Friday 24 February 2012


I never did tell you about the third thing, did I?  And I should, I really should.  Because I feel it’s important.  So, there’s this guy I chat to on Twitter – Keith Jones (@KeithJonesDaman).  We don’t talk a lot but he’s one of those people I just like. He thinks deeply about stuff; he doesn’t just toss out his opinion left, right and centre; he doesn’t do kneejerk.  And he’s not scared of saying what he thinks – he quite often disagrees with me, which is great.  But, then again, he’s equally not scared of looking at something again, with fresh eyes, and coming back and saying ‘Okay, I was wrong.’  And that’s really unusual, don’t you think?

Anyhow, a short time back, he sent me a link asking for my opinion on something or other.  I confess, my mind was elsewhere and I clean forgot to click.  Then, a few days later, it popped into my head and I apologised for not getting back to him and asked him if he could resend it.  He did.  And it was a talk by a woman called Brené Brown entitled The power of vulnerability.
I’d never heard of this woman and I don’t usually like watching clips of speakers but Keith had asked so I listened.  And I laughed because she’s a very good speaker.  And yeah, it chimed with me because she encapsulated a lot of what I’ve been feeling over the last year.

In a nutshell, she researched connection. For six years. She was looking to discover what makes some people feel loved and connected and ‘belonging’ while others feel loss, loneliness and disconnection. 
‘When you ask people about love, they tell you about heartbreak,’ she said. ‘When you ask people about belonging, they'll tell you their most excruciating experiences of being excluded. And when you ask people about connection, the stories they told me were about disconnection.’

So she asked what stopped the majority of people allowing love and connection and she found shame. The fear that if people know the truth about you, they won't feel you're worthy. 'Shame is universal.' insisted Brown. 'The only people who don't experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection.’
She talked about the ‘not good enough’ syndrome – not being young enough, thin enough, smart enough, rich enough, beautiful enough. Cue hollow laughter from me. And then she said the cruncher: ‘The thing that underpinned this was excruciating vulnerability, this idea of, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.’ Oh scary is that? 
Yet she found that some people did allow themselves to be seen; they did allow love and belonging to flow through them. And so she asked those with ‘the knack’ how they did it.  And found they felt they were worthy of love and belonging. Hmm. Kinda obvious really. Good self-esteem?  But not just that. She analysed it further, broke it down smaller and found that they shared other characteristics.
              They had  courage. The courage to be imperfect.
       They had compassion – first to themselves and then to other people.
       They were authentic – willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were.
       They embraced vulnerability. Totally.

They talked about the willingness to say, "I love you" first,’ said Brown. ‘The willingness to do something where there are no guarantees, the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They're willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.’
They didn’t find being vulnerable comfortable – it isn’t. Yet they didn’t find it excruciating (as those who felt shame did). They just found it was necessary. And I agree, though I battle with it.
And Brown went on to say that, when we fear vulnerability, we numb ourselves.  In one way or another – with alcohol, food, drugs, spending, television, gaming, work, whatever.  And the problem is you can’t selectively numb emotions – so if you numb out fear and shame and grief and vulnerability; you also numb out joy and love and gratitude and happiness.
And she made another point which chimed:  when we feel uncertain and vulnerable, we seek to make everything that is uncertain certain. Religion. Politics. I’m right; you’re wrong. Shut up. ‘Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty,’ she says. ‘In politics, there's no discourse anymore. There's no conversation. There's just blame.’
So. What’s the answer. This is what Brown says:
‘This is what I have found: to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there's no guarantee… To practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we're wondering, "Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?" just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, "I'm just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I'm alive."
And, you know, I agree with that. I’ve spent the majority of my life being petrified of vulnerability. I have always made damn sure I let nobody come close enough to hurt me.  Of course, having a child blows that clean out the water and I’m pretty sure that’s why I had such a tough time as a new mother.  But I figure now, at this stage in my life, it’s time to dump the fear and the shame.  And just be.  I am what I am. This is it.  It's hard; damn hard. But I'm trying. Because she's right, if you feel vulnerable, you do feel alive. If you close yourself off, if you numb yourself, you're halfway dead. 

If you want to listen to the whole talk, you can check it out here. 


Tee said...

A very wonderful post, Jane. Mostly because I realized, not all that long ago, how vulnerable I am. To others, but mostly to my own way of thinking. I have a great front, but that's all it is. And I've learned to embrace myself and let go.

Investing in things that might not work out is a hard one. Because we long so dearly for them to work out. Even if, in our heart, we know they won't. But that risk is huge. And it is important. Because, if we don't, we are living in fear and letting it rule us.

We don't want to be hurt.

But hurt is a natural human feeling. It's something we will experience regardless, but it's how we let out hurt go that guides us. And whether or not we let go at all.

Jake Barton said...

Fabulous post, as always, Jane. I've read it twice, eking out every nuance. As for the preceding comment from Tyson: I've rarely read so much wisdom in so few words. Two women here I've got a lot of time for and feel privileged to be in their (virtual) company.

Rob-bear said...

I heard of Brené Brown only recently. But I found her thinking to be quite fascinating. And here you are, talking about her. Great!

I'm of the belief that, unless we live vulnerably, we do not get very far in life, in love, or in much else that's important. But, oh, the risk! The pain!

Ashen said...

In resonance again, as happens sometimes with your posts. I'm doing a small workshop today, a playful few hours looking at our cast of characters inside, especially players in the shadow. - this is my write-up :)

Anonymous said...

Americans need to be told platitudes. Again and a gain. And they're happy... to pay for that. Every Time... :o)

Anne Wareham said...

Have been thinking a lot about this lately, having started a blog where I am determined to risk my vulnerability in the interest of sharing some things in the world that rarely get honest discussion.

That's vulnerable in itself (stating a blog) - and I won't push it here, that seems cheap.

I have seen 'vulnerability' on blogs, - usually vulnerability. about sadness and things that people are able to go 'awww' about and 'lovely post'.

I'm getting clearer now that there will be some things easier to be vulnerable about than others - and that some things will get totally disapproved of.

Will be painful if interesting and I think I'll learn a lot.

Thanks for this. It's good and I hope encourages people to be braver.


Fennie said...

Yes, there's a lot there that makes sense. In her book 'The Stranger in the Mirror' Jane Shilling reflects on somethings very similar. She says that people need to be taught how to accept love, which, she argues is neither easy not automatic. Much love is given that is not accepted. Even learning properly to accept a compliment without dismissing it is hard sometimes.

Milla said...

great stuff, Jane. The only down side of vulnerability can be a slide into me-me-me neediness, making of it a sort of smug vanity. Where vulnerablity is turned into a call to be given to, rather than a more generous opening up.
Beautiful day here, just beautiful.
Don't like this new verif stuff - all but impossible to read. And 2 of the buggers. Onto go 3 now!

skybluepinkish said...

Several re-readings needed. That is one powerful post.

I know I veer from willing vulnerablility and thick great wall unsurpassable even by me. I think Tyson summed it up beautifully in her final paragraph. It's about letting go.

Ivy said...

Does that mean those who allow themselves to lead the life of a vulnerable are the truly courageous? If your heart is locked in a chest you are a bullet-proof coward?

Soooz Burke said...

Another great post, Jane. Vulnerability? Oh hell, yes! I can smart mouth my way out of many situations, I can shuffle and bustle, and hurl words around till the cows come home. Can I hide completely? No. Nor do I want to. I hid behind a world of words for so long that it was easy to lose me. The me that felt shame, and pain, and no connection to a world that terrified me. I ran one step ahead, or so I allowed myself to believe.
But one day you just can't run anymore because there is nothing left in your desolate world to run from.

That was the first step in my new world. I stepped up to the plate and finally said.."This is me. I like who I am. If you don't like me in return...that is your right
I'm vulnerable. But I own that vulnerability." That doesn't mean I am impervious to hurt, to sadness, to loss. it simply means that I can deal with it without compromising the me I have come to be.

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

Yes. Yes. Yes.