Do you find yourself often bracing against life or unwanted experiences?
Or bracing against situations or fearful outcomes that haven’t happened yet, and might never happen?
Do you try to control your surroundings and other people to feel safe?
Do you find it challenging to deal with unexpected setbacks, interruptions in your routine, or last-minute changes?
This article explores what it means to live in a state of bracing – bracing yourself against the world, life, other people, criticism or rejection, pain.
To hear this post as a podcast episode, go here: What are you bracing against?
BRACING AS A PSYCHOLOGICAL & SPIRITUAL STATE
Bracing serves primarily two functions as a psychological and spiritual state.
We adopt the psychological posture of bracing to (1) push away unpleasant things and/or to (2) hold on tightly to the things, relationships, and people we already have in our lives.
In the second case, we typically do this out of anxiety or worry that we might lose those things, people, or relationships that are most dear to us.
The act and attitude of bracing are well-illustrated by a Tarot card, the 4 of Pentacles:
Four of Pentacles: a man sits with two pentacles below his feet, grasping one pentacle with his arms in front of his chest, and balancing a fourth pentacle on his crown
You can see how the man’s posture on this card is one of protecting his four pentacles. Pentacles are akin to coins, symbolizing material abundance and the things this man has acquired in his life.
His posture is constricted. His back is bent forward in a protective stance. His body is tight.
Traditionally, we read this as a card of hoarding or worrying about potential scarcity or lack. Worrying about losing the things and people we love, and worrying about not having enough in the future.
So there’s a stance in the 4 of Pentacles of bracing ourselves against a worrisome future; of trying to control that future now by hoarding and holding on tightly to what we have.
But this is, of course, exhausting. It’s draining to feel like we have to hold so tightly to everything out of fear. And to constantly play out in our minds the potential losses that we could or might experience in the future.
This kind of attitude keeps your body, mind, heart, and soul locked in place. This prevents you from growing, evolving, and venturing out into the world to try new things. It prevents you from living a full, enjoyable life.
BRACING VERSUS TRUST
And it also prevents you from trusting.
In the act of bracing yourself against something, against anything, there’s an intense lack of trust.
There’s a lack of trust not only in life, but also in yourself and in your ability to handle or cope with life.
Adopting the psychological and spiritual stance of bracing, whether done consciously or unconsciously, indicates that you don’t believe or trust in your capacity to BE with life as it comes. To make the most of it. To learn from your mistakes.
If you brace against life’s changes, you will be bracing forever – because life is change. There’s so much we can’t control.
If you’ve been in a state of bracing for a long time, you’ll begin to feel the consequences and repercussions of that. Long-term bracing, along with chronic anxiety and worry, have effects on your entire being.
CONSEQUENCES OF BRACING
Some of the physical consequences of long-term bracing can include:
- Unexplained muscle tension & pain (especially shoulders, neck, back, hips)
- Tension headaches
- Digestive system disorders (including constipation & low intestinal motility – when food moves too slowly through the digestive system)
Beyond the physical body, some of the emotional & spiritual consequences of long-term bracing include:
- Irritability & mood disorders
- Catastrophizing: always expecting the worst & trying to prepare for it in advance
- Being easily triggered
- Nervous system dysregulation (especially being “stuck on high” and sympathetic NS over-activation)
- Dissatisfaction with life & relationships
- Closing yourself off from the world; self-isolation as you attempt to avoid any unpleasant things in life
On a spiritual level, bracing can make you feel disconnected from Source and from your higher self. It’s really difficult to establish a deep connection to Divine Source and to your highest aspects in a state of bracing. This is because bracing is a state of constriction and lack of trust.
SELF-REFLECTION: WHERE ARE YOU BRACING?
It’s important to consider the places or areas in your life where you might be bracing against something. Here’s a sequence of journaling or reflection prompts to think more deeply about this:
- What are you bracing against?
- What have you been trying to control?
- What has caused you to go into bracing mode in the past?
- Did you grow up in a household where you had to brace yourself against your parents or caregivers? Or brace against anger, abandonment, or dysfunction of some kind?
- Are you still using a bracing stance you learned in childhood to try to protect yourself?
- What would it mean to live even just one day of your life without bracing against anything? Just surrendering to the flow, to the experiences that come up, without fighting against anything?
- Where do you feel bracing in your body? Is it a tightness in the chest, or a heavy upset stomach, or tense shoulders, or intense anxiety?
- What would it feel like in your body to let go of all bracing? To drop the constriction, the tension, the worry – what would your body do?
For this last question, I encourage you to try an experiment. Do this on a comfortable chair or sofa or lying on your bed.
First, intentionally tighten everything up – tighten and close everything in your body: your jaw, eyelids, fists, toes, all your muscles. Contract everything as tight as you can. Feel how this state of tightness is unsustainable and not very comfortable at all.
Second, after 30 seconds of tightly constricting your body, intentionally release everything. Open everything and drop the tightness. Surrender into the couch or mattress or yoga mat. Take a deep breath through the nose and release it audibly through the mouth. Just sigh everything out. Drop everything.
Ask yourself and notice: how does my body feel now?
Can you sense how this state of surrendering, of relaxing into your body and dropping the constriction is a far more sustainable state of being? A state of being that can support you and hold you so much more effectively and lovingly than the state of bracing?
Ultimately, whether you brace against life or not, unexpected changes and challenges will come up. This is a natural part of being human.
But bracing will never help you deal with changes and challenges as they come up, in each moment.
VULNERABILITY AS A WAY OUT OF BRACING
The state of bracing is a compromised state of being, with harmful effects on your body, mind, and spirit. It compromises your physical health, your emotional health, your inner balance and stability.
So if you’re already in a state of bracing and something comes up for you to deal with, bracing will actually make things harder. It will make you feel separate from Source and block you from accessing your highest, most aligned solutions for any problem.
In contrast, if you can live in a state of surrender and relaxed acceptance of life, you’ll feel so much more connected to the Divine within you. This will help you tune in to your higher self and inner guidance – the place from which all the best solutions and resolutions emerge.
When you try to brace against any potential disaster, discomfort, or unpleasantness, you’re building a shell around yourself. But rather than protecting you, this shell keeps you separate from the Divine, from other people, and even from yourself.
So what’s the opposite of building a shell? I think the answer is to embrace more of your vulnerability as a human, as a soul having a human experience.
Because, as souls, we are infinitely strong and resilient and resourceful. And, as humans, we can also be very fragile. We can get hurt and experience suffering. We need help sometimes and can’t go at it alone. And we do lose things and people that really matter to us.
But when you’re in a state of bracing, playing out in your mind how you’re going to lose everything that matters to you – even though it hasn’t happened – you are already losing those things. You’re losing those things in your mind and causing yourself unnecessary pain.
So when you brace against something or try to hold tightly to things and relationships that are inevitably going to change – because the nature of life is change – you’re missing out on what is here today.
You’re missing out on the blessings of today. And you might be hurting your body and well-being on many different levels as you do this.
We miss out on so much when we live life encased in this hard shell of self-defense, trying to stop life from changing. Trying to prevent suffering or vulnerability or loss of any kind.
I think life can be a lot fuller and more meaningful if we allow ourselves to be in each moment. To be more present. More engaged with what is actually happening versus what our minds are visualizing as potential future outcomes or stories.
And living life fully also means opening our hearts to loss, being willing to take that risk. In my view, we came here to experience the fullness of life – both the dark and the light, the incredible joy and the intense sadness and grief of being human.
So why not make the most of your current incarnation and do the things your heart is calling you to do?
If you make some mistakes along the way, so be it! If someone criticizes you or doesn’t understand, so be it. No longer bracing against life means not taking things so seriously, and remembering to laugh at ourselves and our ego illusions.
It’s not by mistake that you’re reading this now. I hope you will remember this truth: you are a resourceful being and you can and will be able to handle life, no matter what arises.
Staying in the present and surrendering to the flow is the best way – the healthiest, less resistant way – to navigate life’s changes and challenges. Starting today, adopt these words as your mantra:
I am here to live life fully. I will brace against nothing.