Saturday 25 November 2017

Why I've decided to embrace vulnerability

This resolution is a brave new step, Caitriona Palmer writes

Brené Brown has become the darling of America's queen of daytime TV, Oprah Winfrey
Brené Brown has become the darling of America's queen of daytime TV, Oprah Winfrey
Taking risks: Brené Brown took the US by storm
Brené Brown

Caitriona Palmer

It is the middle of February and I'm doing well on my list of New Year's resolutions. It's got all the usual suspects: become fit, get more sleep, pay bills on time – but there's one exception.

And this is the hardest one of all. In 2014, I am resolved to become vulnerable.

To many Irish women of a certain generation, this may sound strange, even crazy. Growing up in 1970s Dublin, I was taught never to show weakness. Life's difficulties were to be toughed out and crises faced with a stiff upper lip. Asking for help was discouraged and admitting doubts and fears was for weaklings.

But now I'm embracing my vulnerability and pledging to let my guard down.

And it's all Brené Brown's fault. Since 2010, Brené – wife, mother, academic – has been America's Vulnerability Guru, thanks to a 20-minute online video talk about vulnerability that became an internet sensation. It has become one of the most watched talks with over 13 million hits.

The author of a new book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent and Lead, she argues that we should all stop trying to be so perfect and allow our vulnerable sides to shine through.

"We wake up in the morning and we say, 'I didn't get enough sleep'. And we hit the pillow saying, 'I didn't get enough done. This is the scarcity culture'," says the Texan. "We're never thin enough, extraordinary enough or good enough – until we decide that we are. And the opposite of scarcity is not abundance. It's enough. I'm enough. My kids are enough."

In her Ted talk, she argues that we need to engage our vulnerable sides, to show a little courage and take a risk when there are no guarantees of success – like being the first in a relationship to say, 'I love you', or to attempt pregnancy after yet another devastating miscarriage.


The astonishing success of her TED talk led to her New York Times best-selling book, and she has become a sought-after corporate speaker and the darling of America's queen of daytime TV, Oprah Winfrey (inset).

In the talk, Brené discusses her academic research and her discovery that the single most important difference between people who can connect and those who can't is their willingness to be vulnerable. She also discusses a 2007 nervous breakdown that her therapist refers to as a "spiritual awakening".

"Spiritual awakening sounds better than breakdown, but I assure you, it was a breakdown," Brené says.

"In our culture, one of the greatest myths is that vulnerability is a sign of weakness," the 47-year-old says. "The more unpredictable and uncertain the world gets, the more critical and cynical we become. The more cynical people are, the less we want to show our true selves because it is hard to be ridiculed all the time.

"We protect ourselves from the world by armouring up and that armour keeps us from accessing the things that we are most desperate for," she says.

To Brené, "vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage". She says that it's okay to expose our fears, to take emotional risks – and that positive outcomes will emerge if we do. It's a message she's preaching to corporate America, advising top Fortune 500 CEOs that in order to achieve success they must talk about failure.

Brené's feel-good message, I point out, may prompt some excessive eye-rolling in Ireland. She's used to this.

"I get that people will read this and think that it's North American self-help hoo-hah but what I would say as you are rolling your eyes and shaking your head is to think about your life.

"Think about the relationships you have with your partner, with your children, with your parents. Are you all in? Are you living and loving with your whole heart?

"The armour that we wear – eye-rolling, cynicism, criticism, dismissing – is the way we protect ourselves from things that hurt us," she says.

Brené believes that her initial reluctance to embrace vulnerability – and the reluctance of others around her – is due, in part, to what she refers to as our culture of shaming, a "scarcity culture" where we struggle with the 'never enough' problem, believing that what we have is never quite sufficient.

As a result, we numb ourselves against the worst effects of this scarcity culture, Brown says, with alcohol, food, drugs and social media. This is particularly true in this country, Brené says, noting that she receives a huge amount of correspondence from Irish people struggling with Ireland's own peculiar brand of scarcity culture; a country where "addiction is laughed off as a cultural norm" and where generations of secrecy and shame have ruined many an innocent life. Brené says, we must allow ourselves to be "deeply seen, vulnerably seen".

Love with our whole hearts, even though there is no guarantee. Practise gratitude and lean into joy. Believe – even amidst the crazy competitiveness of our daily lives – that you are enough. It's a message I intend to take to heart in this year.

"If we want to be brave, we have to be vulnerable," says Brené. "That's daring greatly."

Brené's top tips on how to show your vulnerable side:

* Indulge your vulnerability hangover: If you have woken up in the morning cringing at some revelation you made the night before, don't be too hard on yourself.

* The courage to be vulnerable means taking off your armour: tone down the eye-rolling and cynicism that keep others at a distance. Show your hurt and disappointment.

* Vulnerability is not a weakness, it can be one of our greatest strengths: face uncertainty, exposure and take emotional risks.

* Raise children who are comfortable with their own vulnerability: cultivate their worthiness, allow them to fail, allow them to hope and struggle.

* When you shut yourself off from vulnerability, you distance yourself from experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.

Brené Brown's book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead is out now.

Irish Independent

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