Vulnerability: Insights from Brené Brown’s Work
I was recently reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown–a highly recommended book written after twelve years of researching vulnerability and it’s effects on our lives. Daring Greatly focuses on the dangers of holding back vulnerability and missing key experiences of being known and authentic with those around us. In the chapter entitled “The Vulnerability Armory”, a line stuck out to me describing the irony of vulnerability- “Vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me, but the first thing I look for in you” (p. 113). I was hit by the truth in this statement. Vulnerability feels risky. We try to protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable, yet there is a longing to have the type of relationships that foster vulnerability.
Vulnerability is a raw, authentic representation of where we are–a willingness to expose ourselves and invite others in. There is something refreshing about knowing and being known. The thing that often stands in the way of such experiences, according to Brown, is shame–that nagging fear causing questions and doubts of how you will be received if ____ (you) were really known. That blank space can be filled in with a different word for each of us, but the point is we all have shame in certain areas of our lives. So when considering our experience with shame, vulnerability is often a risk of standing up to that fear and exposing ourselves to the possibility of unknown responses. This is what makes vulnerability scary. And yes there are times where we need to protect ourselves because not everyone is safe. However, there comes a point where our efforts to protect ourselves can become destructive and cause us to miss the opportunity for a profound relational experience.
Since Brown is the expert on the topic I want to share one of her quotes describing what vulnerability is,
“Vulnerability is based on mutuality and requires boundaries and trust. It’s not oversharing, it’s not purging, it’s not indiscriminate disclosure, and it’s not celebrity-style social media information dumps. Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them. Being vulnerable and open is mutual and an integral part of the trust-building process” (p. 45).
Brown emphasizes the need for boundaries and trust when vulnerability is introduced into a relationship. These boundaries are important to help us manage the fear associated with taking this step.
So, we have determined vulnerability is positive within a trusting relationship and we long for this type of experience to go deeper and be known to those around us. However, judgment is needed to determine who the right people are and how to move towards these types of interactions.
Take a moment
Consider the efforts you take to protect yourself within relationships. Is the aim to create healthy connections or to remain unknown from those around you? If your answer is the latter, is shame getting in the way of meaningful connection by trying to protect you from possible rejection?
Identify the fear and challenge it
Ask yourself, what response you fear from others after being vulnerable with them? And then test it rather than taking your fear as fact. Even after multiple tests, your feared outcome often doesn’t come true. When we behave opposite of how we feel, and in this case seek others out, we discover a new sense of freedom and a way out of our shame.
Establish trust and start slow
Make sure you build trust with the smaller things before you begin trusting others with the larger things. Begin with the areas that feel the most comfortable for you. For example, when you are asked “How are you?” try avoiding the rote response of “good” and honestly reflect before responding.
Find Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly on our recommended reading page with a link to Amazon where you can find many of her other works.
Brown, Brené . (2015). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, NY: Avery Publishing Group.
Ashley Yergler is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has experience working with individuals, families, couples, and groups. Ashley earned her Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Trinity International University and is certified in PREPARE/ENRICH.