You Don’t Lack Will-Power, You Might Be Afraid

When I was writing my first book, The Woman’s Comfort Book, way back in late 1980’s, I knew that comfort wasn’t always healthy, that we use often comfort to check out, to numb out, to hide. I coined that use of comfort “shadow comforts.”

I refined the idea over the years, writing about it in almost all my books. Here’s a video of Brene Brown and I talking about shadow comfort’s link to shame (it’s an hour long video and it’s fantastic).

By the by, it’s not what you do, it’s why. You can eat pie to run away from yourself, your feelings, your truth or you can eat pie as a savoring sacrament. Are you using the pie (the shopping, the TV, the gossip, even reading!) to hide or to soothe or to celebrate? Are you using the pie to prove  you don’t deserve downtime, you can’t be trusted to take care of yourself, or are you connecting with the divine berry glory and letting it nourish and inspire you?

Feel the difference?

We all need downtime and we want to choose that downtime consciously and loving.

So that’s all cool but fast forward 20 years to last week, when thanks to a conversation with Shawna, I connected fear with shadow comforts, namely:

We often choose to do things that numb us or distract us because we are afraid.

I know, cue smoting of forehead! How obvious but still, like many obvious ideas, huge when you get it.

We eat sugar or check email for the 1000000000000 time because we are afraid.

Afraid of our feelings, our power, our desires, our longings.

Afraid of intimacy, change, beauty, joy, the sweetness of life.

Afraid of anger, disappointment, judgment, shame.

Afraid of being afraid!

Sure, we choose shadow comforts for other reasons too (being tired, not knowing what we really want, being revved up, lack of self-permission, not thinking). And yet, behind even these, often lurks fear.

What if you don’t lack will power or focus or determination but you are simply trying to comfort yourself because you are afraid?

What if, just for today, you decided to inquire: do I want to check email or eat this cookie or pick this fight because I am afraid?

And then –  What might I be afraid of?

Don’t change anything! Do not start any self-improvement plan. Simply ask.

I am!

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Jet Harrington - October 27, 2011

This is as you say – simple yet powerful. Being able to mindfully pause, make room for inquiry… this is the awareness I want to cultivate.

Your writing has resonated for me since that Women’s Comfort book. I bought it from Chinaberry as a young mother newly moved to Seattle. Recently, I posted it to a younger friend newly moved to Boston, a woman seeking comfort in a conscious way.

I felt a little resistance today to the title of the post – the use of ‘just’ seemed to minimise the ‘being afraid’, something I know is not your intention. Reading the full post confirmed that. 

The video is password protected – I’m sure the combination of you and Brene is awesome.  If it becomes available, I’ll be eager to watch. Will be well worth the hour!

    jenniferlouden - October 27, 2011

    thanks for being a reader for so long – that is so dog gone cool.
    And here is a weird thing: just last night reading Isabella the grown up Chinaberry and having fond memories of my books in their pages!
    thank you for reminding me password protected video – all cleared! and I also changed the title of the post, good save there too!
    good to still be connected!

      Jet Harrington - November 2, 2011

      So, I’ve gone back to watch the video now. 

      Listening to you two talk and be honestly real about this vulnerable work, about the tough stuff, about the shadow comforts, about the shite we all deal with, is AWESOME.

      AND it’s a crack-up to hear you joke and cuss around the kitchen table with each other. #asshole #gottagonow   Thank you for being your tender bad-ass girl selves!

        Laine - November 7, 2011

        I’m finding the video pass-protected again.  I simply clicked the link above and was taken to Vimeo.  Is there more to do?  Thank you very much.

          jenniferlouden - November 7, 2011

          try shadowcomfort or shadowcomforts 🙂

          Laine - November 7, 2011

          Yes, that worked!  Thank you!  [I had already tried jenlouden.  🙂 ]

          And thank you for so much more, too!  I’ve been subscribing to your stuff since 2004.  I’ve shared the concept of shadow comforts with many women.

Ellie Di - October 27, 2011

Perfectly said!  Fear motivates *so much* of our negative behaviour (and even some of our positive ones), but we don’t drill down far enough to see it when you’re rooting out the causes.  It’s awesome to indulge in some retail therapy to refresh your well if you’re really, truly doing it to nourish yourself.  But if you’re buying blindly just to sate some dark fear of never been pretty enough to get a mate, that’s another thing altogether.  We don’t have to let shadow comforts run our life – we can face the fear AND shop.

Beth Owls Daughter - October 27, 2011

Thank you SO much for this… right now, I am so in love with Brene (and you!) .. I bow down in happiness and gratitude..

Laurel Lindsay - October 27, 2011

Yes! You speak the truth! I am just now getting over the stomach ache from too many sweets, and wondering again why I do this to myself. It is because I am afraid! Thank you for reminding me I can give myself permission to be in my fear. <3

Tery - October 27, 2011

That resonates so deeply with me.  Thank you for making that connection. I will be asking myself that question for a long, long time. Without judgement, and totally curious to find out what I am so afraid of.

Denisek29 - October 27, 2011

Wow!  Very powerful for me right now.  I am going to sit with this and come back to it…I think it might have just changed my life.   Thank you so much for also sharing the video with Brene Brown – she is phenomenal.   Everyone needs to hear what she is saying.   I appreciate you and your wisdom!!

Susan Gallacher-Turner - October 27, 2011

Asking the question, “What might I be afraid of?”   Was so powerful for me today.
It showed me that this ’empty nest’ isn’t really what I’m afraid of, but of living an ’empty’ life and I’m equally afraid of filling that emptiness with empty ‘calories/activities’ that don’t nourish me or anyone else.  I don’t want to fill my life.  I want a fulfilling life.  

And a spoonful of Nutella doesn’t do that…now…what does? 

Paula - October 28, 2011

Just this morning I have been repeating the following in my head, “The more afraid I am to take the next step toward who I am and what I want to do, the harder I pursue what I think I should be doing.” I know this leads to depression, sleeping in (in my case), not eating well or exercising and in general, waiting for everything to align itself so I can move forward without fear. Guess what – moving forward (for me) will most likely always be associated with fear because at my core, I don’t like uncertainty, I don’t like what I can’t plan. But all of the best things in my life have come from taking steps even though I was afraid or didn’t know what would happen next. Those steps gradually transform into a momentum that pulls me in the direction that I want to go. Magic. It PULLS me.

Shawna R. B. Atteberry - October 28, 2011

Thank you for the shout-out. I need to get back to asking the questions. Lots of shadow comforts this week.

Sarah - October 29, 2011

This post is great.  I think I love you.  I definitely love what you talk about.  Thank you for your voice!

And Eek!  You know Brene?  She is my BFF (even though she doesn’t know it yet…lol!)  

Pam Hunter - October 30, 2011

“Life-changing” for me at this very moment!   You and Brene were talking about me the whole time.   How I loved the “realness” of the video, as well as the “it’s okay-ness”.  I see, hear and feel the me throughout this video and I cannot tell you how amazingly helpful it is for me today and will continue to be as I move forward.  Thank you so very, very much.  I gotta blog about this one … hope you don’t mind!


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Tessa Zeng - November 1, 2011

Jen, you are a lifesaver right now, just with your words. I can’t wait to watch your video when I get a chance. Your inquiries go so deep for me…a beacon in the overflowing hordes of self-help advice, shining straight through my fear of listening (there, I said it! Haha.) 

So much love to you.

Kathylhagen - November 1, 2011

Jen, I just watched the video with Brene because the words in your blog really hit home. The video is fantastic. It’s two women who respect each other just talking, the way friends would do, and yet the wisdom you both share is deep. I believe that’s in part because you are just being, including being vulnerable.  That is a gift you give your community Jen, you give vulnerablity and authenticity. You’ve done a great piece of work, and like Brene, I will bring up your name when I work with my clients.

— with gratitude

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