Connection gives humans both purpose and meaning to our lives.
Shame is the fear of disconnection, and something that every person experiences (well, unless you’re a sociopath).
Vulnerability is necessary for connection to happen, but at the same time, we see vulnerability as a sign of weakness.
This formula doesn’t work out very well, does it? A few weeks ago, I watched a TED talk done by researcher, Dr. Brené Brown, on the topic of shame. I was so intrigued by her research that I looked up her previous TEDx talk on vulnerability in order to learn more about her ideas and her research findings. This is what happens when you’re an unemployed, college graduate with a degree in psychology and a lot of time on your hands, you end up in nerd mode and write a research review for fun (I know I’m super cool).
On the other hand, remove the psychology aspect to Dr. Brown’s research, and this is just plan ol’ great life advice. She actually wrote a book, which I’m currently reading, called “Daring Greatly”, but the subtitle is “How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead”, so even if you aren’t a psych nerd like I am, this information can really be applied to any aspect of everyday living.
One thing I love about Brené Brown is that she openly admitted that her findings on vulnerability completely broke her down and shook the way that she lives. Like me, Dr. Brown is not a fan of vulnerability and she describes it as “excruciating” (I agree), however, after interviewing and hearing the stories of thousands of people, she found that people who report having a sense of worthiness (she calls them the “wholehearted”), embrace vulnerability. In summation, vulnerability is necessary for joy, creativity, connection, compassion, belonging, love, and the list goes on. That isn’t fair. If I were Dr. Brown and a decade of research led to such a conclusion, I’d be angry too, because I don’t want to be vulnerable. And I believe that a lot of people would agree with me.
Dr. Brown discusses how we respond to vulnerability- by numbing, by perfecting, and by pretending. We worry what others think, we idolize perfection, we’re terrified of scarcity, we compare ourselves to others, we distrust the uncertain, we self-doubt, we hate feeling powerless.
And this is what I think:
Shame is the idea that we aren’t good enough, and it feeds off of secrecy and judgement. Shame focuses on the self and what about ourselves make us unworthy of connection, love, or belonging. By avoiding vulnerability, we are cultivating our shame.
We don’t want to be emotionally exposed, so we tell others that we’re “doing fine”
We don’t want to feel like we’re not enough, so we overcompensate and put up a front, thus removing our authenticity.
We don’t want others to see the messiness of our life, so we pretend to have it all together.
We want to numb the negative feelings, so we look for external satisfaction, which actually is a top reason for America’s debt, obesity, addiction, and criminal behavior.
These things are causing us more shame. It’s a cycle and it’s tearing us down. I don’t want to feel vulnerable, but now I feel shame.
‘I’m feeling depressed and worthless all the time – but I don’t want others to know and I don’t want to ask for help – so I put on a mask to my friends and family and don’t let them in to my feelings – but then every night I drink or I self-medicate to numb the pain – and now I feel even less worthy of love because why would anyone love me like this?’
Vulnerability sucks, plain and simple, but it is proven to correlate to courage, compassion, innovation, creativity, change, and most importantly, connection. Therefore, it is necessary.
To feel a sense of love and belonging, we must embrace what makes us vulnerable. Anyone who has taken a basic psych 101 class knows that love/belonging is a factor on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and that without that sense of worthiness, we cannot reach self-actualization.
To live wholeheartedly and with connection, we must let ourselves be seen. If you’re anything like me, or like Dr. Brown, that’s a devastating and excruciating thought. To be completely honest here, it makes me angry because yes, I want to live a wholehearted life, but no, I don’t want to embrace vulnerability. Yes, I want to experience courage, compassion, and connection, but no, I don’t want to experience emotional risk, exposure, or uncertainty. What a dilemma.
So, here is my purpose for sharing this with you; I encourage you to just think about it, maybe watch Dr. Brown’s TED talks, and evaluate whether you fear disconnection, how you handle that shame, and your own willingness to be vulnerable. This research has definitely given me a self-revelation and a new way to approach my outlook on life. I’ve got a scientific brain, I trust the research, and if someone would have just told me this in passing and I hadn’t read the research myself, then I’d be less susceptible to listen. Dr. Brown’s book is incredible so far, and I cannot wait to finish reading it (and then maybe read her other books!).
I’ll end with an excerpt from “Daring Greatly”, a way of thinking that we can all benefit from.
“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed a night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.” (page 10)
Brené Brown – The Power of Vulnerability – TEDx Talk- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o
Brené Brown – Listening to Shame – TED Talk- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psN1DORYYV0
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly : how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books.
What I Write About: