If there is one human emotion people have a problem with it’s being vulnerable. Being vulnerable makes people feel weak, shameful, and a mix of other unpleasant emotions. But there is Power in vulnerability.
Brené Brown, a self-claimed researcher and storyteller, who has researched connection. In order to discover the positive emotion of connection, she first had to investigate disconnection. What makes us feel like we don’t belong?
Shifting through her thousands of interviews, Brown found shame and fear lead to disconnection. People have these thoughts that they are “not enough.” They feel like they are not good enough. Not skinny enough. Not curvy enough. Not smart enough. Not funny enough. People fear “excruciating vulnerability,” which, according Brown, “in order to allow connection to happen, we have to let ourselves be seen … really seen.”
And for some people, that is too scary. They are too closed-off because of the shame and fear of societal rejection.
in Brown’s collected data, she discovered what makes people more open to vulnerability.
“There was only one variable separating the people who have a sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believed that they are worthy of love and belonging.”
How many times have thoughts invaded your mind about people not caring about the story you really want to tell them about how your day went? How many times were you held back from sharing an emotion because you thought it was petty and no one would agree with you or feel sympathetic?
How many times have you bottled things up for fear of being vulnerable?
These people who feel loved and like they belong, the people who have a sense of worthiness, – what Brown calls the “whole-hearted” – have three things that make them able to be vulnerable:
They have the courage to be imperfect, to share the stories of their lives with their whole heart. They have the compassion “to be kind to themselves first” because you can’t be compassionate towards others if you are not with yourself first. They have the ability to connect “as a result of their authenticity.” These people are “willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were,” which is a must for connection.
The whole-hearted have “fully embraced” vulnerability, and they “[believe] what made them vulnerable, made them beautiful.” They also claimed that being vulnerable wasn’t comfortable nor excruciating but necessary. These people are willing to surpass their fears of rejection, looking stupid, etc., so they can feel connection through vulnerability.
“Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears it is also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love,” says Brown.
But because of fear and shame, we try to hide ourselves and protect ourselves from being vulnerable, even though it could lead to some of the most coveted positive emotions.
We numb vulnerability out of fear. According to Brown, the United States is now the most in-debt, obese, addicted, medicated adult cohort in its own history. We try to numb vulnerability through drugs, through food… But we cannot selectively numb emotions. When we numb, we numb joy, we numb fear, we numb everything.
When we numb, we make everything that is uncertain certain. We blame other sources to “discharge [our] pain and discomfort.”
We perfect to try and hide who we are. We try and control every aspect of our image. We think that only if we are beautiful, smart, funny, only if we a “respectable” person are we worthy of love and belonging.
We pretend that what we do doesn’t have an effect on other people. We think our actions aren’t worthy of effecting other people’s lives, that our words mean nothing. But they do.
Brown ends with, “To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen,” we must “love with our whole hearts, even though there are no guarantees.” We must “practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror.” When telling someone how you feel, don’t think about the rejection that might ensue, but of the potential positive outcome. Yes, you might be rejected, it is always a possibility, but what if you aren’t? What if they say yes?
We must remember, “to feel this vulnerable means that [you] are alive.” Remember that you are enough.
What makes you feel vulnerable? Try opening up in the comments. Do you agree with what Brown is describing in her talk?
Brene Brown is “an American scholar, author, and public speaker, who is currently a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work,” according to Wikipedia.