I didn’t know how much of my life was impacted by my lack of being vulnerable until I read the book Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. Reading this book made me take a good hard look at how I was reacting to people, treating people, sharing my thoughts and feelings, and how ultimately it was impacting my relationships.
Vulnerability is tough. Why? Because vulnerability means we have to let down our guard and show who we really are, how we really feel. We have to take ownership of all of our thoughts, words, and actions.
According to Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, and a research professor who studies vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame, vulnerability means uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. No wonder being vulnerable scares us, who wants to possibly get hurt? But, what’s worse – being vulnerable or hurting others? If you ask me, it’s hurting others. It’s letting our egos take control and trying to make ourselves feel better while making others feel worse. In order to improve our own life and improve our relationships we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable. What does this mean?
A Story of My Own Vulnerability
3yrs ago I’m working a new job at a digital marketing agency. I am well versed in social media, but I have a lot to learn. I understand it, but I might not understand the intricacies, the processes, etc. I am given my first client, and there were times where my client would ask a question and I didn’t know the answer. Instead of saying, “Let me do some research on that, or let me ask my boss, etc.” I found myself more often than not coming up with an answer. I was afraid that if I didn’t give them an answer, they will think that I don’t know what I am doing. That feeling is friggin’ scary.
I was 28yrs old, and I felt so much pressure to know everything in the digital world. (I remember having this same feeling when I was a personal trainer. For example, if a client asked me what foods they should be eating to get more of “x” vitamin, and I didn’t know the answer, I felt not good enough.) I always felt pressure to give an answer right then and there, and that if I didn’t know it, I was afraid the client wouldn’t trust that they are in good hands.
At the end of the day, it all came down to vulnerability. “It’s okay to not know the answer”. When I was growing up, I remember struggling with my reading comprehension in middle school, although most of the time, that’s because my mind would wonder as I would read (I probably have undiagnosed ADD), and I never fully understood what I was reading, or I would skim it because I would rather be doing something else. When I was called on in class, I rarely knew the answer, which was scary, and I was more afraid to say “I didn’t know”, than to make something up. I would then make something up, and it was so far off, that that was actually more embarrassing, but it all came down to vulnerability of saying “I didn’t fully read it, or get it”.
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
Wow, this is powerful – Let our true selves be seen. I clearly was missing something. I continued to be afraid to let my “true self” be seen. I was afraid to share that I didn’t do the reading, that I didn’t know the answer. It has taken a lot of hard work, self help books, etc. to get to a place to know that IT’S OK. I’m still not perfect at it, and I have my moments, but I’m getting better. No one is supposed to know everything. Life is about team work, it is about showing up and being real. We are each “imperfect, wired for struggle, but worthy of love and belonging.” (Brené Brown)
When we put walls up and stay guarded, we create shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and we withhold affection, which is the root of which where love grows.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. – Teddy Roosevelt
I cannot ask other people to change, all I can control is my own shame and vulnerability. I never want to cause anyone else shame, and that all starts with myself, and believing that I am enough no matter what. When we introduce shame, and we build walls up to protect ourselves, we are limiting our ability to connect. Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives and without it there is suffering. (Brené Brown)
- The fear of not being worthy of real connection; a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.
- At home, in the workplace, etc. Is fear of ridicule and belittling used to manage people and/or keep people in line? Is self-worth tied to achievement, productivity, or compliance? Are blaming and finger-pointing norms? Are put-downs and name-calling rampant? What about favoritism? Is perfectionism an issue?
Shame comes from living in a world where we believe there is never enough of anything. “I didn’t get enough sleep. I don’t have enough time”, etc. It is believing there can always be more, but when it comes to human connection, human love, you, as a person, are always enough. “We all have shame. We all have good and bad, dark and light, inside of us. But if we don’t come to terms with our shame, our struggles, we start believing that there’s something wrong with us – that we’re bad, flawed, not good enough – and even worse, we start acting on those beliefs. If we want to be fully engaged, to be connected, we have to be vulnerable. In order to vulnerable, we need to develop resilience to shame. Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” – Brené Brown
According to Brené Brown, there are 12 “shame” categories that have emerged from her research:
- Appearance and body image
- Money and work
- Mental and physical health
- Surviving trauma
- Being stereotyped or labeled
Shame is often used interchangeably with guilt, humiliation, and embarrassment, but…
Guilt = I did something bad
Shame = I am bad
When I read this part of the book, my mind was blown. Part of me deep down, always knew this, and that’s the best thing about self help books, almost always we know these things, but it takes reading something, or being shown it in a different way for it to actually create meaning for us. Wow, I thought. How often there have been times in my life where I felt “I am bad” vs. “I did something bad”. “Something is wrong with me” vs. “I did something wrong”.
We all make mistakes. That does not make us bad people. The tough thing is – shame is highly correlated with addiction, violence, aggression, depression, eating disorders, and bullying. I mean fudge, I can’t tell you how sad this makes me. There is no way people who shame others feel good about themselves, and the people who are being shamed clearly don’t feel good about themselves, so how do we get ourselves out of this shame game?
The answer is shame resilience, as Brené Brown calls it. Not resistance, but resilience. “The ability to practice authenticity when we experience shame, to move through the experience without sacrificing our values, and to come out on the other side of the shame experience with more courage, compassion, and connection than we had going into it. Shame resilience isa bout moving from shame to empathy – the real antidote to shame.”
Here are four elements of shame resilience – the steps don’t necessarily happen in this order, but they always lead us to empathy and healing:
- Recognizing shame and understanding its triggers. Shame is biology and biography. Can you physically recognize when you’re in the grips of shame, feel your way through it, and figure out what messages and expectations triggered it?
- Practice Critical Awareness – Can you reality check the messages and expectations that are driving your shame? Are they realistic? Attainable? Are they what you want to be or what you think others need/want from you?
- Reaching Out. Are you owning and sharing your story? We can’t experience empathy if we’re not connecting.
- Speaking Shame. Are you talking about how you feel and asking for what you need when you feel shame?
What changed my life…
Okay, let me break away from the book review for a second here, and all the quotes, and say this is HUGE! I did something bad vs. I am bad. On a regular basis we are all given constructive criticism, and told how we can improve and be better. It’s constant in our lives, because we live in a world that is all about improving. We also live in a world that strives for perfection, which creates a world of shame and people not feeling good enough. We too often place our self worth on what other people think. I can’t tell you how many times in my life my thought process has gone or goes from someone giving me feedback or teasing me to thinking “I am stupid.” “I suck”. “I am terrible”. That kind of thought process ruins the human spirit. It is depressing and makes me unproductive and stops me from achieving my dreams. It literally paralyzes me. It makes me not want to try things out of the fear of failing or someone telling me I did something “wrong”.
I’m 31, and only now, am I working on breaking through this barrier that I have created of self-loathing. I don’t feel this way often, or all the time, but I am human. I feel down about myself, have off days, fail, or make mistakes, but that’s OK. This thought process of mine started a long long time ago, through out schooling, at home, with friends, relationships, etc. I felt shame for being me, for not being perfect, for making mistakes. I have made a lot of mistakes in my life, plenty of small insignificant ones, and plenty of fairly significant ones that probably changed my life course, but without those failures, I wouldn’t grow and learn and become who I am today. Those “failures” do not make me a bad person, but often “in the moment” of those challenges I faced, no matter how small they were, I often felt self hatred. I wanted to be better, I wanted to be loved, I wanted to be perfect.
Looking back, I wish I had been more resilient. I wish I could have been stronger to have the confidence to know that no matter what, I am good enough. I wish I had the strength to acknowledge my poor behavior and apologize, and accept my mistakes and move on. It has taken me 31yrs to get there. To get to a place where I can own my mistakes, to be okay with not being perfect, and to be shame resilient. It’s not easy, I’m not always great at it, but all I can do is be me, accept my story, and create new chapters that are honest, true, and completely and utterly, authentically me – all the good and the bad. I am not perfect, I will never be, so every day I try to own who I am. What makes me feel good? What makes me feel like me? What encourages others? What empowers others? What encourages me? Empowers me? I keep on chasing the light, and when the dark comes, I know that the darkness is there to teach me a lesson not to tell me I suck and that I’m a bad person.
In honor of being completely honest and authentic, the book is a bit hard to get into but it’s worth it. I promise. The nuggets of information and the interesting research she has conducted is something we can all relate to in our own way. You can get Daring Greatly here. If you’ve read it, I’d love to know what you learned, or what you thought of the book! Let me know in the comments.