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Lessons on vulnerability from Brené Brown

I discovered Brené about a year ago and since I listened to her first TED talk called The Power of Vulnerability I was completely in love with her research findings and her as a person. I don’t think I’m the only one as this TED talk is one of the top 5 most viewed TED talks ever with over 40mln views. See for yourself.

Her insights are delivered in a characteristic way with a witty sense of humour mixed with the big dose of understanding of human nature and emotions. The message from the studies is clearly pointing to important human values needed to achieve success. Brené also breaks the myth of vulnerability seen as a weakness and shows it as the desired quality.

 “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” 

Brené Brown is a research professor in social work at the University of Houston where she studies courage, vulnerability, shame, empathy, authenticity, and leadership. She is an author of five books which become #1 New York Times bestsellers: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness and Dare to Lead. I’m still to read the last one but the first four I just loved. I chose them delivered as audiobooks as I really enjoy them read by her.

There is so much truth in her books, a lot to think about and to discover. Her research findings are very interesting and not always comfortable or fitting into our usual understanding of feelings. There are lots of misconceptions out there and Brené brings them to light and explains them.

Just recently, Brené’s filmed talk called ‘The Call to Courage’ was made available on Netflix. I highly recommend it if you have a chance to watch it! Brené talks there about the connection between courage and vulnerability, exposing myths and teaching very important lessons.

 “I imagined smallness in my life, didn’t take chances, didn’t step up to my power and play big because I wasn’t sure I could withstand criticism. Today I chose courage over comfort. I’m going to fail if I’m brave but I chose it anyway.”

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” 

“Vulnerability is hard, scary and feels dangerous but it is not as hard, scary and dangerous as getting to the end of our life and having to ask ourselves what if I would have shown up, what if I would have said I love you. “

10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living

One of the greatest learnings for me was to realize my authentic self, find my way and the wholehearted living. Discovering and exploring my vulnerability was a big part of this journey.

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

In her book ‘Daring Greatly’ Brené brings up the quote from Theodore Roosevelt to illustrate the power and great value of vulnerability.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

Brené recognizes that the most important human values and emotions need to be cultivated in order to live an authentic life.  She summarises her findings in “10 Guideposts for Wholehearted Living”.  I found them incredibly simple but so powerful.

  1. Cultivating Authenticity and Letting Go of What Other People Think
  2. Cultivating Self-Compassion and Letting Go of Perfectionism
  3. Cultivating Your Resilient Spirit, Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness
  4. Cultivating Gratitude and Joy, Letting go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
  5. Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith, Letting Go of the Need for Certainty
  6. Cultivating Creativity and Letting Go of Comparison
  7. Cultivating Play and Rest, Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth
  8. Cultivating Calm and Stillness and Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle
  9. Cultivating Meaningful Work, Letting Go of Self-Doubt and Supposed-To
  10. Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance. And Letting Go of Cool and Always in Control

What is vulnerability?

Brené explains how vulnerability is both the core of difficult emotions like fear, grief, and disappointment, and the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation, and creativity.

Her teaching brings a raw realization that feeling vulnerability is a requirement to open your hidden possibilities and potential. Vulnerability is often seen as a weakness but it can be actually a positive quality and Brené is trying to expose the myth.

The word “vulnerable” comes from the Latin word “vulnus” meaning a wound. It already implies a negative feeling of exposure to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally. But is it all it really means???

Bringing the raw and real self is not always easy and requires opening yourself to possible pain, failure, and defeat. But without it, there is no gain and win. The risk is always there but you will not know what is possible unless you tried. Maybe you will lose …but what if you win?!

It is often difficult to find yourself in vulnerable situations (if it’s to open yourself again after the failure of relationships, asking for help, standing up for yourself, being assertive or other) but it is only a short discomfort before potential gain.

We often feel like building a thick armour around will help us survive when we are not ready to face the world but that way we close ourselves for potential good experiences which come after that. The vulnerability can help us to build our courage and this can lead to great life successes.

You need to be vulnerable to try again to build yourself from scratch, to open yourself for possibilities, to find new ways. That’s the only way to grow, learn to win or lose again and again.

You can choose to build an armour around yourself to protect you from another fail or loss or … you can choose to be vulnerable and open yourself for every possibility.

Few more quotes

“Wholehearted living is about engaging with our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.’ It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

“Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experiences”

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.”

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”

 “Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” 

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

 “To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude, and grace.” 

“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.”

Your reflections

What are your thoughts on that?

What role does vulnerability play in your life?

How could you use it in your advantage?

14 thoughts on “Lessons on vulnerability from Brené Brown

  1. My immediate thought is this: With gratitude I found that I could use a pen name for my site, as a way to protect myself. Does this mean that I don’t want to be vulnerable?
    Sometime ago I let go of what others think, and have the daily joy of creating for myself and Louka the dog. I escaped religious dogma long ago and love frequent excursions connecting with nature and the bush with ‘dog’ as a willing, worthy, loving companion.
    In you list of 10, number 3 – “Cultivating Your Resilient Spirit, Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness”, is with gratitude how I’ve practiced connecting with my vulnerability almost daily for many years.
    What a great positive read your post has been.

    1. Thank you for sharing it Honor! Really appreciate your comment 🙂
      It is beautiful how you found a way to connect with your vulnerability by practicing gratitude.
      Citing by Brene again “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, to be this vulnerable means that we’re alive.”

  2. Hi,
    it’s the first time that I here of Brené Brown – and she is really great! Vulnerability is a kind of companion for so many people – if not of nearly all. Brené really brings it to the point. It’s hard to believe that she should be introvert. She is so funny presenting this topic on stage. And self confident.
    Thanks for sharing with us!
    All the best,
    George

  3. I am so grateful to have found this wonderful website. I discovered (or was guided) to the work of Brene Brown about 7 years ago, when I collapsed at work and had to have a significant time off to deal with my own shame and vulnerability issues. What I love about her work and writing is that she is complete honest, even if she has to be vulnerable in front of strangers to do so. She is not afraid to be wrong, to analyse data but also her very own core. I had never known anyone write and speak of shame so openly before her. I was stuck in a shame cycle, trying to numb shame with alcohol, then doing more things whilst drunk that I felt ashamed of. Her teachings, helped me see a way out. Thank you for this wonderful post, I am currently re-reading all of her books, whilst on my path to healing. I am truly grateful for dropping by.

    1. Hi Sara, thanks for your beautiful words! Wow, you really put your vulnerability out there and it looks like it is working wonderfully for you. All the best on your healing journey!!!

  4. I really love that definition you wrote about vulnerability being like a wound. That imagery was powerful for me. I remember watching Brene’s TED talk many years ago around the same time I was being trained in Acceptance and Commitment Thearpy by Russ Harris. What I loved about Russ’ teaching was teaching mindfulness techniques so that you can take actions (ACT) in accordance to your VALUES and not by your feelings or thoughts as they can change in an instant and are not always in line with who you want to be. It was such an interesting concept to me to be so objective to my experience as a human and act in a way that is authentic to my values but also so empowering to me that I actually still get to choose how I behave in any given moment despite how powerless it appears when feeling such strong emotions like fear. Listening to this talk by Brene at the same time really encouraged me to be more open, honest and authentic to my loved ones as these are values of mine that are extremely important to me. It definitely feels like an open wound but I have learnt to put fear (and other emotions) in its place and do it anyway (well, on a good day anyway! Haha). Thanks for your article 🙂

  5. Shame is something you are only able to experience, if you are aware of yourself. Only a few animals are aware of themselves, including humans. Dogs, cats and most animals are not self-aware, so they can´t feel shame. In a way, I envy them! Because shame is a horrible feeling.

    I watched the Brené Brown´s TEDtalk video, and that really changed the way I feel about vulnerability. I have always considered it a negative thing, because I hate the feeling of shame. The world we live in is all about productivity, and I´ve also got a bit too obsessed with it. Maybe because I have Asperger´s and ADD, and getting even simple things done is a victory sometimes.

    Also, the shame of “failing” in social situations because of my Asperger´s and the problems with social interaction it causes, is often unbearable. What if none of that mattered, because I´m still worthy? Maybe it´s enough that I´m doing things I want to do, despite the challenges I have, facing my vulnerability.

    1. Hi Kirsti, thanks so much for your comment and sharing your story! I think we all learn to be vulnerable and courageous but it takes time. Our society have seen vulnerability as a flaw for too long and I hope it will change.

      “You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.“

  6. Omg I just watched Brene on Netflix a couple of weeks ago. A therapist recommended it to me, and I am so glad that she did. I was sobbing in parts because it hit so close to home!

    I am so glad that you are promoting Brene’s work because more people need her message! I do not have any of her books but I think that I would really enjoy Daring Greatly, which she mentions several times in the Netflix show. I also think I could benefit from reading Rising Strong.

    Thank you for the reminder to put those books in my Amazon cart!

    1. Great to meet another fan of Brene’s work! Isn’t she awesome?
      I highly recommend her books. You can also find them in audiobook versions (on Audible) so you can listen to them in spare time.

  7. What a nice post you wrote! I really enjoyed reading it and I could not be silent about your post so I decided to leave my comment here and say Thank You! For sharing this quality post with others.
    Actually this is exactly the information that I was looking for information about the power of vulnerability and when I landed on your website and read this post, it answered all my questions in details.
    So I’m happy that you decided to write about this topic and share it with people. It’s very useful and can definitely be used as a great source for everyone who is interested in this topic.
    I will come back to your website again for sure and I’m looking forward to reading your new posts.)

    Thanks!

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