October 23, 2017

Land of the Fear? The Psychology of American Virtues

  • by Laura Little, NCC
  • September 29, 2017
  • 0

America be Brave 🇺🇸 America be Free

Hey, America, 👋 I want to start by posing the question: Where do you belong?

Do you feel like you experience a true sense of belonging with your family, peers, home, community, career, etc.? Maybe you feel a strong sense of belonging with our country or just your best friend. Take a moment to reflect on this question before you keep reading.

Now, let’s talk about fear for a minute. I swear this is relevant, just stick with me.

I think it is safe to say we are all experiencing some fear at the moment- whether it stems from the natural disasters we have experienced personally and/or seen on television, or the political state of our country and world, or the social injustices we have witnessed in the recent months/years/decades. As a therapist, people disclose their fears to me often and below I created a list of some of the most common ones. Take a moment to read them over to see if any of them resonate with you (if you’re willing, to be honest with yourself, I bet you’ll be nodding your head as you read most of these).




Fear of…

  • being alone
  • not being good enough
  • not being skinny/fit/strong/attractive enough
  • not being smart enough
  • just not being “enough”
  • the future
  • the past
  • the past happening again
  • being hurt
  • hurting/disappointing someone
  • not being able to provide for your family
  • rejection

If you are anything like me, you are probably tempted to close out of this screen and stop reading right here as you think, “I DON’T HAVE TIME TO READ ABOUT FEAR!” And if that is where you are today, I commend you for creating that boundary for yourself. Close this tab out- but maybe consider bookmarking it first. The truth is- the majority of us are working as hard as we can to avoid our fears, to avoid pain, and are truly trying our best to simply survive.  And here is the paradox…our fears don’t go away as easily as closing out a window (but A) wouldn’t that be amazing?! and B) I wish). Our fears, anxieties, shame, and worries stay in our bodies, making our breath shallow in our chest and shoulders tense up to our ears until we fully attend to it, sit with our story (the good, the bad, the ugly), and practice some self-compassion.

Now, if you haven’t had the privilege of knowing or reading Dr. Brené Brown’s work on shame, vulnerability, and courage, let me have the honor of introducing you. After doing years on years of research, Dr. Brené Brown’s main finding is this: We are all hardwired for connection and need to practice being courageously vulnerable with ourselves and others in order to cultivate a true sense of belonging.  Therefore, in the absence of love and belonging there will always be suffering.

PS–go buy her new book NOW! It’s life-changing.

Cool, cool–thanks, Dr. Brown for basically telling us that we have to be FULLY and vulnerably seen by others (i.e.: partners, friends, co-workers, family, etc.) if we want to experience joy, love, and gratitude. And to be fully seen, it means sharing what makes us afraid, what makes us vulnerable, what makes us feel ashamed.

Ummm… this sounds terrifying.

Because what if they reject me because they find out that I’m not good enough and I end up disappointing my family or loved ones? Fear. Fear drives us to disconnect in HOPES of finding connection. We end up numbing out our fear and anxieties by distracting ourselves on our iPhones, drinking 3-6 beers after work, eating a bag of chips while watching TV, and posting flawless 💁Instagram pictures. And here is another finding by Brené…we cannot selectively numb emotions. If we try to numb out fear and anxiety, we will also numb joy and love.

Now back to my initial question– Where do you belong?

Dr. Brené Brown shared a quote by Maya Angelo in her new book, Braving the Wilderness.

“You are only free when you realize you belong no place-you belong every place- no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.”

America, how do you practice being brave? How do you practice being free? I use the word practice because no one can be perfect at being brave and free. It is a daily, minute to minute, practice. Our country stands proudly on these two virtues, yet some assume simply being an American makes you two things automatically.

To practice being brave: We need to have the courage show up and be fully seen. We need to learn to integrate our life stories into our identity without shame. We need to seek to understand each other before making assumptions. We need to lean into the discomfort of our fears and investigate their origins. We need to have the courage to learn our sisters’ and brothers’ stories instead of letting the media write them for us. We need to be willing to make ourselves uncomfortable.

To practice being free: We need to know that we are all worthy of love and belonging. We need to know that there is no finite amount of power. We need to understand the more we are willing to connect with others we perceive as different than us, the more our sense of belonging expands, and our country and world will only become more powerful, beautiful, and free.

We cannot be one without the other. We need to be brave in order to be free. We need to be vulnerable in order to be courageous. We will never feel a sense of belonging or unified as a country until we stop numbing out and show up. 

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Laura Little, NCC

Laura is a therapist with Southeast Psych Nashville and helps emerging adults live healthy and successful lives.

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