Vulnerability with Dr Brene Brown

A few months ago, a colleague in Sydney told me about Brené Brown coming to Australia.  I did a double take.  THE Brené Brown was coming to Australia.  I knew right away that I had to see her live because so much of what she speaks about is so relevant to each and every one of us who try to pitch up and show up in life. So, off I went on the 2nd of August to hear her speak about leadership and in this half day workshop she shared some insights into vulnerability that apply to people from all walks of life.

For those of you who might not be aware of who I am talking about, I’ll shed some light into who she is before I go on to talk about what her message is. Brené Brown is a social scientist who has been researching vulnerability, courage, empathy, and shame for the past 20-years. She has written several books on these topics and has her own Netflix show – “The Call to Courage” – where she shares her insights on these topics. She also has several You Tube videos that you can check out here. Now you’re probably wondering how on earth can we measure vulnerability, courage, empathy, and shame.  How can we quantify these emotions?  Brené uses an interview style to gather her answers and then analyses the data.  She spends a lot of her time asking people all over the world and from all walks of life about different life situations to determine what the data tells us.  

The data on shame tells us that when someone feels ashamed – their inner talk looks something like: “I am a bad person” or “I am a mistake”.  This is different to guilt which leads to inner talk such as “I did something bad”.  We often see shame in people with conditions like Depression, OCD, Eating Disorders, Addictive Behaviours, and people who struggle with anger and aggression.  The sense of shame that is felt leads to unhelpful behaviours because sitting with those uncomfortable feelings is hard.  It’s hard so we “armour up” as Brené says.  We put on our armour to protect ourselves from feeling bad – to protect ourselves from feeling Vulnerable.  When we “armour up” it can look like this: 

  • Perfectionism

  • Scarcity

  • Numbing

  • Always Knowing 

  • Cynicism and Sarcasm

  • Power Over

  • Weaponising Fear

  • Hustling for our Worth

The thought of putting down this armour can feel scary and leaves us feeling vulnerable.  However, the very struggle and energy we put into maintaining the armour provides us with a self-fulfilling prophecy because it maintains our armour.  It makes sure that the armour stays on. This provides short-term relief, but it gives us long term pain.  We cannot be vulnerable without being courageous.  When we talk about vulnerability, we’re not talking about over-sharing your life story on social media or telling everyone in your life about it.  When we talk about vulnerability, we mean putting down the armour.  We mean leaning into discomfort and sitting with it. Letting it be, rather than struggling with it. Sitting with vulnerability hurts!  But struggling hurts even more in the long run. 

The other thing we need to do when being vulnerable is, we need to have healthy and permeable boundaries.  Boundaries is simply about telling others in an open, honest, and respectful way about what is and is not ok.  This seems easier said than done because a lot of us want approval by others.  We care what others think.  We want to be seen as a good and kind person.  However, this does not mean that we have to be a doormat. It also doesn’t mean that we have to push people away.  Boundaries can also include asking for help.  Having healthy boundaries in our relationships can provide us with the support we need so we can face vulnerability. 

So, take a look at what’s going on for you in this moment.  Is your armour preventing you from moving forward?  Is your armour preventing you from stepping into the arena of life? Asking for help to allow yourself to be vulnerable is hard but our team is here to help.  Give us a call on (03) 9882 8874 to arrange an appointment with one of our team if your armour is getting in the way of life for you. 

Written by Dr Celin Gelgec – Clinical Psychologist and Director at MWG. 

Thank you to Dr Brené Brown for all of her amazing work into Vulnerability, Shame, Courage and Empathy.  Learn more about Brené Brown here.