Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame.
In this TED talk, Brené explains that the roots of her research began with her desire to understand human connection; the quality that gives purpose and meaning to our lives.
Her research concluded that shame is the enemy of connection, 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?” But what allows us to feel connection? Why do some people have the ability to experience this easier than others? How can we allow others to see us as we really are, to witness our Authentic Soul?
Her research further concluded that the single defining characteristic that all people who feel connection to others in their lives have a strong sense of love and belonging and more importantly, believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.
Makes sense, right? You have to believe you’re worthy of something to receive and appreciate it. If that quality is lacking, then it often stands that people don’t want to connect with you. Think about the character Eeyore in the Winnie the Poo series. He is very hard to love because he clearly does not feel worthy to receive it.
Brené discovered that people that feel they do deserve connection all possess four qualities:
- The courage to be imperfect
- The ability to be compassionate to themselves first, and then to others
- They fully embraced vulnerability by believing that what makes them vulnerable makes them beautiful
What inspired me about the accumulation of this research was Brené’s ultimate discovery: Vulnerability is the core of shame, and fear, and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, and of love.
From the perspective of SoulBlazing™, all of us at one point in our lives are faced with the possibility of the rejection of our Authentic Soul, and because we are afraid of this rejection, we wear a mask of defense to protect ourselves—these are our Impostors. In fact, our Impostors attempt to avoid this vulnerability so much that we as a culture are now “the most in-debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history.”
Because we cannot selectively numb certain parts of our psyche, we may succeed in numbing our fear, but we also numb joy, gratitude, and happiness.
The question to ask then, is ‘Is it better to avoid rejection and never experience happiness?’ ‘Is it better to feel no pain, and consequently no joy?’ By avoiding vulnerability, we cut ourselves off from the source of truly connecting with others.
Brené’s closing advice:
- Love with our whole hearts, even if there’s no guarantee
- Practice gratitude and lean into joy
- Believe we’re enough
Easier said than done, right? Here are some suggestions that may help ease you into giving yourself permission to expose yourself, to be vulnerable, to allow others to witness your Authentic Soul:
- Begin by being vulnerable with yourself. If you’re afraid of opening up to others, that’s most likely carried over to denying yourself that opportunity with yourself. It’s time to dig deep and reveal you to you. Look in the mirror and introduce yourself to yourself. Talk about the fears you have. Talk about your dreams. List them off, and take your time. Look yourself in the eye. It will be surprisingly uncomfortable, but that’s the point and the first step to joy.
- Ask others how they’re really doing. How often does it happen that someone asks ‘How are you?’ but doesn’t really expect an answer? Surprise them and after they respond with ‘Fine’ or ‘Good’, ask them again: ‘No, really how are you?’ Watch them be caught off guard. Give them a chance to think about it. Listen to what they have to say. You’ll be surprised how relieving it will be for both of you to have shared an honest moment. Repeat this action all day!
- Spend time socially sober. So much of our society’s social interaction involves the consumption of alcohol. Night clubs, barbeques, dinner parties, art shows. What gives us “liquid courage” is also “liquid inauthenticity.” If you attend a social gathering, refrain from drinking and feel uncomfortable, you know this crutch is an issue you need to remedy. Start one-on-one and go to a museum with a friend. Get comfortable with the silence, ask them questions about themselves that don’t have to do with work.
- Talk about what you’re feeling, not what you’re doing. It’s easy to escape vulnerability by talking about the obvious, about what’s in front of you. Feelings are abstract and take introspection and thoughtfulness. Feelings are about who you are, not what you do and they leave us open to judgment. We are trained to think that feelings are weak, but there can be great freedom in talking about your emotions. And even greater strength can be attained by realizing that someone else understands you!
If you’d like to get to the bottom of which Impostors may be sabotaging your efforts toward a more authentic life, take the Impostor Quiz by clicking here. Doing so could be a fun and illuminating first step toward a life filled with connections!