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What Is the Power of Vulnerability?

Updated on October 23, 2016

If we believe we deserve happiness, why do we struggle, why do we break?

There are no prerequisites for love and belonging.

We deserve love and belonging by reason of existence.

This is one of the abounding stirring ideas found in Brené Brown's work. However, if this is a foreign idea to your way of being and of relating to the world, you are not alone. I had neither a salutation node nor an a-ha moment when encountering it. Only after repeated exposure did the clouds disperse.

If we believe we deserve happiness, why do we struggle, why do we break? Why are we not constant sources of love and warmth? The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection and Courage addresses such disparities.

“You are imperfect,  you are wired for struggle,  but you are worthy  of love and belonging.”
“You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”

Who are "the wholehearted people"?

Contemporary research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work; also, a conference speaker and author. Brené Brown, with inspiring live presence, is the one cutting the fog. She comes through friendly and humorous. Recordings of her presence are available on YouTube.

The power of vulnerability, audio book, contains six hours of such live conferences. My way of becoming familiar with her work was through watching Ted Talks. Also, by reading The gifts of imperfection and Daring Greatly. Her latest effort is the book Rising Strong.

Behind her books and conferences stands over a decade of work. It started with the study of connection, shame, fear, and vulnerability. She discovered that people who were resilient to shame had a deeper enjoyment of life.

She defined them as "the wholehearted people". The traits that differentiate their actions became an important study point.

"How to" does not work, if "how to" worked, we wouldn't be struggling

An important pursuit ensued. The one for gathering knowledge about what the joyful, wholehearted carry out different.

My first approach to this new information was driven by the logic: if I learn what the steps are, I can apply them in my life. That may be a sound starting point. Indeed, Brené Brown lists 10 guideposts for wholehearted living.

On the other hand, she also specifies at the beginning of the audio book that "how to" does not work, annealing that if "how to" worked, we wouldn't be struggling, as we would all realize what we have to do.

Therefore, extra attention should be cast on gaining an understanding of why we struggle and why break. Why we find it difficult to feel that we are worthy of love and belonging.

The brief answer is: by cause of learning shame. We might have learned shame from our families and our upbringing. Certainly, due to the societies we live in. Brené Brown presents the influence of American culture. My culture is Romanian, her insights are universally relevant, though.

Contemporaneous culture is one of scarcity, she says, the culture of “not enough”, inclined to shame its members for various reasons. It is highly dangerous for us to approach situations with the intimate goal of being defined, approved, and accepted.

Reformulated in the words of psychologist Nathaniel Branden:

If my aim is to prove I am enough, the project goes on to infinity because the battle was already lost the day I conceded the issue was debatable.

Other poisonous traits from our societies: comparisons and disengagement.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives,
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives,

Shame disperses when we talk about it in empathetic environments

Shame unsettles us due to the fact that it "hijacks the limbic system", our answers at encountering shame are uncontrolled (Brown). Every person has shame tapes, shame triggers, yet from the wholehearted people, we learn it is possible to overcome it. An instrument that measures if one relates to life with shame or guilt is the TASCA.

Still, the road from shame to wholeheartedness passes through vulnerability. People reject vulnerability by virtue of associating it with dark emotions: grief, uncertainty, and weakness.

In the words of David Foster Wallace:

What passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human [...] is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic.

Except that vulnerability is also the place where positive emotions are born: love, joy, and empathy. Shame disperses when we talk about it in empathetic environments.

Being courageous and vulnerable or protecting ourselves, this is a choice we arrive at often, and if we elect disengagement, we close off happiness.

This is where the ten guideposts for wholehearted living become useful; after we clarify our rapport to shame and understand what triggers shame for us.

We find inspiration in how others gained their balance: cultivating authenticity; self-compassion; a resilient spirit; gratitude and joy; intuition and trusting faith; creativity; play and rest; calm and stillness; meaningful work; laughter, song and dance.

“When you own your story, you get to write the ending. You become not the subject, but the narrator of the story. You don't write the ending if you don't own the story.”
“When you own your story, you get to write the ending. You become not the subject, but the narrator of the story. You don't write the ending if you don't own the story.”

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