The recent devastation of Houston from Hurricane Harvey, the wildfires raging through the western states, the threat of nuclear retaliation, and Hurricane Irma decimating the Caribbean and Florida, have all brought our vulnerabilities into stark reality. Equally, they have brought us together to unite and combat the unthinkable. During these times of unrest, extremism, and fear, personal beliefs are being sidelined as we help one another survive.
The planet is in a state of vulnerability as are so many of us who are trying to find the courage to move forward towards a more joyful life. As a collective and as individuals we are in the throes of unprecedented change and evolution.
Fear of judgment may have roots from a childhood fraught with dysfunction or abuse. We learn to protect ourselves the best we can but these shields not only protect us, they isolate and prevent the physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy we crave so deeply. Yet in trying to protect ourselves from pain, we also keep ourselves from fully experiencing joy, love, and passion in our lives and relationships.
Vulnerability isn’t weakness but in reality is a state of courage and trust. Lowered defenses allow feelings to resurface and resistance to be released. But for those who have been judged, lessened or rejected, shame can override the desire for joy.
Being vulnerable is a precursor to true intimacy. Being honest, giving voice to your fears and asking for what you need are necessary components for physical, emotional and spiritual intimacy, but to be emotionally naked to the world is also scary as hell. If you have had to be strong longer than you may even want to admit to yourself, there is the internal battle to risk vulnerability but additionally the fear of being perceived as needy. In making a choice to lower the emotional drawbridge, you must be willing to accept that the person you open our heart to is not responsible for meeting your needs or even validating potential disappointment.
Dr. Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and author of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, sums it up beautifully: “Vulnerability is basically uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure”. Twelve years of research and study led Brown to identify four traits shame resilient people have in common:
They know what shame is. “They talk about the feelings, they ask for what they need,” says Brown. “And they don’t call it embarrassment, they don’t call it guilt, they don’t call it self-esteem—they call it shame.”
They understand what activates their feelings of shame. “For example, I can expect to be triggered as soon as I feel like I have disappointed someone or let them down,” she says. “I am going to hear a mental tape playing ‘you are not enough.’ Because I am expecting it, I can greet it and say, ‘I get it, but not this time.’ ”
They practice critical awareness. Brown might, for example, ask herself, Is it really true that my worth hinges on making someone else happy?
They reach out. “I might call a good friend and say, ‘Hey, this guy has been asking me to speak at a conference, but it’s on Billy’s birthday. I said no and he got upset. I know I did the right thing, yet I am feeling like I am not good enough.’” Shame can’t survive being spoken, says Brown. “Talking cuts shame off at its knees.”
There is great freedom in stepping away from internalizing unwarranted opinions or comments that historically may have kept us silent or restricted how much we were willing or able to share of ourselves. Being brave enough to be vulnerable gives us the strength to face other fears that are holding us hostage and inhibiting a life fully lived.
The following link is Brene Brown’s TEDTalk on The Power of Vulnerability. Please gift yourself with this sage, humorous, and insightful message of hope.
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