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A Lesson in Vulnerability from a "Researcher Storyteller"

Five minutes ago, I considered vulnerability a pesky annoyance that yes, was important, but...couldn’t we just ignore it? I’ve done exactly that for most of my existence, so what’s another couple more years, right? However, a cackle-inducing TED talk pounced right at me with a huge dose of “You thought!” And like most times before, I’ve had to admit defeat to the damn talk, specifically one called “The power of vulnerability” by Brené Brown, a “researcher-storyteller” who has studied vulnerability, courage, empathy, and shame for two decades.

Let me tell you, within those 20 minutes or so, the woman made some pretty freaking great points that led me to reflect on my life a little too hard. This reflection began about the moment when Brown said, “The less you talk about it, the more you have it.” She was talking about shame. It struck a chord in me so deep that I had to pause the video. Because you know what?  She was right! Frustrated and at a loss of what to do, I kept watching and  I had learned a lot of things. Specifically  how important vulnerability is. (Spoiler alert: it’s like crazy important.

Throughout Brown’s research and interview journey, she identified the difference between people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and those that don’t: their sense of self-worth Only those who believed they were worthy of love and belonging, had the privilege of receiving it. It shocked me for a minute how simple it sounded, how easy it was to achieve. But of course...it isn’t. Why?

Unsplash As Brown pointed out, we have a nasty habit of numbing our vulnerability. Growing up, a lot of us are probably taught that perfection is what people want. We see how much people love certainty—things that are one way or another— that soon enough we think, well if that’s what I have to do to get what I want, I’ll do it, even if it means pretending. And when bad stuff happens, when negative thoughts crawl into our brains and foster fear and shame, we decide the best option is to numb ourselves to it. Alcohol, medication, junk food, you name it. Pick your poison to make all the discomfort go away. But the thing is, we’re not just numbing the bad, we’re also numbing the good. Our joy, gratitude, and happiness, Brown explained, leaves too. And as a result, we develop a need to find a sense of purpose and motivation,leading us to feeling vulnerable, which only feeds into our seemingly endless cycle of numbing to ease the discomfort.

So then what’s the answer? Brown talks about the three things she noticed people who had a strong sense of love and belonging expressed. First, was courage, which Brown explains as  “tell[ing] the story of who you are with your whole heart.” Second, was compassion: how can we be kind to others when we’re not kind with ourselves? Lastly was connection, meaning one should have  the willingness to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they actually are. Brown identified this act of authenticity as the hard part because well yeah, that sounds pretty dang difficult. But not impossible. Ultimately, people who have a sense of love and belonging have such things because they see vulnerability as something necessary, something fundamental in life. And that...makes sense. A lot of sense.

Hair Flip Giphy Brown identifies acting vulnerably as a method of relieving ourselves of shame, fear, and a sense of worthlessness, while also fostering things like creativity, happiness, and love within ourselves. So as scary as it is, being vulnerable is important. Brown ends her presentation with a couple of things she’s discovered are helpful to those wanting to make this key life change: Let yourself be seen, love with everything you’ve got, practice joy and gratitude, and lastly, believe you’re enough.