When you think of the word “vulnerable,” what immediately comes to mind? For some of us, it might include connotations of being naïve, easy to take advantage of, or weak. In research, we talk about “vulnerable populations” as people who are disadvantaged and who don’t have resources readily available to them to protect themselves. Defining oneself as vulnerable lies in direct contrast with our individualized American culture’s values: independence, strength, and confidence. When we think of character traits we’d like ourselves to embody, vulnerability isn’t necessarily one that we’d put high on the list.
When we inevitably begin to see vulnerabilities in ourselves, we often begin to experience shame. Brené Brown defines shame as “the fear of disconnection.” We fear that our weaknesses and vulnerabilities will turn others away, and we may find evidence of broken relationships in our past that occurred once we revealed our weakness. We fear that we’ll be “found out.” We are afraid that we won’t be enough.
Where do you feel like you are not enough?
In her TED talk, Brené Brown goes into depth about her research on shame and how it influenced her into experiencing this vulnerability in her own relationships with others.
Think for a moment about the last time someone was honest with you about a weakness of theirs: and when I mean honest, think brutally honest. For some, it may have been a conscious choice to risk in sharing with you, as they valued your relationship highly and trusted you to stick with them through it. Or perhaps it was a situation where they couldn’t help but show the pain they were feeling, as it spilled out almost unconsciously. What did it feel to be entrusted with that information from a friend?
Sharing our weaknesses with others puts us in a vulnerable place by risking rejection, pain, or misunderstanding. We reveal the darker side of ourselves in a way that could have negative consequences.
But when we risk showing weakness and being vulnerable in relationships, we invite connection and intimacy.
Brené defined those individuals who could resist shame as experiencing “wholehearted living.” She connects this to a fundamental belief in their own worthiness, specified as believing they are “worthy of love and belonging.” When that fundamental belief is in place, these people aren’t afraid of connecting with others and showing their true selves: why should they be, if they know they are worthy of love?
What would be different in your life if you believed you were worthy of love and belonging?
In exploring commonalities between these shame-resilient people in her research, here are the aspects of wholehearted people that stood out for Brené:
Courage, Compassion, Connection…and Vulnerability.
Here, vulnerability is held up as an ideal instead of a flaw or something to hide. But why is that? I believe it’s based in the fact that we all live in an uncertain world. We’d have to hide under a rock to remain completely safe, free of risk, and without pain. Since we all experience this uncertainty, there is power in being able to admit the ways in which we are weak. When we open ourselves up in relationships and admit the ways in which we aren’t perfect, we allow others to see us as human. They can see similarities in their own experience that lead them to feel as if they aren’t alone, and they are drawn to us in relationship as a result.
Take some time to listen to this TED talk below. After doing that, my challenge for you is to spend some time thinking about how you might choose to risk being vulnerable in relationships instead of choosing to cover over your shame with numbing and avoiding. How might you take a step to embrace your vulnerability and invite intimacy today?
It can feel terrifying to think about revealing vulnerabilities or weaknesses in your relationships with others (or even with yourself!). If vulnerability feels impossible to you in this season of life, and shame feels like a familiar friend, we’d love to help you break free from shame. Restored Hope is an Ann Arbor and Novi therapy office that offers counseling and support for individuals who are stuck in repetitive patterns that are causing pain and unhappiness in their lives. We’d love to support you on your walk into greater freedom and a more wholehearted life. Give us a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to contact us.