I don’t know how or when, but it will happen. And when it does, I’m going to hug the shit out of that lady.
I used to say I should come with a warning label:
Severe emotional damage may cause neediness and require frequent reassurance. May appear unable to manage criticism, but deeply desires awareness and growth. Will overshare.
The label would have suited me at the time. Vulnerability wasn’t strength of character so much as something beyond my control, fuelled by fear and panic. Like someone frenzied and drowning. I was a Hot Mess.
If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment.
A close friend and I broke up a couple years ago. My version of what went down is that she essentially told me my vulnerability was too much. That version is diluted with my wounded insecurity, and I won’t deny it’s tainted. Or that, you know, I possibly maybe had a part in our demise.
That break up felt like a rejection of my whole person. Of my existence. And then I saw Brené’s TEDTalk. And I cried through Brené’s TEDTalk. It propelled me into a place of healing and self-acceptance. I was given research-based (SCIENCE) permission to be me: vulnerable. Vulnerability as a motherfucking gift, yo.
Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.
I used to be ashamed of not only my gremlins, but of my compulsion to parade them openly. In her 20-minute talk, Brené torched that second layer of shame. She showed me my open spirit could be rerooted in health. I could move through fear to choose vulnerability as a conduit to connected, authentic relationships.
How do you thank someone for that? You live differently. You stand a little taller. You love yourself a lot harder. And you hug the shit out of that someone when you finally meet.
Be ready for me, Brené.
She was recently interviewed by Roman Krznaric.
Empathy is the antidote to shame
But if shame is such a burden, what are we supposed to do about it? The answer is developing ‘shame resilience’, and it is empathy that is the ‘real antidote to shame’. What does she mean? ‘If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.’
So we can’t really get over shame without other people. We can’t keep shutting it out by keeping ourselves busy (or distracted). We can’t wish it away by denying our feelings. What we really need to do is seek connection with someone who is going to lend us an empathic ear, someone who is able to listen to us and endeavour to understand our fears, anxieties and uncertainties.
The implication, as I see it, is that our emotional health requires socially positioning ourselves within a community of empathy. This is not to say that every friend we have has to be an empathic genius. But rather we should be wary of being without empathic support. If you drew a map of your social support network, how many people could really offer you the gift of deep empathy?
Of course, the flip side is that if we want people to display empathy towards us, this is most likely to happen when we display our vulnerability to them. Without exposing ourselves, making that human connection we need to combat shame is nearly impossible.
I’ve mentally sketched out a map of my social support network. It drips empathy. You know why? Because I offer it. Because I live it. If you carry shame that has you believing you’re completely fucked and unloveable—I’m your person. I believe in the gift of deep empathy because I know the kind of healing it offers.
I used to tell my people how lucky I am to have them in my life. To be loved by them. Well fuck that! My world isn’t full of compassion and authenticity because I’m lucky. My world has you in it because I attract what I am: love and vulnerability. Not only am I NOT a burden—I’m a gift.
I’ve always been a gift.
Like Truthfully on Facebook. I’m vulnerable there. (Not in a naked way.)