In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown cautions that depression and anxiety may result when we trade in authenticity for safety. This really resonated with me; safety has become something that I grasp onto as tightly as possible wherever I can find it.
Many of us with mental illnesses have had difficult experiences that have made us feel unsafe in some way. This can lead to the building of defensive fortifications, which may or may not (and probably don’t) keep us safe in a literal sense. Still, they contribute to at least some subjective of safety, even if only figuratively.
According to Brené Brown, where this gets problematic is if we sacrifice being authentic in order to feel safe. That makes me wonder whether, over time, chronic illness causes our authentic selves to evolve in order to adapt to the conditions imposed by the illness.
My biggest safety issue is that I don’t trust people not to harm me. I suppose one could argue that by not allowing people into my life I’ve traded away the social connection and social stimulation that I once had.
It’s not that simple, though. I’m very introverted, and my behaviour has become more consistent with that as I’ve gotten older and my illness has gotten more chronic. I’m totally fine with spending the vast majority of my time alone.
In fact, I prefer spending most of my time alone, because when I’m depressed, it’s hard to be around people. I don’t have social anxiety; this seems to be a combination of overstimulation and exhaustion, along with having zero interest in going along with polite social conventions just for the sake of being polite. I don’t care, I’m not interested, and if people think I’m rude, hopefully they’ll stop bothering me.
All things considered, I can’t really give up what my illness has already take away. Does the desire for safety stifle me work-wise? Probably, but there’s been abundant evidence that work isn’t a safe environment; therefore, my thinking is that it’s better to take that into account right from the get-go.
To return to Brené Brown’s point about authenticity, I think my identity has evolved, but my desire to stay true to that identity hasn’t shifted. In many ways, accepting this vulnerable illness identity has made me more authentic. It’s certainly allowed me to connect with a community of like-minded individuals.
So yes, I will continue to seek psychological safety, but it won’t be at the expense of my authentic self.
Visit the mental health resource directory page for a collection of lots of great mental health resources.