When I get triggered by something, I often find myself reacting defensively by blaming, judging and avoiding the person or conversation.

I get all reactive and evasive.

When my instincts are to fight, or flee or freeze up, it can be hard to stay relational, relaxed and engaged.

But, it’s not impossible.

Working courageously with my fears and defensiveness has been a foundational practice for me to nurture deep, rich, intimate relationships with myself and others.

The shift from seeking safety to instead living bravely, is a powerful one. Shifting from reacting out of my fears to instead acting out of courage, takes intention and practice.

When I focus on only wanting safety, my world often constricts.

I get more fearful, more paranoid, more controlling. I want to mirco-manage myself and others. I start looking for predictability and structure. I become more rigid. Brittle. I become smaller.

When I focus on being brave, my world expands.

I breathe into my chest and stand up a little straighter. A little taller. I see more possibilities. I feel stronger. I respect myself more. I find myself more able to flex with all that life sends my way. I become bigger.

Being brave opens us up for so much more vitality and living, than settling for just feeling safe.

In a study by Chris Rate, the researchers found that courageous actions consisted of four things:

  1. A willful, intentional act: Choosing to show up less defensively in our relationships fundamentally shifts our intention from controlling each other, to connecting with one another.

  2. Executed after mindful deliberation: Creating the relationships we want, often means acting in opposition to our habits and our defaults. We can make new choices once we are more mindful and aware.

  3. Involving risk: There is no guarantee how the other person will react, and often we predict they will react with criticism, harshness, judgment or will try to block our attempts to connect. It’s a risk to show up more vulnerable and less self-protective. That’s why we cultivate courage.

  4. Motivated to bring about a noble, good or worthy end: We choose to try new things in our relationships when we can envision more connected, authentic ways of relating. We cultivate hope. We do not settle for “the way things are.” We are not limited by “reality.” We envision something better. Our faith in an inspiring vision encourages us to try new things.

People who act bravely in the face of risk, encourage themselves in at least three specific ways:

  1. They keep their focus on their vision and the needs they are trying to meet(knowing what you want, what you imagine and aim for is a key practice.)

  2. They plan and practice the actions they will take to get there (practicing in community and strengthening relationship muscles takes time and investment.)

  3. They focus on what they have to gain instead of what they might lose (focusing on what you DO want, instead of what you are avoiding, has power.)

When we practice courage, openheartedness, compassionate speaking and listening, over time …

  • We start expressing ourselves in more empowered, clearer and loving ways.

  • We start hearing what others actually mean instead of getting distracted by their imperfect delivery.

  • As we start honoring our own feelings and needs, we increase our capacity to empathize with others’ feelings and needs.

  • Our relationships shift from habits of shame, blame, defense and control, into habits of connecting, reflecting, allowing and loving.