"...let's think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can't ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment's notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow - that's vulnerability. Love is uncertain. It's incredibly risky. And loving someone leaves us emotionally exposed. Yes, it's scary and yes, we're open to being hurt, but can you imagine your life without loving or being loved?"
~ Brene Brown
Over the last ten years Brene Brown has been involved in research on topics ranging from vulnerability, courage, and authenticity, to empathy and shame. This TED talk which went viral (viewed over 6 million times in 44 languages) is poignant, funny and profound. More importantly, it will change your life if you let it seep in.
We are all born with a deep neurological need for connection. Shame is fear of disconnection. We ask ourselves "is there something about me that if people see it or know, will make me unworthy of connection?" This fear of disconnection causes us to put up our defenses, hide, and blame. As you can imagine, it does a number on relationships. The thing is, we all have it, it's universal. People who do not experience shame are incapable of human connection. The problem is not in having shame, the problem is in what we do with it. Blame, according to Brown, "is a way to discharge pain and discomfort". It creates the illusion of protecting us but ultimately it cuts us off from those we most love, and perhaps even more importantly, from ourselves. To protect ourselves from the perceived threat of vulnerability we try to make everything certain, we try to make ourselves right. The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are. Our defenses go up.
What can we do? Brown proposes from insights gleaned in her research that we strive to be "Whole Hearted People". We can strive to be people who by definition have the courage to be imperfect, practice compassion with themselves and others, and have connection as a result of authenticity. These are people who fully embrace vulnerability. How do we do this? We let ourselves be seen - deeply seen - flaws and all. We love with our whole hearts even though there is no guarantee, taking a risk even with a spouse who has perhaps hurt us. We practice joy and gratitude. And lastly, and most importantly, we believe that we are enough. This means that we walk the most delicate of paths where we believe we are worthy of love and kindness and insist on it, and simultaneously find it in our hearts to have empathy and understanding for the broken ways it can present at times in our life; drawing on empathy to find our way back to each other when we loose our way.