“I am afraid to tell you who I am, because if I tell you who I am, you may not like who I am, and it’s all that I have.” ~ John Powell
When University of Houston research professor Brené Brown decided to study human vulnerability, she had no idea that it would take six years of research and data analysis to finally arrive at some compelling truths on the subject.
Stepping out of her own “slug fest” of resistance to vulnerability and reevaluating it through deep, personal self-examination—and the guidance of a professional counselor—all contributed to the insights she generously and humorously shared in a 2010 Ted Talk that went viral.
Somehow I missed this gem until now.
Hardwired for connection.
In Brené’s words, “Connection is why we’re here.” As a species, we are neurologically hardwired for connection. But when this fundamental human disposition gets thwarted or suppressed, it tends to mask itself in shame—the fear of disconnection: I’m not good enough, smart enough, thin enough, experienced enough, the “right” gender with the “correct” sexual orientation enough…you know the list.
Underpinning shame, she says, is “excruciating vulnerability.” It is a deep sense of inadequacy and unworthiness and an acute absence of knowing that you are loved and belong.
Most of us deal with unfaced or unrecognized vulnerability through addiction, over-medication, playing mind games, or hiding behind perfectionism or misguided certainty—the kind of religious or ideological fundamentalism our world is so rife with today.
However we choose to mask our vulnerability, all we’re doing is numbing it.
Embracing our vulnerability.
For those who have managed to own and express their vulnerability, it means:
- Willingness to say, “I’m sorry for wrecking your dreams,” when we know we have screwed up royally.
- To breathe through waiting for the oncologist to call with the result of your biopsy.
- To invest in a relationship that may or may not work out.
- To tell your child that you don’t have all the answers.
- To attend the bereavement support group you’ve avoided for a year.
- To let others care for you when you can no longer care for yourself.
In a word, a relationship of any kind cannot survive when vulnerability is unacknowledged and unexpressed. As I note in my book, Do It Anyway: Deep Spirituality Meets Real Life:
Honesty in communication, especially between intimate companions and partners is imperative, if the relationship is to endure and flourish, instead of festering under the guise of phoniness and subterfuge. Dishonesty or any embellishment (or spin) on the truth could, and in most cases does, come back to bite us. And boy can it hurt!
Why are we afraid?
Many years ago I read a short book titled, Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? by Jesuit priest and psychologist John Powell. It was a runaway best seller. The premise of the book alone hits the nub:
“I am afraid to tell you who I am, because if I tell you who I am, you may not like who I am, and it’s all that I have.”
And therein lies the difference between those who scored high on Brown’s vulnerability research and those who scored low: the latter couldn’t get beyond their paucity of self-esteem and worthiness; whereas the former not only had a strong sense of love and belonging, they believed that they were worthy of love and belonging.
So here’s the thing: Wholeheartedly embracing our vulnerability means that we believe that we are worthy of love and belonging; and it means that we are saying a resounding “yes” to the joy, creativity, love, and liberation that human vulnerability gives birth to.
That’s it from me. Any thoughts?