In April, we published Brene Brown’s TEDtalk on vulnerability, one of the most powerful talks we’ve seen. Meghan Stone expands on what Brown taught us.
Social worker and researcher Brene Brown’s approach to the sensitive subjects of shame and vulnerability is a refreshing and insightful way of considering these two topics. Most of us probably don’t spend much time thinking about vulnerability at all. Generally, it’s not something that people feel very comfortable with, so why would we force ourselves to think about it any more than necessary? Brown has a lot of ideas why we should start considering vulnerability a lot more and how embracing it will change our lives for the better.
Brown says that many of us struggle with fear, a longing for connection with others and shame. She defines shame as a fear of not connecting with others and a deep feeling that you are not good enough.
What is at the heart of shame is a deep vulnerability.
Throughout her research she found that those who had a strong sense of love and belonging believed that they were worthy of love and belonging. Those that didn’t have a sense of love and belonging had a sense of fear that they didn’t deserve those things. So Brown set out to take a closer look at this group of people who had such a strong sense of worthiness, love and connection. She found that these people had:
A sense of courage
This courage might not be the kind that you typically think of, but Brown is referring to the courage to be who you really are and the courage to be imperfect.
A sense of compassion
These people were kind and compassionate first to themselves, which allowed them to be truly kind and compassionate to others.
They experienced true connection with others as a result of their own authenticity. They let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which is fundamental for connection.
Fully embraced vulnerability
They didn’t see vulnerability as being good or bad, hard or easy, it was simply necessary. They believed their vulnerability also made them beautiful. They were willing to take risks in relationships, love with no guarantee of being loved back, try something with no guarantee of success, and invest in something that they didn’t know how would turn out.
This left Brown slightly puzzled, because although she is a social worker and researches these things as her job, she wasn’t altogether comfortable with the idea of vulnerability being necessary for connection. But indeed she found that although vulnerability is the core of fear, shame and our struggle for worthiness, it’s also the birthplace of love, creativity, joy and belonging.
We struggle with vulnerability because it makes us feel something we don’t like, so we try to numb it. The issue here is that we can’t selectively numb our emotions. We can’t choose to numb vulnerability, fear, shame and the other unpleasant emotions without also numbing joy, gratitude and happiness.
When we’re numb we’re left feeling that things have no meaning and that makes us feel vulnerable, beginning the cycle of numbing yet again. We also fight vulnerability by trying to make everything that is uncertain in the world certain. We strive for perfection instead of striving for feeling worthy of love and connection. We pretend that our actions don’t have an effect on others.
Finally Brown tells us, there is a way to start living differently right now. What do we do?
- Allow yourself to be truly seen by others for exactly who you are.
- Love with your whole heart, even when there is no guarantee that you will be loved back or that your heart will be protected.
- Practice gratitude and joy. Even in those moments when your feelings are so intense that they scare you, stop and be grateful that feeling vulnerability means that you are truly living.
- Accept and believe that you are enough. You will be kinder and gentler to yourself and everyone around you.