Living: Daring Greatly….The Vulnerability Myth

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As part of my Living series, I’m going to do a book study with myself and you, whomever you are that’s interested. Dr. Brene’ Brown has a new book out called Daring Greatly. It’s about her work with vulnerability and shame. I’ll read some of it each week and share my thoughts and insights from the book. If you’d like to join me in reading and/or commenting and joining the discussion, I’d love to have you. If not, maybe you’ll get something from the cliff notes that I write that will be useful.

In Chapter 2, she discusses the myths of vulnerability. The first one is Vulnerability is Weakness. I have always been an emotional person. I read a book once about Highly Sensitive People, and I’m convinced that I am one. As a little girl, it’s okay to be sensitive because you’re a kid. But, as I got older, I got the messages more and more that it was not okay to cry. When I went to churches, I got the message that it was not okay to fear. When I went to work, I got the message that it was not okay to feel anything. The older I got, the less okay it became to feel. The problem is I have a lot of emotions. And, from what I understand now, that’s perfectly f**king normal. Dr. Brown says that we’ve gotten to the point in our society that we judge and criticize people who feel and talk about their emotions. The problem with dismissing our emotions and stuffing them is that we not only dismiss the negative emotions like shame, fear and disappointment, but we also dismiss joy, courage, empathy and creativity. We have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to ALL of our emotions in order to feel those “good” ones.

She talks about the feeling of love and how vulnerable it is to wake up everyday and love somebody that may not love you back. Love is very uncertain, and you can lose it at any minute. I was married to two emotionally unavailable men. I felt vulnerable a lot of the time. I really wanted to be silly and have fun and be who I was. But, I was already feeling so hurt and rejected that to put myself out there was really vulnerable and REALLY scary. I spent more and more time walking on eggshells, and, eventually, I became a shell of the person I was. Even if they had loved me, and I think in their own way they did, I was disappearing before their eyes. So, my inability to be vulnerable because I didn’t feel safe was stealing my joy right out from under me.

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What are some of the times I feel most vulnerable?

  • When I’m writing about my addiction in this blog
  • When I’m out on a date with a man, and I’m talking about my divorces
  • When I initiated sex with one of my husbands
  • When I’m speaking out against a popular opinion at work
  • When I don’t understand something, and it seems as if everyone else does
  • When I ask for something I need and I know I probably won’t get it
  • When I need to say something that may hurt someone’s feelings
  • When I feel ugly and run into somebody I know
  • When I admit a big mistake at work and take responsibility for it

Dr. Brown asks this question, “Do these things sound weak?” Does asking for something I need when I know I won’t get it sound weak? Does rigorous honesty in the face of rejection sound weak? None of this is weak at all. In fact, it would be weak for me to avoid it rather than being vulnerable. That’s one of the main things I’ve learned from my recovery work. When I stand up for myself – when I’m rigorously honest – when I say what I need to say OR keep my mouth shut when the situation demands it – I feel so vulnerable. But I feel that I’m in integrity with my values. And, being in integrity feels so darn good that it makes me desire to stay in integrity. Sometimes when I do one of these things, I feel joy. I have to call a friend and declare how proud of myself I am for walking through fear and doing something really vulnerable. And, you know what….calling someone to celebrate a success feels vulnerable, too. It really is something to celebrate since I spent a lifetime avoiding vulnerability at all costs.

The word naked came up over and over again in Dr. Brown’s research. I was talking to a friend the other day, and we were talking about that recurring dream we both have where we’re naked. I’m naked, and I’m running around at work, at home, out in the grocery, wherever the dream happens to be set. I know I’m naked, but I’m acting like its totally normal. People will say hey, “you’re naked,” and I act like I do this all the time. What’s wrong with it? It’s no big deal. What’s the fuss all about? But, inside I’m dying of embarrassment. Vulnerability is what my brain is trying to process. Somewhere in my life, I’m feeling vulnerable but I won’t allow the world to know. Why can’t I just say, “Yes, I’m naked, and I’m so embarrassed. Can you please help me find some clothes?” Why is it so hard to admit we’re naked when everybody knows it anyway? So, instead of allowing myself to be vulnerable and get what I need, I remain stoic and naked and all alone inside. Vulnerability is weakness?? I think not. Vulnerability is a courageous act.

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