The Power of Vulnerability

I stumbled across a TedTalk today by Brene Brown. Titled ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ it certainly made me explore ideas in ways which I had never considered before. Brown began by saying, if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist. It was the appeal of structures, regimes and the ability to have set control variables, which led her into the field of research. Consequently, she ended up stumbling across the research into emotions and specialising in the research of vulnerability. 

She says, ‘connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about. Neurobiologically - that’s why we’re here.’

The theme of ‘connection’ is quite a broad topic but Brown began by asking people what they felt they understood by connection, and a range of emotions. ‘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. And when you ask people about connection, the stories they told me were about disconnection.’ It did lead me to think, what were the first stories which came to my head when I heard terms like ‘success’, ‘happiness’ or ‘love’? Do you find yourself narrating stories which Brown termed ‘heartwarming’, or is there something missing from these stories?

After collecting data over a long 6 year stretch, Brown found that shame, which is understood as a fear of disconnection, to be at the root of vulnerability. ‘Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, won’t make me worthy of connection?’ It’s a universal feeling which nobody wants to talk about, and the less you talk about it, the more you have it. 

‘I’m not good enough’ is underpinned by excruciating vulnerability. This really comes down to a sense of worthiness. Brown divided people into those who really have a sense of worthiness - a strong sense of love and belonging - and folks who struggle for it - those who are always wondering if they are good enough. There was only one variable which distinguished the two groups. That was, those who believed they have love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. 

What did this group of people have in common? How is it that they believed of their worthiness to be loved and to have a sense of belonging?

What they had in common was a sense of courage. The original definition of courage - which is separate from bravery - was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so this group, very simply, had 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 can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. 

Furthermore and powerfully so, Brown said, ‘due to authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which you absolutely have to do for a meaningful connection.’

Another factor which this group had in common was that they fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they talk about it being excruciating, they just talked about it being necessary. Brown specified, “they talked about the willingness to say “I love you'' first, to do something where there are no guarantees, to wait for a doctor’s call with the results of a monogram. They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. This was fundamental to their being.”

There is a gathering sense that vulnerability can be empowering. Vulnerability is the core of shame, fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging and of love. 

We live in a vulnerable world and one of the ways we deal with vulnerability is that we numb it. The current U.S. population are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history. Brown specifies that the problem is “you cannot selectively numb emotion. If we choose to numb sadness, grief and disappointment, we are also choosing to numb happiness and joy.”

“Which evidently leads to feeling miserable and looking for purpose and meaning. Then vulnerability hits and it becomes a vicious cycle.”

From the fear of vulnerability, we make the uncertain certain. The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are and then the more afraid we are. But to embrace a level of vulnerability is what ultimately powers courage, passion and the ability to give. 

We pretend that what we do doesn’t have an affect on people. In our personal lives and in corporate. But we do. 

To allow ourselves to really deeply be seen, to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee, is to practice gratitude and joy in moments of terror. When you’re wondering whether you can really love someone or believe in something so passionately, instead of catastrophizing the situation, being able to think, ‘I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive,’ is powerful. 

“And lastly, and most importantly, is to believe that we are enough. Because when we work from a place of belief, we stop screaming and start listening. We’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentle to ourselves.” - Brene Brown.




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