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“Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.”

June 13, 2013

There’s two things that I’ve learned in the last year. The first is vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous… Vulnerability is not weakness. I define vulnerability as emotional risk,exposure, uncertainty. It fuels our daily lives. And I’ve come to the belief — this is my 12th year doing this research — that vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage –to be vulnerable, to let ourselves be seen, to be honest. – Brené Brown, Listening to Shame

My sophomore year of college I made the New Year’s resolution to “Be Brave.” It’s the only one I have ever kept. The imperative hung on a poster on my wall that year (along with a poor crayon drawing of a T-Rex.) And while the poster is now on another wall, the proposition to be brave has stuck with me.

Sometimes, it’s been a battle cry. I repeated it to myself as I first got up the nerves to audition for the Vagina Monologues. I needed fellow HBer Emily to come with me, but the audition was the beginning of a long involvement with V-Day and an ongoing connection with the play.

Sometimes, it’s been that push. A continuing nudge to not settle, and to take risks in order to attain my goals. It’s been my motto through starting new projects and making big moves and deciding to go back to school.

Lately, it’s an encouragement to be seen. To resist the temptation to hide behind social conventions and insecurity and instead fully connect with the people around me. It’s about the daily bravery of being true and honest with myself and to sharing myself with others.

I believe there is bravery in resisting shame. I don’t achieve this all the time, but it’s something I aspire to. In Weightless’s post on combating body anxiety, she quotes Shauna Niequist from Bread & Wine: A Lover Letter to Life Around the Table on how shame operates:

That’s what shame does…. It whispers to us that everyone is as obsessed with our failings as we are. It insists that there is, in fact, a watchdog group devoted completely to my weight or her wrinkles or his shrinking bank account. Shame tricks us into believing there’s a cable channel that runs video footage of us in our underpants twenty-four hours a day, and that all of the people we respect have seen it. Shame tells us that we’re wrong for having the audacity to be happy when we’re clearly terrible. Shame wants us to be deeply apologetic for just daring to exist.

I recently came across a series of Ted Talks by Brené Brown about vulnerability and shame that ring completely true to me. She argues that  shame boils down to fear of disconnection:

Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection? The things I can tell you about it: it’s universal; we all have it. The only people who don’t experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection. No one wants to talk about it, and the less you talk about it the more you have it. What underpinned this shame, this “I’m not good enough,” — which we all know that feeling: “I’m not blank enough. I’m not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, promoted enough.” The thing that underpinned this was excruciating vulnerability, this idea of, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.

So how do we fully connect? We allow ourselves to be vulnerable:

This is what I have found:  to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — and that’s really hard, and I can tell you as a parent, that’s excruciatingly difficult — to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.” And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, “I’m enough,” then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.

Being vulnerable can be scary. We take a risk when we share ourselves fully – we risk rejection, ridicule, embarrassment. But there is a huge reward in allowing ourselves to be enough. To being who we are and connecting fully with others. So go ahead, happy bodies, and Be Brave!

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