What’s your armor?
She’s so cool. Nothing ever phases her.
He’ll never commit.
They know it all.
She lets everyone walk all over her.
He’s so angry all the time.
They’re so stubborn.
Ever say these things about someone you know? Ever have them said about you?
Each and every one of these so-called "personality traits" are actually well-constructed defenses. They're protection against difficult feelings - what Brené Brown refers to as "vulnerability armor". This armor allows us not to deal with the emotions and thoughts that we're most afraid or ashamed of.
The armor makes sense. We needed the protection at some point, usually when we were young. It helped us cope with things we couldn't deal with otherwise.
But vulnerability armor cuts out authentic connection. We close our true selves off from those we love, never really being seen. Eventually, we get tired of this lack of connection, but feel like we're stuck because taking off the armor feels strange and scary. Anxiety, sadness, and self-doubt usually follow and we get confused as to why we can't just feel free to be ourselves. We know we should, but we can't.
There are steps to taking off armor. You can't just shuck it off in one fell swoop. You need to carefully remove each piece to help rewire your brain. Here's a guide to removing the pieces:
- Identify what your armor is.
It might take a little while to see it. A good way to recognize it is to look at the interactions that really make you angry, afraid, hurt, or embarrassed. If you have trouble identifying those feelings, try going for what happens in your body. What past conversations or events make your heart race, face flush, or your stomach churn?
- Identify what your armor is for and where it came from.
Does it protect you from taking risks? From feeling powerless or out of control? From feeling hurt? When did you need that? Who was unsafe or told you it wasn't ok to feel your true feelings? Get curious - become an observer of yourself - and journal about it.
- Identify the benefits of taking off your armor.
What are all the good things that could happen when you take the risk to be more open with others? Who do you want to feel more connected to? How might you feel different? For example, you could feel more connected, more joyful, more free, and less lonely.
- Try taking it off - but not with everyone.
You have to do this carefully. If you take it off with just anyone your efforts will likely backfire and you'll end up wanting even more protection. Look for the people in your life that you think might react the best to you being vulnerable. That means sharing your true feelings and self with someone. It could look like any of these things:
- Being your dorky, silly self
- Telling someone you love them
- Crying in front of someone
- Asking for help or advice
- Setting a healthy boundary
Taking these steps will not always be easy. They will come with difficult feelings that may be hard to manage. Breathe. Be gentle with yourself. This is tough stuff. It will take time, lots of practice, and lots of courage. You'll go back and forth. It's ok. You can do it.
We all have vulnerability armor. What's yours?