What Brené Brown's 'The Power of Vulnerability' can teach us all
As a teenager I never quite knew who I was. I wasn’t 100% sure of my place in the world, what I stood for or what truly interested me. I tried to go along with the status quo but that wasn’t right and I never quite felt like I fit in in high school. My safe haven was my dance classes, but other than that I felt very confused, alone and misunderstood. I discovered poetry, and later on YouTube slam poetry, and then Ted Talks. During a late night online search to find myself, although this sounds like a joke it is true, I came across Brené Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability speech.
Brené Brown is a researcher and self-proclaimed storyteller from Texas. She introduced me to sociology, even before I knew it was a thing, and she shaped my analysis of the world through her innovative talks and quotes. She has spent the last two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy and how these link to one another. She talks with a deep insight and confidence, but her research is laced with humour and anecdotes.
Sat in my bedroom in 2011, I remember desperately trying to find something that felt ‘Annabelle’. Something other than dancing and old romantic tales that I understood and was interested in. Enter, Brené Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability.
Vulnerability is defined as ‘the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally‘, and has connotations often associated with weakness, fragility and fear. There is a sense of shame linked with vulnerability that, as a society, we are taught to conceal. This is why people hide stories, experiences and/or beliefs which make them feel vulnerable within themselves, in their social circles or wider society. However, we can also conceal who we really are from others as we experience a sense of vulnerability when we feel exposed or judged. An example of this would be, and I am guilty as charged for this one, when someone over apologies. Unnecessary apologising can be a sign of emotional vulnerability as one wishes to be accepted into the wider society they find themselves.
Brown goes on to highlight the link between vulnerability and love. People feel vulnerable when they express their true selves because they are unsure of what will happen. Inner doubts creep in; will my parents still love me? Will my friends still like me? Will I still have my job? Will I be disowned? Kicked off the squad? Etc....But, in order to receive love, we must believe we are worthy of love. Those who know me very well will see this link coming, but my most favourite book ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ has a very similar sentiment delivered in the line ‘We accept the love with think we deserve’ (maybe the universe has been finding different ways to teach me the same lessons all along). We must believe that our vulnerabilities don’t make us any less. Our imperfections do not define us.
Not being perfect is a vulnerability and as a perfectionist by nature this is something I struggle with a lot. But this is why we are scared to be imperfect and show this side of ourselves to the world - vulnerability isn’t meant to be fun. Therefore we are a filter obsessed society who have a younger generation working themselves into exhaustion or severe mental health battles. We are scared to be ourselves and deem ourselves unworthy of love. We try to numb this uncomfortable vulnerability with alcohol, drugs, work, school, eating disorders, skin picking disorders, prescriptions, perfectionism, blame passing and shopping; but you cannot selectively numb emotion. When one goes, they all go. What we have been missing all along is this; our vulnerability is what makes us beautiful.
Nine years ago I sat in the very same room I write this article in now. I was sixteen and had no idea how much that one twenty minute video would come to impact my life. I have since watched multiple Brené Brown talks and listened to her speak on podcasts, and I would recommend her work to anybody. I am still learning who I am, and I don’t believe I will ever fully know, as each day I learn and evolve and become a new and more well-rounded person.
But I will finish with a quote:
‘You have to walk through vulnerability to get to courage...so embrace the stuck.’