Last week, Brené Brown’s new book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage To Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Work, Parent, and Lead, hit the shelves. I couldn’t wait to read this book, because I’m such a fan of Brené’s work (and of Brené herself).
The book fascinated me for many reasons, and I took notes throughout, but one passage particularly stuck with me—on the phenomenon of “numbing.”
By numbing, Brené means any activity that we use to numb our feelings so that we don’t experience vulnerability—but by numbing ourselves to vulnerability, we also numb ourselves to love, belonging, creativity, and empathy.
I was particularly intrigued by the list of numbing activities. Anything that “takes the edge off” is a numb-inducer. Wine, drugs of all sorts, being “crazy-busy,” fantasy football, sugar, email…the list goes on and on.
Brené connects this desire to numb with a feeling of anxiety powered by shame.
“Shame enters for those of us who experience anxiety because not only are we feeling fearful, out of control, and incapable of managing our increasingly demanding lives, but eventually our anxiety is compounded and made unbearable by our belief that if we were just smarter, stronger, or better, we’d be able to handle everything. Numbing here becomes a way to take the edge off of both instability and inadequacy. [Also,] Feeling disconnected can be a normal part of life and relationships, but when coupled with the shame of believing that we’re disconnected because we’re not worthy of connection, it creates a pain that we want to numb.”
Brené points out that the same activity could be numbing for one person, and energizing and truly comforting to someone else. Watching TV can be a numbing activity, or an engaging activity. Working, eating, drinking wine…how do they make you feel? The same activity can be numbing at one time, engaging at another. We must look closely at ourselves, to know.
Do you have any activities that you use to numb yourself? I try to watch for the bad trance state. Often I go into good trances, but they are nothing like bad trances. From my own experience, and from what I hear from other people, watching TV, cruising the internet, and eating are the most common bad trance inducers.
Mindfulness, always mindfulness! Thinking about happiness always brings me back to the issues of self-knowledge and mindful action.
From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.