Insecurity and Compassion ~ Being Human

I'm reading a really great book right now called The Barefoot Sisters Southbound. What I am loving so much about this book is the "I can do this" feeling I get from reading it.

Tougas family walking

Instead of all the usual apprehension that accompanies me as we prepare for our hike, I am excited and enthused about this adventure.

In the book, the sisters mention meeting a family on their southbound thru-hike in the summer/fall of 2000. Knowing it was a bit of long shot, that was 13 years ago after all, I did a google search for this family.

I didn't find any leads (I sound like a detective) about this family of seven who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail long before I had ever heard about the trail. What I found instead was us. And we haven't done anything but announce our plans!

That was a little disconcerting. Then, for some crazy reason I googled our kids.

And it was all down hill from there.

bird on window ledge

I have regular bouts of anxiety-inducing insecurity. This particular wave caught me mostly unaware (these attacks usually coincide with the waning days of my monthly cycle). I had recorded an audio interview early in the week and this experience was both exciting and nerve-wracking. Maybe I felt extra-vulnerable from that?

And I know I've been feeling pretty vulnerable since publishing our plans to thru-hike (gulp, now it's official).

Whatever the reason, insecurity came knocking on my door this week. Again.

I've always struggled with insecurities of some kind or another. Early on, I thought it was just me. I've since learned this is a human affliction so I'm probably in good company here since my readership is decidedly human.

girl sitting on river rocks

My insecurities run the gamut, any given "insecurity attack" might include feelings of inadequancy about mothering, homeschooling, marriage, writing, blogging, working, adventuring or cooking; to name the first few ideas that come to mind.

This particular bout was a nasty mothering/blogging mix. "What have I done?" was basically the gist of it. Have I messed up my kids for life by blogging about our family and sharing my heart so freely? I have blogged their childhoods. What kind of mother am I?

I'm not going to discuss this mommy blogging issue; the writing and sharing of family life. That's not the point of the post.

The point of this post is that I have recurring struggles with insecurity.

And it sucks. I hate being in that place of doubt, worry, fear, and scarity. It's hard on me and it's difficult for my family.

when we allow ourselves to love and be loved

I remember, or rather Damien reminds me (I have a selective memory), of my insecurities as a mother of young children, the questions that plagued me, "am I doing this right? sleep, discipline, diet, etc?". Wait a second - these are still the same things I question now, but add video games to the mix!

Then it was homeschooling. I still struggle with this one from time to time, though not so much. Throw in some marriage insecurities every once in a while, especially in our early adventuring and major moving, the common question being, "am I the right partner for Damien?"

And of course the biggie from the last couple years, my recurring nemesis, my insecurities as a blogger and writer. Comparing writing, stats (stopped looking at those this winter and haven't peaked since), comments - you name it I've compared it.

More recently, this winter and spring I've felt insecure about my lack of ability to "produce" anything this year - no ebooks, ecourses (this one I really wanted to do), or re-working old posts into something "marketable". This particular insecurity has kicked my butt this spring. All kinds of self-doubt and questioning around that.

fear changes to courage
John O'Donohue, from Anam Cara

One of the traps in dealing with an insecurity is to make yourself feel better by elevating yourself over so-and-so (there it is again, comparing). I'm a better mother than..., better wife than..., better blogger than..., better homeschooler than....

This response is not helpful, it's destructive. I'm ashamed to admit I've responded this way in the past to my insecurities.

I still struggle with insecurity but at least now I don't lift myself from a funk by mentally pushing others down.

One of the things I really gained this winter from my battle with SAD was deeper compassion. (Oh, yes, SAD is another struggle of mine and my general insecurities are heightened during this time of emotional low. How lovely is that? Not lovely at all, I tell you.)

I've gained compassion for myself and compassion for others.

I need more of this in my life. By nature, I'm not a highly empathic person. I'm a detail-orientated, "let's get things done" kind of person. There's time for feelings when the work is done. (Yes, this makes me laugh too.)

bird at window

Dealing with an emotionally draining struggle of my own has given me so much more compassion for people's hurts and foibles. I think this is one of the gifts or life lessons I've gained from my low points; I am learning compassion, not just on a head level but in my heart.

Yesterday morning I went to the river with my kids, and instead of exercising out my angst (which helps), I let the sound and beauty of the rushing water soothe my insecurity-weary soul. I let being with my kids minister to my spirit.

And instead of dwelling on all the ways I've messed up my children by writing about them and our family (the latest cause for insecurity), and instead of questioning where I've gone wrong to bring this fretting upon myself, I dwelt on this truth instead:

I am human, therefore I struggle.

Not I'm a bad mom, therefore I struggle. I'm a bad blogger, therefore I struggle. I'm a bad wife, therefore I struggle.

Simply, I am human. Therefore I struggle. Good, bad, ugly, gifted, wise, beautiful, etc... has nothing to do with it.

flowers growing in rocks

This is the compassion part. The realization that we all struggle.

And I don't get to, in this world at least, rise above struggle by living a perfect life and making perfect choices. Perhaps I thought as a young woman that I could construct my world in such a way to eliminate the struggle.

Perhaps by making good choices we can reduce our struggles. Perhaps. But eliminate them? No.

Some people are uncomfortable with that idea. Shouldn't we be able to yoga our way out of struggle? Pray our way out? Scripture verse our way out? Delegate our way out? "Trust in Jesus" our way out? Shelter our way out? Self care our way out? Build a supportive community our way out?

I have to fight my way through struggle, each and every time. My "fight" actually looks a lot like time in prayer, scripture, nature, and supportive relationships. It also looks like cleaning the house (a clean house makes me feel better and "in control"), internet fasting, reading good stories, napping in the afternoon, talking to good friends on Skype, lots of cuddles with my kids, and heart-to-heart talks with my husband (these are not always cuddly by the way because my best friend loves me unconditionally but also holds me accountable).

But just like building a healthy body (for which there is no guarantee either), there are no quick fixs. There are practices and disciplines, not easy solutions.

water reflecting on log

Each go at this, each bout with insecurity, feels messy and dirty, like the clay being I am.

You've probably noticed by now that this is not a three step post on how to overcome insecurity. Nearly every time I step out of the ring, after a bout with joy-sucking insecurity, I am equipped with a new tool or strategy.

I've had many times where I thought, "I should write a post about this. I think I may be moving beyond this struggle, finally". I think I even have an outline somewhere in my files overcoming insecurity or something like that. Ha!

I'm going to be kind to myself here (compassion, remember?) and not laugh out loud, too hard, at my naivety, at times, in dealing with this. I may never be able to write about a complete victory over this struggle, even after I've been in the ring many times.

I am human, therefore I struggle seems to be the best advice I can give. That, and I am human, therefore I have compassion. Compassion for myself and compassion for you.

Somewhat unrelated, but not really, to listen to that interview I recorded earlier this week, tune in at The Sociable Homeschooler with Vivienne McNeny

This was a very fun interview, once I got over my nerves. (Now I can understand Brienne's race day jitters. There again, compassion.) A veteran homeschooling mom, who has raised and graduated four kids (who are now successful, independent adults) Vivienne is a fascinating person. I wanted to interview her!

back of purple finch

Vivienne has interviewed some really cool people for her radio program. Moms, dads, homeschoolers, homeschool grads, writers, thinkers, doers. I think her show is refreshing in that it's so diverse in its content, with homeschooling as the common thread. This is nice change from my usual roster of homeschool mommy bloggers who are still in the thick of it.

Vivienne is British (married to a Texan and having lived in Texas for her children's growing years), has a wicked sense of humor, is a straight shooter, and is super encouraging and friendly.

The interview is also available on Vivienne's blog and if you click here it will download directly to your computer. I'll probably be mentioning it again since Vivienne and I talked for longer than the show length and I think I'm returning to the program in the future.

kids playing at river

Feeling as I do, still tender from my insecurities this week, I'm pretty sure I won't be listening. Too nerve wracking! And if you have more time (maybe downloads for summer driving?) listen to her other recorded podcasts. There's some great stuff there.

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  • Kika

    Kika on June 14, 2013, 5:26 p.m.

    I don't expect the struggles to ever end in this lifetime though I am thankful for the growth that comes when we are willing to work through them rather than sticking our head in the sand and hoping they'll disappear. We all have so much to learn and are in the process of BECOMING the fullness of who we are meant to be. This means work. But the process is beautiful, really, at the same time that it can feel agonizing. One of the greatest lessons I learned over this past year is that "Joy and anguish can coexist".


    • renee

      renee on June 14, 2013, 5:34 p.m.

      "joy and anguish can coexist" reminds me of something I read or heard this spring about the paradoxs of motherhood - maybe it was Lisa Bryne's blog? Anyway, I totally agree. And I think as a younger woman I had this idea it was one or the other. (That's the black and white nature of my personality). And if it was anguish, well then I must be doing something wrong. This has been a bad mindset of mine and something that has been rooted out in recent years, but still comes to haunt me from time to time. 

      I wonder how much more understanding I'll have about this when I'm 77, instead of 37!


  • Vivienne McNeny

    Vivienne McNeny on June 14, 2013, 6:53 p.m.

    Renee, I told my husband, the blue-eyed one, that after chatting with you this week I would be happy if I never found another guest who wanted to talk to me on my show again, yours would be the perfect Swan Song.  Take a listen, the show has hugged me during my struggles this week and I am still smiling!  Insecurities are the devil's own aren't they?  I awaken with them unbidden too, not the major ones that I have managed to surrender but those I don't even consider come and blind side me with niggles of doubt about me, my life, mine!  But you and I both know, someone has prayed a pre-venient path for us.  Keep taking those fabulous photos, the artist in you soars!  

    Happy Father's Day to Damien. 


    • renee

      renee on June 14, 2013, 8:22 p.m.

      The blue-eyed husband vs. the brown-eyed one? Just teasin' I found the archive of him talking on your show. I want to listen to it!

      My time with you was a blessing to you? That makes me smile. I loved talking with you Vivienne. It was one of the highlights of my week (this was one of the reasons Damien was so mystified that I dipped so low on Wed am, since I was so jazzed after talking with you!)

      I believe insecurities are the devil's own. And I fight them as the lies they are. But still, oh, how I long to kick them once and for all. I would like to reach the point of major surrender of these beasts. But I think some times that happens with time, age and experience. 

      And like you, I am grateful, beyond words, for Christ's grace in my life. And the grace that allows me to continue to share my heart - which is my family life - with the world. 

      xo, Renee


  • Susan

    Susan on June 14, 2013, 8:39 p.m.

    Hi Renee,

    Do you know that there is another book called "Barefoot Sisters Walking Home"? I think its about gettting to the end of the Appalachian Trail, discussing how to get home, then turning around and walking back.  Haven't read any of their books but just thought I'd pass it on.



  • Janet

    Janet on June 14, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

    Ah I just wanted to encourage you Rene. I totally love your blog. It has provided so much inspiration for our family. I am a slack commenter - mostly because I'm reading on the loo (no kidding, 4 kids including a 1 and a 2 year old = no time and therefore reading on the fly most of the time). But I so want to comment on so many of your posts because they inspire me so much.  From the barefoot stuff to the stuff with your Laurent and his dyslexia journey (we also have a boy with dyslexia - yours was the first blog I went to to read more about it when we found out).   From your family hike day to all sorts of things about homeschooling. Anyway, I just wanted to say that if your blog hadn't been here with your encouragement for us your readers, we'd all be a lot less for it. I can only imagine the vulnerability that you feel.  But I wanted to say thank you for putting yourself out there. From our family to yours a huge thank you. We've even rigged up a treadmill desk and have been using it for the last year. LOVE it.  And we live in England at the moment - if you are ever hiking thru here : ), kettle is always on.  


    • renee

      renee on June 14, 2013, 9:31 p.m.

      Thank you Janet. Thank you for reading and for saying hi. You can go back to quiet commenter mode now. Don't want to interrupt your time on the loo, you're busy enough as it is!

      We want to backpack through Europe I would love to stop in England when we do that. 




  • Lora

    Lora on June 15, 2013, 12:35 a.m.

    This post makes me want to meet you on the trail next year and hold your hand through a few miles.  That empathy part is so key.  You are so self aware to know it is of value.  Peace.


  • Nicole

    Nicole on June 15, 2013, 1:50 a.m.

    "By nature, I'm not a highly empathic person. I'm a detail-orientated, "let's get things done" kind of person. There's time for feelings when the work is done."

    That is so ME!  That is probably one of the reasons I identify with so much of your writing...I know we're alike that way, I read what your're doing, and it motivates me to take the journey with you, on the other side of the continent!  :)  

    And like Janet above, I thank you for putting yourself out there for us!  Know that you are AWESOME!



  • Theresa

    Theresa on June 15, 2013, 5:02 p.m.

    Great post, Renee. When our family moved 2 years ago and I took my new part-time job as music coordinator at our church, I had a hard time adjusting to living by family after being away for 8 years. In particular my sister and I struggled with parenting differences, discipline, etc. We are exact opposites at times it seems!

    I'm still a young mother but when someone made the comment to me that "Every person is broken - Every family is broken" it all made sense . You're right, we're all human - we're all balancing the struggles and joys in our lives.

    Another quote from someone I know puts things in perspective- "There is a void in our soul only God can fill. It's PEACE we're looking for - not happiness. You can be happy at a party, but PEACE is where you sit with God."



  • Deborah

    Deborah on June 17, 2013, 1:12 p.m.

    "Shouldn't we be able to yoga our way out of struggle? Pray our way out? Scripture verse our way out? Delegate our way out? "Trust in Jesus" our way out? Shelter our way out? Self care our way out? Build a supportive community our way out?"


    I love this.  All these things might be helpful, but they don't make the struggles go away.  I have to fight my way through too, and it's often not pretty.  Thanks for being so honest.


  • Nana

    Nana on June 18, 2013, 11:32 a.m.

    I'm currently reading a book I know is on your to-read list: Brene Brown's, Daring Greatly. I'm slowly digesting my way through; I don't want to spoil its thunder for you so will highlight only these two points, as they fit in this post.

    Brene's TEDxHouston talk is one of the most viewed on (more than 5 million hits) and she's never watched it because is still makes her feel really uncomfortable.

    "Vulnerability isn't good or bad...... Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness.......It starts to make sense that we dismiss vulnerability as weakness only when we realize that we've confused feeling with failing and emotions with liabilities..." Daring Greatly

    Love your blog, and am proud of you, as always. 

    xo, Mom



  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on June 25, 2013, 12:27 a.m.

    Dear, dear Renee. Reading you makes me even more sad that we did not get to connect over the phone... I feel so very close to you, especially now with what I am going through, "insecurity attacks" and all... "What have I done", "Why did I blog our lives away" and all... Synchronicity? Or too many rainy days in a row?... I wonder...

    I love when you write:"Perhaps I thought as a young woman that I could construct my world in such a way to eliminate the struggle." Yes. Perhaps, I thought so too. I sure wished that. Until, just like you, I realized that as long as I will be human, I will struggle and the best I can do is find compassion and connect to love. But I'll be honest, sometimes, it's just plain hard.


    • renee

      renee on June 25, 2013, 2:44 a.m.

      Catherine, I KNOW. We have to talk. I feel like something is conspiring against us! When I'm back home again from this trip...

      My insecurity is now a topic of family discussion and I've been very open about it with friends also. I don't want it to be a hidden thing. A hidden struggle, something in the dark, something I'm ashamed of. So I share it. And it does seem to lighten it a bit. Both shining light on it and lightening the load of it. Like Laurent commenting, "it's just one of mommy insecurities", etc... The more I talk about it and laugh about it, while loving myself through it, the less scary it is to me.

      Too many rainy days in a row absolutely affects my outlook on life. I wish it didn't but it totally does!

      We'll connect soon, hopefully.


  • Catherine Forest

    Catherine Forest on June 25, 2013, 3:09 a.m.

    That is so great that sharing it with the family members is helpful and can help give you a different and a lighter perspective... I feel like my girls are still just a tad young and I guess I feel insecure sharing my insecurities with them ;) I feel like right now in this transition, they need comfort, security, warmth... and that my insecurities might be too much for them at this point... but soon, I wish that I will be there with my girls too!

    I will be waiting to hear from you once you are back! Have a good time and some sun, I hope!


    • renee

      renee on June 25, 2013, 11:10 a.m.

      I guess I should qualify. I feel free to share the insecurities I have about me. But I don't share insecurites about homeschooling, moving, etc. with my kids. 


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