Monday, January 8, 2018

How The Daring Way Changed Me

Does anyone really understand emotions like shame, vulnerability or creativity?  Did you know that all three of these emotions are inextricably linked?  Vulnerability can cause feelings of shame and shame can cause the experience of vulnerability.  Did you know that you cannot be creative without making room for the feelings associated with vulnerability?  These are difficult topics to understand, in part because there are often many layers and complexities to them.  But I have found someone who does understand them, Dr. Brene Brown.  The first time I saw Dr. Brown’s TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability (check out the video: about 4 to 5 years ago I felt understood. I immediately related to her research and found myself in much of what she was talking about.  Vulnerability is the birthplace of many things, including creativity and belonging.  What exactly is vulnerability though?  Vulnerability is defined as “uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure”.  Shame, a universal human experience, often gets in the way of practicing vulnerability or being real in our lives.  Shame is defined as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we've experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”   
Through her years of research (which is mainly done through interviews with all sorts of people), Dr Brown  has learned tactics to help the rest of us not only get through life, but learn to thrive in it.  Her hope for humanity is that we all learn and practice what she calls, wholehearted living.
Early in 2017, I learned that The Daring Way University, which trains mental health professionals on how to apply Dr. Brown’s research, was offering trainings throughout 2017.  I decided to be brave and take a chance on this new opportunity.  This training would allow me to work with people and help them achieve WHOLEHEARTED LIVING. 
On a Sunday in May of 2017, I drove to Faribault, MN, for a 2 day intensive training.  I had some idea what to expect, but was nervous nonetheless.  The word “vulnerable” kept popping up in my head.  I was terribly anxious about “being vulnerable” in this group setting surrounded by other mental health professionals.  There were 10 of us in this group as well as a group facilitator.  At the beginning of the experience, we wrote down our intentions for those 2 days.  I identified that I wanted to be authentic and open.  Other professionals in the group identified similar goals as well which helped me relax a little bit.
The leaders, in their infinite wisdom, believe that the best way to train future leaders is to have them go through the group experience themselves.  It was a humble reminder of what it is like to be the client again.  I really had no idea what to expect which I imagine is how many new clients feel when they first walk into a therapist’s office.  We learned about what vulnerability is, and isn’t, clarified personal values, what shame triggers are, how shame feels in our bodies, what my ideal and unwanted identities are, and practiced creativity.  All of these things, in and of themselves, were life changing for all of us in the room.  But, the one thing I couldn’t have predicted was the power of the group itself.  The 10 of us in that group created such an energy that is indescribable.  Rarely, have I felt so vulnerable, but so connected to other people.  How those two opposites of vulnerable and connection exist in that room at the same time, is part of the magic of The Daring Way. I will carry that with me forever.
After the 2 day training, I did 10 weeks of online classes, in which I continued to learn about and practice the new skills.  I continue to consult with my Daring Way Mentor in preparation for becoming a Certified Daring Way Facilitator in my own right.
The best way for me to talk about the impact of The Daring Way on my life, is for me to share some personal stories that illustrate what I do differently.  This past summer, my family and I, made the painful decision to return our dog to the breeder.  He had developed significant aggression issues and we no longer felt safe in our own home.  Despite our dog’s issues, we absolutely loved him with all our hearts.  Returning him to the breeder brought up painful experiences of shame, wondering what we did wrong to make him this way, and huge feelings of guilt that we were selfish for giving him back to the breeder because we wanted normalcy in our home again. 
Before going through The Daring Way, shame would have driven my outcome, rather than my personal values.  This time, I was able to identify shame in my body (a warm flush, continuous negative thoughts about myself as well as constant confusion).  Once I recognized I was caught up in shame, I was able to respond differently.  In the past, I would have kept much of this to myself.  This time, I reached out to people in my Marble Jar (people in your life who are safe and have earned the right to hear your story).  I was able to connect with my values and make decisions from that place, rather than from a place of shame and guilt.  It has been 6 months since we let our dog go.  Although I still have pain and grief, I feel very good about how I handled my thoughts and feelings throughout that experience.

Another recent incident involved a family member, who asked me to do something.  In the past, I would have said yes (even though I didn’t really want to do it).  This time I applied what I learned from Dr. Brown, I asked myself crucial questions…do I want to do this?  How am I afraid of being perceived if I say no?  If I go, am I being my authentic self?  There are certain people in my life that I can be my authentic self with but like any human being, there are certain people I find it hard to do this with.  This particular family member is one of those people. 
The fact that I even asked myself those questions is a testament to The Daring Way.  It got me off automatic pilot.  I live more consciously.  I am driven more by my authentic self vs. the self that is afraid she will be disliked.  This work isn’t easy. In the example above with the family member, I drove myself (and my husband), slightly crazy for a few days.  It was pretty terrifying for me to do something different than what was expected of me.

                I invite you to get off automatic pilot.  Take your life to the next level.  Fill that hole inside of you.  I promise, you will never be the same.  Check out her books, like “The Gifts of Imperfection” and “Daring Greatly”.  Or better yet…come join me for The Daring Way weekend.  Check out the details here:

Jennifer Olkowski is a state certified Licensed Professional Counselor and Clinical Substance Abuse Counselor who has worked in a variety of behavioral settings, including inpatient, outpatient and private practice.  Jennifer enjoys working with children, adolescents and adults with a variety of mental health issues from everyday adjustment concerns to mild and significant anxiety concerns to mood disorders.  She is especially passionate and skilled in working with the anxiety spectrum disorders.  Jennifer has received specific training in Exposure and Response Prevention, the gold standard of treatment in anxiety disorders.  She is particularly passionate about bringing mindfulness and commitment to values in everyday life utilizing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.  Her focus is encouraging present moment awareness, more compassion for the self and helping clients identify what truly matters to them.  Jennifer has a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology from UW Oshkosh and Masters of Science in Community Counseling from the University of Nebraska.  As a parent herself, Jennifer recognizes the challenges in raising children who are healthy and resilient to the many ups and downs of life.  When Jennifer is not in the office, she enjoys spending time with her family, cooking and being in the outdoors.