Do you do vulnerable? According to author and researcher Brené Brown, if you don't you are missing out, because that is the key to living a fulfilled, wholehearted life.
Who knew? She spent six years researching this topic and realized early on in her studies that connection is why we are here. Yet, when she asked people for examples of connection, they regaled her with stories of heartbreak, feeling excluded, and disconnection.
She found that there was fear and shame at this disconnection, and basically people felt they were not good enough; they were not worthy. Her findings dovetail well with the theories I used to teach over 30 years ago, based on the book Your Child's Self Esteem by Dorothy Corkille Briggs, who believed that children measure themselves by two yardsticks -- "I am lovable and I am worthwhile."
Yet, we constantly question ourselves and our value in the world. Taking her research further, Brown then explored what made some people wholehearted and others not. What she learned is, we tend to:
1. Numb vulnerability
Everyone talked to her about how hard it was to ask for help, to be turned down or rejected for a job or to wait for medical results for example. We cannot, she felt, just selectively numb vulnerability; when we numb those responses, we numb everything.
2. Turn the uncertain into certain
To protect ourselves from ambiguity, we seem to have made everything certain where there was once doubt. Take religion or politics, where there was once a dialogue on the issues, now it is just blame, finger pointing and an assurance that we are right, and the other person, religion, or party is wrong.
3. Focus on perfection
Even with our children, we try to make them perfect little people. There is no room for error; for personality or idiosyncrasies. When we pretend to be perfect, she observes, we don't realize the impact that has on other people who in turn start to feel they are inadequate, not good enough.
I know for myself that I have often said "I don't do vulnerable," and yet there have been times in my life when I have had to rely on other people to take me for cancer treatments, for example. But somehow we believe by asking for help, we are being weak, are letting ourselves down, when in reality our family and friends are only too happy to help out and are pleased to be asked.
So what's the answer? Brown also looked at the common traits of people who seemed more comfortable with who they are. These are people who have the courage to be imperfect and show compassion to themselves first, and then others. They are authentic and willing to take risks. For example, they will invest in relationships even if they don't know if they will work out; they will say "I love you" first. They are true to themselves and what you see, is what you get.
It is hard to reveal our vulnerable side. Just recently I wrote a blog about my somewhat stressful summer and I hemmed and hawed about whether to run it or not, or whether it was unprofessional to "go to the dark side." But you know, life is not all sweetness and light, so in the end I did publish it because I felt it showed that just like everyone else, I face stuff that can get me down.
Brown advocates that if we let ourselves be seen deeply, love with our whole hearts, and practice gratitude and joy, we will live a full and happier life. She strongly recommends that we are enough and we have to let go of that need to be or appear perfect and to start listening. And she advises we need to be kinder and gentler on ourselves and those around us.
I guess we are all a work in progress, but letting go of those masks of shame is a step forward to being more real, authentic, and connected -- to yourself and those around you.