Brené Brown on the Power of Vulnerability

"The one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we're not worthy of connection." - Brené Brown

"The one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we're not worthy of connection." - Brené Brown

Ever wonder how some people are able to move through life with a strong sense of love and belonging, while others struggle for it? Watch this excellent TED Talk from researcher-storyteller Brené Brown, who digs deep into the data to reveal the secrets of a group she calls the "wholehearted," people who are able to make meaningful connections through their embrace of vulnerability.

Brown's discovery began when she started looking for the differences between people in these two groups:

There was one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it, and that was that people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they're worthy of love and belonging. That's it. They believe they're worthy.
The one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we're not worthy of connection. [Tweet this]

Another word for this fear that we're not worthy of connection is shame, and Brown argues that vulnerability is the source of shame, as well as joy. The difference is whether we're afraid of our vulnerability, or whether we are able to embrace it. 

Vulnerability is the core of shame, and fear, and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it's also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.

If shame, or our belief that we are not worthy, is what prevents us from feeling connected, how can we go about overcoming that belief? Brown offers concrete, data-driven advice that we can all use:

 

1. Have Courage

Courage gives us the strength to see ourselves as we truly are, and to allow ourselves to be deeply seen by others. "The root of the word courage is cor - the Latin word for heart," Brown explains. "In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant 'To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart.' Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad."

 

2. Have Compassion

Elsewhere in her work, Brown states, "I think compassion is a deeply held belief that we're inextricably connected to each other." Compassion is the power to be kind to others, but also to be kind to ourselves. Through her research, Brown has discovered that the people who have the most compassion also tend to be those with the best boundaries: a strong, internal sense of what's ok and what's not ok.  These boundaries give us the strength to make compassion sustainable, by defining what we'll give and what we won't give. As for people who test our compassion, Brown advocates making the generous assumption that people are doing the best they can. "I'll never know whether people are doing the best they can or not, but when I assume they are, it makes my life better." 

 

3. Feel Gratitude

Sometimes the things in our life that makes us feel the most vulnerable are the things that instill the most fear. Instead of letting fear take over, Brown advocates the mindful practice of gratitude and joy in moments of vulnerability: "I'm grateful to feel this vulnerable, because it means I'm alive." 

 

4. Realize That You Are Enough

This can be one of the hardest things for people who are self-critical, but the embrace of vulnerability demands that we try to be content in who we are, "because when we work from a place that says 'I'm enough,' we stop screaming and start listening. We're kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we're kinder and gentler to ourselves."