Learn,  Lift

How strong is your ego?

I’m back in Brazil for the next two weeks. Brazil, the land that pushes every one of my social anxiety buttons. Where I often want to simultaneously crawl under a rock and stand on a soap box airing my grievances.

The first year of my Crossfit training took place primarily in Brazil, which is an interesting setting for someone as introverted as me. Most people cite the community as one of the main reasons why Crossfit works for them. I am not one of those people.

Community in the US pales in comparison to the community in Brazil. Working out is a social experience. It involves greetings and kisses and partner workouts and jokes and long rest periods of just “batendo um papo” (chatting).

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

A lil‘ bit about me

I’ve made it pretty clear in a variety of posts that my time in Brazil is often stressful. My personality clashes pretty darn hard with the culture. Pair that with some relatively long stays and it’s not unsurprising that I’m often on the lookout for an outlet for some of the cultural frustration I feel.

Sometimes that outlet takes the shape of cooking and baking. Other times, reading or watching TV shoes. More commonly, though, it looks like Crossfit.

Digging deep into the Personal Psychology of Erica, the biggest emotion that comes up for me on most of my trips to Brazil is a sense of rejection and exclusion. Because I feel like I can’t fit into the cultural norms, I often have this deep sensation of not belonging or, quite simply, a feeling of not being enough.

In other words, my feelings are hurt.

Negative feelings like that can be difficult to sit with. Depending on your relationship with sensations like rejection or sadness, your first instinct (like mine) may be to run. Hide. Shove them away. It’s scary. I mean, what are you supposed to do when you just feel a big ol‘ sense of sadness or loneliness? Who do you complain to? Who can you hire to fix it?

Photo by Artem Mizyuk from Pexels

Crossfit as a release

I didn’t realize until recently how much Crossfit became an emotional release for me. When frustrated or sad, picking up a barbell does so many things for me. At a minimum, it helps me to focus on something else when I no longer have space to sit with an emotion. In other ways, it helps to rebuild my self-esteem when I’m feeling unworthy or alone.

So many emotions that we feel are tied to narratives we tell ourselves. The same stories pop up over and over again, in different situations, until we pluck out the root of the problem. It’s hard to tell myself I’m “no good at anything” when I’ve just proven to myself that I’ve gotten incrementally stronger at, for example, snatching or deadlifting.

At the same time, movement allows the feeling to work itself out. I’m a strong believer in truly, openly, and honestly observing your emotions. There’s no running from a recurring feeling. Yet there always comes a point when thinking is no longer useful. Getting into your body, feeling your feelings, focusing on the task at hand, and sweating it all out just feels therapeutic.

Photo by Victor Freitas from Pexels

Crossfit as a crutch

Yesterday morning, I felt frustrated before starting my workout. I was getting angry and wanted to release it in some way. But I had assigned myself a short session on the rower before diving into some physical therapy work. So while the morning’s first Crossfit class began, I found myself “stuck” on my rower.

I wanted so badly to pick up the barbell and “prove” something. I don’t know exactly what. I don’t know exactly to whom, but the feeling was there. For ten minutes, I mulled it over in my head if it was worth it to do movements that I knew my body wasn’t ready for just to feel better for a few moments. And would I even really feel that good?

It was a challenge for me, one that I wasn’t expecting. (And the one that prompted this post.) I knew Crossfit was an outlet, but I’ve also been using it to bolster my self-esteem by using it to “prove” so many things: that I’m strong, that I’m talented, that I’m interesting, that I’m dedicated, and so on.

There’s a fine line between using a sport as an outlet and relying on a sport for your identity. It’s natural. Anything you’re passionate about is part of who you are. But (and I apologize for the Tyler Durden voice that your brain is definitely going to read this in) you are not your passions.


Despite my frustrations, I’m actually grateful for my long stays in Brazil. They show me boundaries and habits I didn’t know I had. When a lift reminds me that I’m strong or talented or interesting or dedicated or what have you, I’m not any of those things because of a sport. I am those things because of who I am at my core.

It’s a subtle difference, but one that I’m happy to notice. Uncovering my crutches, dependencies, insecurities, and, well, ego is useful. Even more so these days as I learn how to better listen to myself and my body so that I can improve my training through more rest, recovery, and moderation. If I’m unable to separate my ego and sense of self from my “progress” as an athlete, there’s no hope for finding that balance.

And, ultimately, no hope for getting better.


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