Sarah is an intelligent and talented thirty-four year old woman – a graphic designer and skilled one at that. Her business is reasonably successful, but she constantly lives with the anxiety that she will one day be revealed as the imposter that she feels herself to be. She feels that people who really know her can’t possibly like her and, as a result, doesn’t reach out to find new clients, relying almost totally on word-of-mouth referrals to feed her business growth. She lacks confidence to state her view with clients who have strong opinions for fear of antagonising them. As such, and feeling inauthentic, she fails to give clients the benefit of her very well-developed and sophisticated design sense.

Sarah’s situation mirrors the lives and self-image challenges of many people – capable people who buckle when demand overwhelms emotional capacity. There seems to be only so much emotional demand that the human being can tolerate without becoming negative or depressed. Self-confidence levels diminish and people start feeling insecure. They hold themselves back to seemingly protect what’s left of their self-images and use their giftedness sparingly to just get through each day. Emotional capacity has been drained.

Emotional capacity needs to be developed to withstand the various onslaughts that life brings our way. Much in the same way that exercise is necessary to develop physical strength and muscle responsiveness, the development of emotional muscle comes from the exercise of pushing past current comfort zones on a regular basis and then making time for renewal – reflection and assimilation of the factors that led to the successes. This not only grows self-awareness, but also stimulates the self-belief that one can do it again. Energy, in the form of courage, applied once with positive effect, leads to further application of courageous energy and the growth of emotional capacity.

Exercising “courageous energy” in pushing one’s own boundaries may involve one or more of the following steps:

  • Get to grips with your own value framework – belief in a set of values forms the foundation for your growth to emotional resilience. Once your values are clear, pushing boundaries based on these values makes sense – not just logical, but even emotional sense. People are often willing to go out on a limb for something they believe in. Pushing boundaries within the framework of a set of values speaks to integrity of intent. In this case, it’s okay if there’s no immediate success as there is authenticity in the attempt.
  • Deal with the fear of rejection – always being concerned about what others will think of you is a limiting paradigm. It moves you away from doing something as an expression of your values to doing something to please others and their selfish interests. This behaviour subtracts from feelings of authenticity and leads ultimately to depression.
  • Practise assertiveness – assertiveness is evident in both the words that we choose to say and in our body language and tone. It is not just a communication technique, but rather an attitude that needs to be expressed. Assertiveness is measured confidence – the ability to deeply understand what the other wants/needs and to help the other ‘get it’, as well as the understanding of what you want/need and to make sure that you ‘get it’. Assertiveness acknowledges the importance of others’ needs whilst, at the same time, making a very strong case for your own needs.
  • Challenge your own boundaries – many of these boundaries have been self-imposed (perceptual boundaries due to past failures, fears, etc.). Self-imposed boundaries hold you back from potentially contributing at a high level. Boundaries get dismantled as you start addressing anxiety and stretching yourself with courage.
  • Use your giftedness appropriately – when you use your giftedness appropriately, doors start opening for you. Others recognise your contribution and potentially use you more, excited by the opportunities that may arise through the skills that they perceive in you. Hone your skills and look for every opportunity to use them, even in community-based projects.

You boost and grow emotional capacity through applying courageous energy in difficult relational contexts. As you push your own perceived boundaries, walls that previously held you back start crumbling. Stretching yourself into uncharted relational territory requires guts, but forms part of the acceleration of the emotional resilience that leads to success.

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