In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown cautions that depression and anxiety may result when we trade in authenticity for safety. This really resonated for me, as safety has become something that I grasp onto as tightly as possible wherever I can find it.
Meg from Why does bad advice happen to good people? suggested when I originally reviewed the book that I should do a post elaborating on that point. I’m a little slow, but here it is.
I think most people with mental illnesses have had difficult experiences that have made us feel unsafe in some way and led to the building of defensive fortifications. Those may or may not keep us safe in a literal sense (and they probably don’t), but they contribute to at least some subjective of safety, even if only figuratively.
According to Brené Brown, where this all gets problematic is if we sacrifice being our authentic selves in order to feel safe. That makes me wonder, though, 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 both as I’ve gotten older and as 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 getting overstimulated and exhausted, 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 that’s probably a good thing because 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 is not a safe environment, so my thinking is it’s better to take that into account right from the get-go.
To get back to Brené Brown’s point about authenticity, I think my identity has evolved, but my desire to stay true to that identity has not shifted. In many ways, accepting this vulnerable illness identity has made me more authentic, and has allowed me to connect with a community of like-minded individuals telling our genuine stories.
So yes, I will continue to seek psychological safety, but it won’t be at the expense of my authentic self.