I Dare You to Be Vulnerable….

“There is nothing more daring than showing up, putting ourselves out there and letting ourselves be seen.”

Brene Brown

There are so many self-help gurus. Everyone seems to be writing a book these days espousing practical advice on how to live a stress free life. How to be happy… How to be spiritual or zen… How to find love…How to be healthy…

I often read snippets, occasionally the whole book. I retain an interesting point or two and move on. In my quest to be the best I can be, or as someone once corrected me–“in my quest to be ME”… I am open to any and all advice.

Recently in my quest, I struck gold and I am so grateful to my friend who forwarded me one of the most watched TED Talks ever. I am now one of the ten million who has viewed Brene Brown’s video not once, but several times. However, even after watching, writing a summary of the video, telling friends about Dr. Brown’s message/research, yesterday…moments before I was going to post this article, I found myself telling my son to do the exact opposite of what I supposedly learned. If Dr. Brown was grading me, I failed. My son, however, aced with flying colors proving once again that he is definitely here to teach me in matters of the heart.

It was a seemingly minor moment in the scheme of life, however, one with lots of learning. My son was making a birthday card for a relatively new, good friend. As he innocently expressed his thoughts out loud of what he intended to write… words like –“You are the best friend ever. You are like a brother to me…,” I started to get that pit in my stomach. I worried, would the friend judge him? Would he reciprocate the feelings? Would my son’s words make him uncomfortable if he did not feel the same way? In the spirit of protecting him, I advised him to temper his unabashed birthday wishes and enthusiasm that are so typical of my son. I just did not want to see him get hurt.

Yet, despite my efforts, he wrote what he wanted to write. He walked the gift across the street and instead of just dropping it off with the doorman, he took it upstairs and delivered it personally. Again, his choice. This would have never occured to me and is not very common in NYC. When he came downstairs, he had a huge smile on his face. Not only did his friend love his thoughtful gift, but the card especially thrilled him and he let my son know it. My son said he was so happy.

So how did I fail Brene Brown 101 and my son pass with flying colors? Watch this video and you will see.

For those who prefer a recap:

In this video and in her writings, Brene Brown teaches the key to love, belonging and worthiness is…VULNERABILITY. While we spend our lives perceiving vulnerability as weakness, her research says otherwise. (Yes, she is a researcher and not just a random person who woke up with a revelation.) Her research led her to distinguish between people who have a natural sense of love, belonging and worthiness and those who struggle. When she examined those who came by what she calls “wholehearted living” naturally, she discovered they all share 4 key traits. They are as follows:

  1. Courage to be imperfect and to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.
  2. Compassion to be kind to yourself first and then to others. ( I often say, how can you expect others to treat you the way you want to be treated or to love you, if you do not treat yourself that way or if you do not love yourself first.)
  3. Connection as a result of authenticity or a willingness to let go of who you should be, and instead be who you are.
  4. VULNERABILITY**** The most important. The people who experienced the greatest sense of worthiness and belonging fully embraced vulnerability. They believed what made them vulnerable, made them beautiful. They defined vulnerability as showing up and being seen without any guarantee as to outcomes–saying I love you first or a willingness to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. (Exactly what my son did with his birthday message!) It is emotional risk, exposure and uncertainty and is the most accurate measurement of courage. To be vulnerable is to be honest. While Dr. Brown acknowledges it is the core of shame and fear, it is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, innovation, change and love. Vulnerability is not easy for anyone, but for those who embrace vulnerability it is neither comforting or excruciating, just simply a necessary step in the process of living. Vulnerability makes one feel alive!

However, she goes on to say, that the majority of the world numbs vulnerability as evidenced by our statitstics. We are the most in debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult society in US history. We numb in a variety of ways. She calls it our armor–

  1. We drink, do drugs or medicate to numb vulnerability.
  2. We make everything uncertain, certain.  Think of the religious fervor–every religion claiming to have all the answers while all the other religions are wrong. Everyone vying to be in control.
  3. The political divide in all countries and the lack of discourse. There is only blame or as she says, “a way to discharge pain and discomfort.” Throw in cynicism and intellectualizing and there is zero room or tolerance in our society for vulnerability! (MSNBC, Fox and all the other networks just came to mind where people like to hear themselves talk!)
  4. We “perfect,” but it does not work! Perfectionism is the belief that if we do things perfectly, we can minimize the pain of blame, judgement and shame. We think “perfectionism” protects, but, in fact, it prevents us from being seen. It is about earning approval or people pleasing, not what is most important– SELF IMPROVEMENT or striving. She cites examples like cosmetic surgery, our appearance, pursuit of status, emotional control or how we are raising our children… We are probably all guilty of instilling expectations of perfection in them– to be the best student, athlete, leader etc. To go to a top college, to be productive… Except, Dr. Brown explains, perfectionism actually hampers achievement and leads to anxiety, depression, addiction and plenty of missed opportunities!  Rather she encourages us teach our children– “You are imperfect. You are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging!”

Unfortunately, Dr. Brown points out that we can not selectively numb. So if you numb to ease the sadness, pain and fear, you will also numb love, joy, hope and happiness.

Her suggestions:

  1. Let ourselves be deeply, vulnerably seen.
  2. To love with all our hearts even though there are no guarantees.
  3. Practice gratitude and joy even in those moments of terror.
  4. To believe we are enough because when we do, we stop screaming at those around us. We become kinder and gentler to ourselves and then, of course, others.

These suggestions from Dr. Brown came by way of both research and as she divulges, personal experience. In the video she relays how when confronted with her “counter-intuitive” research on vulnerability, she underwent a “breakdown.” Being a fifth generation Texan, she was not well equipped to be vulnerable, but wanting to be happy, loved and connected, she knew she had work to do. Now, she calls this time of transition her “spiritual awakening.” Watching this video, reading this recap, how can we all not contemplate our own whole-hearted living quotient? Which camp do you fall into?

Like Dr. Brown, I did not come by vulnerability easily. I am definitely one who struggled with love and belonging most of my life. To the outside observer this might have been hard to see because… I perfected my armor.

Writing this blog has been a huge, monumental step in saying goodbye to my armor. For others, perhaps it was that first Facebook post? How many times did you rewrite worried how your words would be received? However, my situation with my son the other day proves I still have a ways to go in letting go of the armor and perhaps, (keeping fingers crossed) he is one of the lucky ones who falls into the wholehearted category naturally.

He opened his heart to his friend with no guaranteed outcome. He is always authentically him. He only seems to be drawn to be people who are kind and gentle and most importantly, he seems to DARE GREATLY— the biggest piece of advice from Dr. Brown and the title of her book. I, on the other hand, tried to “perfect” his armor and I was wrong. In the end, he won for taking an uncertain risk and his friend won by being the receiver of such warm wishes. Seriously, who does not want to hear they are appreciated and valued?!!! Yet, should it really take that much courage to express our hearts??? Can we all at least try? Remember…we say it all the time…NOBODY IS PERFECT! Let’s now say it and mean it!

I encourage everyone to share Brene Brown’s wisdom and findings with others. Also, check out her subsequent TED Talk on shame. FYI–according to Dr. Brown, everyone experiences shame. No one is immune… that is unless you are a sociopath. So do not believe anyone who tells you otherwise!!

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