Dr. Brene Brown is a researcher. She has spent the last thirteen years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame.
I believe her work is invaluable.
Here are a few things she has taught me this week:
“I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
According to Brene, vulnerability is not weakness. But it is terrifying. And because it is so terrifying/threatening we learn at a young age to protect ourselves from it.
“As children we found ways to protect ourselves from vulnerability, from being hurt, diminished, and disappointed. We put on armor; we used our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as weapons; and we learned how to make ourselves scarce, even to disappear. Now as adults we realize that to live with courage, purpose, and connection – to be the person whom we long to be – we must again be vulnerable. We must take off the armor, put down the weapons, show up, and let ourselves be seen.”
Brene teaches there are three ways we arm ourselves against vulnerability (in order to protect ourselves from disappointment, shame, hurt, etc.). Those three ways are foreboding joy, perfectionism, and numbing.
Foreboding joy is “the paradoxical dread that clamps down on momentary joyfulness.”
“In a culture of deep scarcity – of never feeling safe, certain, and sure enough – joy can feel like a setup. We wake up in the morning and think, ‘Work is going well. Everyone in the family is healthy. No major crises are happening. The house is still standing. I’m working out and feeling good. Oh, shit. This is bad. This is really bad. Disaster must be lurking right around the corner’….We’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop….Once we make the connection between vulnerability and joy, the answer is pretty straightforward: We’re trying to beat vulnerability to the punch. We don’t want to be blindsided by hurt. We don’t want to be caught off-guard.”
Perfectionism is “believing that doing everything perfectly means you’ll never feel shame.”
“Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule following, people pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: ‘I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.’ Perfectionism is the belief system ‘If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.’”
And numbing is “the embrace of whatever deadens the pain of discomfort and pain.”
“Statistics dictate that there are very few people who haven’t been affected by addiction. I believe we all numb our feelings. We may not do it compulsively and chronically, which is addiction, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t numb our sense of vulnerability. And numbing vulnerability is especially debilitating because it doesn’t just deaden the pain of our difficult experiences; numbing vulnerability also dulls our experiences of love, joy, belonging, creativity, and empathy. We can’t just selectively numb emotion. Numb the dark and you numb the light.”
My mind is spinning with all of this new information, new vocabulary, new insight and new understanding.
I have had numerous “light bulb” moments this week but I think the most significant was realizing that I use foreboding joy to protect myself from vulnerability. I do this all the time. Maybe every day. And somehow, for all these years, I have had no idea that that was what I was doing or why or that it had a name!
This feels so, so, so significant and I have only just begun to unpack it. I’m sure you will hear about this again in the near future as I continue to process it all.
For now though, I would love to know,
Did these ideas connect with you? Do you use one piece of armor more than the others? Would you be interested in learning more about this or maybe connecting in person to talk about it? I would be thrilled to hear your thoughts on all of this.
Also, stay tuned! I have more to tell you about Brene, including the antidotes she discovered for our armor.
So very thankful to be processing this life-changing work.