THE POWER OF VULNERABILITY-BRENE BROWN
I was reading an empowering article today published by The Daily Post entitled -‘Daring Greatly.’
It was centred around the research conducted by Brene Brown-Author of the book ‘Daring Greatly’– on Shame and Vulnerability.
This article resonated with me to such a degree that it inspired me to share a paraphrased version of her incredible speech showcasing the findings of her research.
-Thanks go to Word Press for their special contribution.
‘I’m a researcher-story teller and I want to talk to you and tell some stories about a piece of my research that fundamentally expanded my perception, and really changed the way that I live, and love, and work and parent.
I have a bachelor’s in social work, a masters in social work, and I was getting my PhD in social work, so my entire academic career was surrounded by people who kind of believed in the life’s messy-love it…..and I’M more the life’s messy, clean it up, organise it and put it into a binto box.
-One of the big sayings in social work is ‘lean into the discomfort of the work’
I’m more into knock discomfort on the head, and move it over…that was my Mantra.
So I was very excited about this, I thought you know what, this is the career for me because I am interested in some messy topics, but I want to be able to make them not messy, I want to understand them, I want to hack into these things I know are important and lay the code out for everyone to see.
So where I started was with connection, because by the time you’re a social worker for 10 years, what you realise is that connection is why we’re here.
“We are the most in debt, obese, addicted, medicated adult cohort in history”
It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives-this is what it’s all about.
It doesn’t matter whether you talk to people who work in social justice, mental health or abuse and neglect, what we know is, that connection-the ability to feel connected, is neurobiologically how we are wired-it’s why we’re here.
So I thought you know what, I’m going to start with connection.
You know that situation when you get an evaluation from your boss and she tells you 37 things that you do really awesome and one thing that’s an opportunity for growth? –And all you can think about is that opportunity for growth? Right?
Well apparently this was the way my work went as well because-
When you ask people about love-they tell you about heartbreak
When you ask people about belonging-they’ll tell you their most excruciating experiences of being excluded
When you ask people about connection-the stories they told me were about disconnection.
So very quickly, really about six weeks into my research, I ran into this unnamed thing that absolutely unravelled connection-In a way that I didn’t understand or had never seen.
And so I pulled back out of the research and thought I needed to figure out what this was; and it turned out to be shame.
Shame, is really easily understood as ‘the fear of disconnection’.
–‘Is there something about ME, that if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?’
The things I can tell you about shame:
It’s universal. We all have it. The only people who don’t experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection.
No-one wants to talk about it, and the less you talk about it, the more you have it.
What underpinned this shame-this ‘I’m not good enough’- we all know that feeling-I’m not thin enough, I’m not beautiful enough, smart enough promoted enough-
-the thing that underpinned this, was excruciating vulnerability-this idea, that in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen-really seen;
..and you know how I feel about vulnerability.
-I hate vulnerability-so I thought this was my chance to beat it back with a stick and figure it out-
‘I’m going in, I’m going to spend a year, I’m going to totally reconstruct shame, I’m going to figure out how vulnerability works and I’m going to outsmart it.’
So I was ready and I was really excited-As you know it’s not going to turn out well;
So here’s what I can tell you shame boils down to-
-and this may be one of the most important things that I have learned in the decade of doing this research;
My one year turned into 6 years, thousands of stories, hundreds of long interviews, focus groups, and at one point people were sending me Journal articles, sending me their stories, thousands of pieces of data-in 6 years,and I kind of got a handle on it-I kind of understood, ‘this is what shame is, this is how it works’,
I wrote a book, I published a theory-but something was not OK.
-and what it was, was that if I roughly took the people I interviewed, and divided them into
1. People who really have a sense of worthiness-that’s what this comes down to-a sense of worthiness,they have a strong sense of love and belonging;
-and 2.Folks who struggle for it, and folks who are always wondering if they’re good enough;
-there’s really only one variable that separate the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it.
The people who have a strong sense of love and belonging, BELEIVE they are worthy of love and belonging.
They believe they are worthy.
To me, the hard part is that the one thing that keeps us OUT of connection, is the fear that we’re not worthy of it. This was something that I felt personally and professionally I needed to understand better.
So what I did, is I took all the interviews where I saw people living love and worthiness, where I saw people living that way, and just looked at those.
What do these people have in common? –I needed to label this research and I wondered what to call it. The first words that came to mind were:
These were whole hearted people living from this deep sense of worthiness, so I labelled my research and I started look at the data very intensely…I searched for ‘the theme’, and ‘the pattern’.
Here’s what I found:
What they had in common, was a sense of courage.
I want to separate courage and bravery for you for a minute- courage the original definition of courage when it first came into the English language, from the Latin word Cour-meaning heart and the original definition was;
–To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart’
These folks had very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first, and then to others, because as it turns out, we cant practice compassion with others if we don’t treat ourselves kindly.
And the last was that they had connection (and this was the hard part part) as a result of authenticity.
They were willing to let go of who they thought they should be, in order to be who they were-which you have to absolutely do, in order for connection.
The other thing that they had in common was this:
They fully embraced vulnerability;
They didn’t talk about vulnerability being uncomfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating- as I had heard earlier in the shame interviewing-they just talked about it being necessary.
They talked about the willingness to say ‘I love you’ first.
The willingness to do something where there are no guarantees.
The willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram.
Being willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out.
They thought this was fundamental- I personally thought it was betrayal….
I could not believe that I had pledged allegiance to research-where our job is to control and predict-and now my mission to control and predict, had turned up the answer that the way to live was with vulnerability-and to STOP controlling and predicting.
This led to a little breakdown-which my therapist calls a spiritual awakening.
I had to put my data away and go and find myself a therapist.
Let me tell you something-You know who you are when you call your friends and say-I think I need to see somebody, do you have any recommendations-So I found a therapist.
My first meeting with her, I brought in my list of the way the ‘whole-hearted live’, and I sat down and said;
“Here’s the thing. I’m struggling, I have a vulnerability issue. I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears it is also the birthplace, of Joy, creativity, belonging, of love and I think I have a problem and I need some help. Here’s the thing-No family stuff, no childhood shit…..I just need some strategies.
– She nods her head.
I said: ‘It’s bad right?”
She said: “It’s neither good nor bad. It just IS what it is”
And I said “oh my God this is going to SUCK”
And it did, and it didn’t and it took about a year.
You know how there are people that when they realise vulnerability and tenderness are important, they kind of surrender and walk into it?
A. That’s not me, and
B. I don’t even hang out with people like that-
For me it was a year long street fight. It was a slug fest. Vulnerability pushed, I pushed back-I lost the fight, but probably won my life back.
So then I went back into the research and really tried to understand what choices ‘The whole-hearted’ were making and what they were doing with vulnerability, and why OTHERS struggle with it so much.
Am I alone in struggling with vulnerability? -No
So this is what I have learned-
We numb vulnerability.
What makes YOU vulnerable? -Rejection, getting laid off, laying people off, asking someone out, waiting for the doctor to call back, initiating sex with my husband, initiating sex with my wife….this is the world we live in-We live in a vulnerable world and one of the ways we deal with it, is we numb vulnerability, and I think there’s evidence….not the ONLY reason this evidence exists, but it’s a huge cause…
We are……The most in debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort in history.
The problem is, that you cannot selectively numb emotion.
You cannot say, here is the bad stuff…here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s vulnerability, here’s disappointment-I don’t want to feel these…I’m going to have a couple of beers and muffin.
I don’t want to feel these…You cannot numb these hard feelings without numbing the other affects and emotions. So when we numb those bad feelings, we also numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness, and then we are miserable because we are looking for purpose and meaning…and then we feel vulnerable so we have a couple of beers and a banana muffin.
And it becomes this dangerous cycle.
One of the things we have to think about, is how and why we numb…and it doesn’t have to be addiction.
The other thing that we do is make anything that is uncertain, certain.
Religion, has gone from a belief in faith and mystery, to certainty-
“I’m right, you’re wrong-shut up.”
That’s it. Just certain. The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are, the more afraid we are.
This is what politics looks like today.
There’s no discourse anymore, there’s no conversation, there’s just blame.
You know how blame is described in the research?- A way to discharge pain and discomfort.
We PERFECT. If there’s anyone who wants their life to look perfect, it would be me. But it doesn’t work, because what we do, is we take fat from our buts and put it in our cheeks.
..and we perfect most dangerously, our children. Let me tell you what we think about children.
They are hard wired for struggle when they get here. When you hold those perfect little babies in your arms, our job is not to say,
“Look at her she’s perfect, my job is just to keep her perfect and make sure she makes the tennis team by 5th grade and Yale by 7th grade”- That’s not our job.
Our job, is to look at them and say,
‘You know what, you’re imperfect and you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging’-That’s our job.
Show me a generation of kids raised like that, and we’ll end the problems we see today.
We PRETEND that what we do, doesn’t have an effect on people.We do that in our personal lives, we do that in Corporate, whether it’s a bail out, an oil spill, a recall, we pretend that what we’re doing doesn’t have a huge impact on people. I would say to companies, “this is not our first Rodeo people. We just need to be authentic and real and say:
‘We’re sorry. We’ll fix it’”
But there’s another way…and I’ll leave you with this:
This is what I have found.
To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen, to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee-and that’s really hard, and I can tell you as a parent, that’s excruciatingly difficult-
-to practice gratitude and joy, in those kind of moments of terror, when we’re wondering, ‘can I love you this much, can I believe in this this passionately, can I be this fierce about this?’
-Just to be able to stop, and instead of catastrophising what might happen, be able to say, I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable, means that I’m alive.
The last point, which I believe is probably the most important;
Is to believe that we’re enough.
Because when we work from a place that says, ‘I’m enough’, we stop screaming, and we start listening. We’re kinder and gentler to the people around us and we are kinder and gentler to ourselves.
That’s all I have.
Thank you’ –Brene Brown’