I have found myself using this phrase a lot lately when I get in a rut of overthinking before acting. The dilemma with being an introspective analyzer and an ambitious adventurer is that I can err on the side of taking the wrong action due to not thinking enough or I can scare myself into inaction. More often than not, I find myself fighting the paralysis of anxiety when overthinking. When I catch myself in this downward spiral, I tell myself, “You’re insecurity is showing.”
Indecision stems from insecurity or, perhaps, a lack of faith? The burden of believing that I can control my outcomes in life is overwhelming. Now, that I’m a mom and wife, I am also in a position of influencing the lives of my kids and husband, and that can be downright maddening. When we think that we are solely in control of our own path and purpose, we can find ourselves in dangerous territory.
In her talk, “The Power of Vulnerability” and her book (I’ve got it on Audible) “Rising Strong,” Brené Brown first introduced me to the two modes that people move into when placed in a stressful situation: over-functioning or under-functioning. You can think of over-functioning as fight mode and under-functioning as flight mode. Over-functioning is when people begin to take over and control a situation when they are under pressure. They may micromanage, refuse to delegate work, avoid vulnerability, and move into action mode. They may also view themselves as the only one capable of handling the situation, becoming critical of others not meeting their standard. Under-functioning individuals tend to avoid the stressful situation. They start to detach, feel less confident and incompetent. They may get overwhelmed with their feelings to the point of inaction. They feel too vulnerable and perceive themselves as victims of overbearing individuals.
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“You can think of over-functioning as fight mode and under-functioning as flight mode.”
I have entered both of these modes at different times, but I’m probably more of an under-functioner. I tend to get overwhelmed at difficult situations and find myself overthinking to the point of paralysis. I just end up breaking down in tears. I may lose all sight of how I planned to complete a project or a day of work, and become simply directionless and unproductive. This under-functioning mode always leaves me feeling like I’m weak or not good enough.
After years of under-functioning and going down a dark path of shame and self-loathing, I saw my deterioration and I desired to be different. Not only was I jumping from over-functioning to under-functioning, sometimes in one day, for several years, but my body was screaming at me to make the madness stop. My Crohn’s flare-ups would get worse, suffering hugely embarrassing incontinence at times. I developed sties in my eyes that would swell so much they would create astigmatism for weeks leaving me unable to work or drive. The details of a Crohn’s flare-up is not something you want to casually talk about with anyone, either. “No, I’m just going to stay home (where I can run to the bathroom twenty times a day) instead of going to the office or doing anything social.” Having your body seemingly betray you can leave you feeling defeated and incapable. It’s out of your control and we all hate feeling out of control. I guess I became the perfect storm as an under-functioner with a chronic illness. I desired to be strong, but I simply wasn’t. My body wouldn’t let me and my mind wasn’t helping.
“After years of under-functioning and going down a dark path of shame and self-loathing, I saw my deterioration and I desired to be different.”
Then, things changed. I still have Crohn’s, I still ended up getting cancer (kind of, more on that later), I still had the responsibilities in my own life and the lives of my kids and husband to think about, but there was a complete shift in my thinking. I had been a Christian for years, but I had never truly reconciled the concept that I am not in control of my life with my sense of responsibility and ambitious nature. I saw each obstacle as a burden that slowed me down, an annoyance to ignore, or an indication that I simply wasn’t capable of what I endeavored to achieve. I jumped into so many books, sermons, AA meetings, podcasts, bible studies, to try to get a handle on myself. But it was the simplest truth that sent me down the path of freedom, freedom from shame and the ability to turn pain into power. I am not in control; God is in control. It’s so simple, but so hard at the same time. Kind of like when I tell my kids, “Just listen to me and you won’t get hurt!” If they would just listen!! I’m sure God looks at me like I look at my kids ALL THE TIME!
Understanding that simple truth, was the spark to the next chapter for me, but it takes far more effort after that. Everything I put into my ears slowly started to dig me out of my grave of shame. Moving into vulnerability to get to a point of strength and peace is worthy of my every effort, even if it seems counter-intuitive. It’s quite like accepting God’s grace through faith in Christ, or the concept of dying to experience full life, a phoenix rising from the ashes, Alice down the rabbit hole and back to reality again. It’s a common narrative that one must walk through, down, or under what is dark, unknown, or uncomfortable before attaining the prize. It is ongoing, it is a way of life, a way of tackling every difficult situation. So many voices have contributed to moving me along in my journey as a stronger, more confident, fully-functioning woman. I had to seek out those voices and discern which voices were life-giving and which were not.
We get embarrassed, but show gratitude to the person who points out when we have something stuck in our teeth, when toilet paper is stuck to our shoe, or when a booger is handing out of our nose. Those things are insignificant instances we can quickly laugh off, but we are grateful to the person who discreetly alerted us to these little, meaningless imperfections. We know they don’t point them out to belittle us. Rather they feel compassion to our unknowing; love compels them to save us from an embarrassing situation. But when our anger flares disproportionate to the situation, when we find ourselves lying (or simply withholding the whole truth) to make ourselves look better than we are, when we chose smiles when everything inside screams for tears, when we isolate, over drink, overthink, or under perform, most likely, our insecurity is showing. Rather than double down on our impulse to shield ourselves from vulnerability, I vote to forgive ourselves as quickly as we do when our tag is sticking out. It’s a part of our humanity and there is nothing shameful about it.