfort and to the fear of pain by ourselves. To face vulnerability and potential pain without true and effective help and support can seem impossible, and indeed as humans, we are not ‘built’ to do so. Even if we have learned to be strong enough, and to harden ourselves to fear and pain, we actually need others to stand by us and to help us face those difficult, unexplored emotions. In Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs, apart from basic safety needs, of food, warmth and shelter, we also – in order to thrive and grow, need to feel as if we belong, that is, to experience what it actually feels like to not be alone, and to not have to face difficulties alone. The lifetime work of Peter Levine has been to show (amongst other things) that as people we are herd animals – we need community and a sense of belonging – of not being on our own – to feel safe, and to shake off bad experiences. These bad experiences include a lifetime of having to ‘go it alone’. As many animals recovers their balance and equilibrium only when they feels safe enough, so we need kind company in order to really be brave and confident enough to face our fears. In such ‘good company’, the opportunity to lean into the vulnerability may not seem quite so scare. And it may actually work to help us to become one of the wholehearted people.


Many of us have - it turns out, mistakenly - tried to endure as independent beings, in the sense of doing things for ourself, ‘not needing anybody’.


While this may have been important, and wise – and indeed necessary for a time (especially if our growing up was difficult .. it might have been necessary for a long time, especially in our formative years), there also comes a time when it is no longer useful. In fact, there comes a time when these very protective strategies, the strategies that kept us safe, themselves become a barrier to us getting what we want – and need – in order to thrive as adults.


Sue Sneider, a very wise and gracious woman, and seasoned SE practitioner, told me a story … an allegory about a person who is caught in a terrible and frightening and dangerous shipwreck. As the ship is smashed apart, she clings desperately to a piece of wood, which saves her by keeping her afloat. For many years she continues to cling to this drift wood, weathering many rough patches on journey through treacherous and stormy seas.


.. until one day, she finds herself, slowly, imperceptibly, in a placid harbor. The raging sea has subsided, without her registering that this is what has happened. Now in a safe harbor she looks around, and realized that not only does she no longer need to cling desperately to the log, but that clinging to the log is now getting in the way of her swimming freely, and safely in the new calmer waters in which she finds herself.


There comes a time in many peoples’ lives when we recognize that clinging to the log of our old strategies, our old self, is keeping us from realising that the waters are now safe. Often it is therapy that helps us to get to this point, and sometimes, it is reaching this point that we decide to go into therapy.


Either way, finding the help to know that we do not have to ‘go it alone’ anymore,  can help us to lean into various discomforts that are affecting how we live our lives, and to find the resolution and integration through which we become, slowly and steadily, more wholehearted.