Oct 05

Vulnerability and Shame: Brene Brown Enlightens Us

More than one person has told me about Brené Brown and her lessons on vulnerability and shame. Finally I’ve watched her two TED talks, “The Power of Vulnerability” and “Listening to Shame,” which have resonated with so many.

Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has been deep into studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame for 12 years. She bravely admits to the world via TED that internal conflicts triggered in the midst of her research led her to seek therapy.

In a TED blog post, Brown states that 2010 was her “year of the vulnerability talk” and 2011 her “year of walking the talk,” acknowledging that it’s harder to enact what she believes about this topic than to talk about it.

Mary Elizabeth Williams writes in a recent Salon article about Dr. Brown’s popularity, how she copes with it, and her message:

To date, Brown’s rousing pleas for humanity to move from a culture of shame, scarcity and numbness toward a more authentic, compassionate and ‘wholehearted’ approach have been viewed over 5 million times on YouTube. But not by Brown herself, who confesses, ‘It still makes me feel really uncomfortable.’

In other words, she gets it. She knows how hard it is for us to put down our emotional armor, how great the fear of failure and criticism — from both within and without – can be. Yet she plunges on, persuasively making the case that a bolder, braver way of living isn’t just happier and more fulfilling. She thinks it’s a key component of rising above the tide of debt, addiction and what Brown repeatedly refers to as the painful curse of ‘disengagement.’

Brown’s newest book just came out. It’s called Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead,  and it “argues that vulnerability is not weakness, but rather our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection.”

Some quotes from the book on vulnerability and shame, courtesy of a recent TED blog post:

“I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow — that’s vulnerability.”

“We judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing. If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices. If I feel good about my body, I don’t go around making fun of other people’s weight or appearance. We’re hard on each other because we’re using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived deficiency.”

“Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress. It happens when you’ve been through too much, and rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability), we’re angry and scared and at each other’s throats.”

Publishers Weekly says of Daring Greatly: “…(T)he core of her message is understanding the difference between guilt and shame, and developing ‘shame resistance.’ Brown’s theories—complete with personal and not always flattering examples from her own life—will draw readers in and have them considering what steps they would dare to take if shame and fear were not present.”

Brown was asked in a TED interviewWhat’s the greatest lesson you have learned in your own life? “When you get to a place where you understand that love and belonging, your worthiness, is a birthright and not something you have to earn, anything is possible.”