Several years while on vacation, I read Daring Greatly by Brene’ Brown and it changed my life. I connected with so many of the things she was writing about – perfection, shame, vulnerability - and found myself using the book as a roadmap for “showing up and being seen” in my life.
Fast forward several years, and I recently was lucky enough to be accepted into The Daring Way™ certification and training program for helping professionals, that explores topics such as vulnerability, courage, shame, and worthiness, helping move clients toward more authentic and wholehearted living. The primary focus is on developing shame resilience skills and developing daily practices that transform the way we live, love, parent, and lead.
One of the biggest things I learned is that we need others. This belief that we should “go at it alone” and myth that we don’t need others when dealing with difficult emotions/situations can be a big contributing factor to anxiety and depression.
Humans are wired for human connections. Our brains are made of these tiny neurotransmitters and when we have positive human experiences, it’s actually good for our health. Experiencing connections with others can lead to a reduction in stress, healthier habits, and longer lives. And a rejection, snub or criticism can affect us the same way physical pain can.
Human connection also means you have to vulnerable. Vulnerability is showing up and being seen, as your authentic self, at the risk of being hurt or exposing your flaws or imperfections, which we all have.
There is no such thing as perfection and carrying around that belief and chasing perfection can lead to a variety of emotional and physical distress.
You may ask, how can we risk being vulnerable when most of us live in judgment and criticism? Vulnerability is even harder in this day and age, where social media allows us to be judgmental and critical behind the safety of a screen.
Vulnerability is safest with those who have gained our trust and earned the right to hear our story. For me, that is using the “Are they in the Arena With Me?” Litmus test. Brene Brown, a renowned researcher, and author take this concept from a famous quote by Teddy Roosevelt. Essentially, you are sorting those whose opinions/support matters by those who are “in the arena” with you or by those who are in the cheap seats criticizing your efforts.
Picture this - Someone in the arena with you is someone, next to you, fighting with you, getting dirty, being vulnerable, showing up for you when it may still mean defeat; who asks you “what do you need?” “This sucks, but I am right here next to you,”; who understands how hard this fight is, but will still like or love you unconditionally, and who doesn’t see you as weak or a failure, when you inevitably fail or falter.
Those who aren’t in the arena with you, are those most likely, sitting in the “cheap seats”, criticizing and judging you, pointing finger, telling you how they could have done it better, putting you down for your fight in the arena. Most of the time, those people in the cheap suits, have on their own space suit and are using their judgment and criticism as a protective measure to their own fear of rejection and lack of acceptance. We also need to check ourselves to determine whether we are in the cheap seats and doing the very thing we fear from others.
Here is an idea when you get home. Take out a sheet of paper and write down 3-5 people whose opinion matters. These people are those who like/love you for your authentic and true self and despite your imperfections. Once you have that list, lean into them. Test your vulnerability and fears with them and be mindful of that deeper connection.
One thing that vulnerability is not, is oversharing. Oversharing most times is attention seeking and typically means sharing intimate and personal things with another person or group of people who haven’t earned your trust or the right to hear our story. Oversharing is typically done with a need for validation, reassurance or attention and is the opposite of vulnerability. We see this a lot on social media. Exposing something that is personal or putting ourselves out there as a way to be accepted or gain attention, however, when this backfires – when get criticized, we don’t get the “likes” we want, we question our worth and negative thoughts can pop up. Asking yourself these questions can help determine whether you are testing vulnerability or oversharing:
While vulnerability may feel overwhelming, it’s actual brave and courageous and one of the keys to living an authentic life.
If you are interested in learning more about Brene’ Brown’s work, her TED Talk https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability is great foray into learning more about empathy, vulnerability and shame.
For more information about participating in a Daring Greatly Group or to explore how vulnerability and shame may be a barrier to living your authentic self, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erin Swinson, LMHC
Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator-Candidate (CDWF-Candidate)
New York, N.Y.: Gotham. Brown, C. Brené. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, N.Y.: Gotham, 2012.