O.K. January was clearly not my month. My mom was in the hospital in NYC, tons of deadlines and 3 nasty vertigo attacks from Menieres that rattled me to the core. One even ended with me in emergency, however, it involved mistakenly taking ginger root instead of real Gravolä(a savior when it comes to vertigo) and so doesn’t really count as an emergency. More like a typical “Lori adventure” with my husband along for the ride.
I know I’m lucky. I’ll be fine and February has proven to be a better month, so far (have I told you how superstitious I am?). The Menieres in my right ear is manageable and in my history of dealing with it, I can go long spans where other than a low salt diet it barely affects my everyday life. But nevertheless, this time, I was left a bit shaken, emotional and relying on inner strength down in my toes to just deal. Definitely NOT my “happy place”.
Truthfully, the hardest part for me has been the vulnerability that I’ve felt, knowing that at times I might need a little extra help. That I might not be able to do something myself or in the manner I would choose. “Little Miss Independent and Capable” me has felt more like “Miss embarrassed and flawed”. Blech. So when I stumbled upon Brene Brown’s video on Ted Talks I knew I had to share. After I got over the horror of seeing basically describe "me, I actually learned a lot. I knew I had to share the talk because I know from you, my readers, that many of you share a similar struggle with vulnerability.
I’ve long admired Brene Brown and in my column “Embracing your inner Lucy”, used her book “The Gift of Imperfection” as a proof point. She is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and has the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. But to me she is so much, she is funny, sarcastic, self-deprecating and real. I like that.
Through primarily qualitative research from focus groups, interviews, and research, Brown tries to answer some pretty heavy questions like, How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough – that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy? Like I said, pretty meaty stuff but if you read through it, it really just asks, how can we let our vulnerabilities show, get comfortable with them? Even learn to embrace them? Why? Because Brown believes that this is how true connection are made. If you are thinking, what does she mean by vulnerability, it can be anything that makes you feel threatened or unprotected. Brown asked her followers on Twitter what made them feel vulnerable and the hundreds of responses ranged from things likje saying “I love you first”, waiting for the doctor to call back with test results, being turned down, to things like initiating sex with your partner or having to ask for help from anyone to a partner, a friend or a stranger.
Brown’s December 2010 Ted Talk, while long, is so worth watching. She speaks candidly and actually quite comically about her own struggle with vulnerability that popped up as a result of her research to understand connections in others.
The initial project sought to answer the question, what makes some people more connected than others? (Connection, meaning a strong sense of love and belonging.) Brown found that those people who were “more connected” were so because they had the courage to be imperfect and embrace their vulnerability. They connected to people because they could be authentic. They saw their vulnerability as beautiful, not always easy, not always comfortable, but necessary and yes, beautiful. Human.
Conversely, those that were “disconnected” emotionally struggled with issues around their vulnerabilities and “shame of their imperfections”, not wanting themselves to be truly seen by others. This prevented true connections. Brown defines shame as the fear of disconnection. (Is their something about me, that if people see it, I won’t be worthy of connection?)
Well, Brown admits to being appalled by her findings. As a researcher who tries to “control and predict”, she couldn’t stomach the fact that the key to connection is actually living with the vulnerability. Not trying to fix it up, organize it or push it to the side. But she herself, could not possibly, “lean into the discomfort” (as they say in the world of psycology), of being vulnerable, so how could her research possible show that this was a good thing! She admits it sent her straight into therapy. She spent over a year with a psychologists’ psychologist (or as she says, one that could ‘detect the bullshit factor’) that helped her through the process of examining her own vulnerabilities.
She learned that if we numb our vulnerabilities, we run the risk of numbing lots of positive emotions too, like joy and happiness, because we can’t selectively numb. It is all or nothing. So instead we perfect and control whether it be our lives, our kids, our kitchens or our work …
Brown openly admits that this year saved her life. It changed her perception, changed the way she lived and changed the way she loved.
“Vulnerability pushed, I pushed back. I lost the fight, but probably won my life back.”
And so Brown inspired me to continue on my own path of authenticity and I truly hope she can do the same for some of you. You show me yours and I will show you mine .
When do you feel most vulnerable? Do you have the courage to be imperfect?
Let our selves be seen and deeply seen, vulnerably seen
Love our selves with our whole hearts even though there is no guarantee
Practice gratitude and joy
Believe that we are enough
Then can be kinder and gentler to others and to our selves