brené brown hugs

February 28, 2013 | 90 Comments

Sad eyes

You guys, I’m going to meet Brené Brown.

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.) 

Fun fact: at 1:18 of that first TEDTalk is where we got our name. More hugs for you, Brené!

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Join the conversation

  • Kim

    Ah, shame. My nemesis.

    Shanny, shan. No wonder we’re soul sisters.

    I get you on the deepest level.

    God, that’s good stuff.

    (hug her for me, too)

    • Shannon

      We are soul sisters. I love having you in my life.

      I will hug her for you. xo

  • Nicky

    I love this, Shannon. I had not heard of Brené Brown before, but I have made mental note to watch her TED Talk later, because I whole-heartedly agree that empathy is paramount to healing. Because I am currently studying to be a super kick-ass counsellor, I’ve had to spend a lot of time lately reflecting on what ‘ingredients’ I plan on using in my therapeutic cocktail, and empathy and empowerment are at the top of my list. It’s really hard to move forward in your life if you feel like shit about yourself and either feel like you don’t have what it takes to change, or aren’t worth the effort (which unfortunately, I think is the case for many people). I think it’s great that you consciously practice empathy with your loved ones. It’s so important!

    In any case, I wanted to say that although you are far away, having people like you to learn from nourishes my soul. xo

    • Shannon

      You most certainly are going to make a kick-ass counsellor, Nicky. You are already are. You’ve done wonders for my heart.

      Brené is gunna change yer life! xo

  • SewTara

    How much are plane tickets? I need to stay up all night talking to you! None of this pesky sleeping all night in a room together business. I must visit.

    • Shannon

      Oh, friend! Please do jump on a plane. I believe it’s yo turn!

      All the hugs, Tara. You can call me, too! Let’s do a skype date!

  • Lynne

    You’re amazing, Shan. I know I say this again and again, but that’s mostly because there aren’t words that appropriately sum up your awesomeness. I loved Brené’s talk from the first time I watched it, but you are the only person I’ve ever encountered that fully subscribes to what she said. It’s powerful stuff, and I’m so, so glad we managed to connect. You’ve made me take a hard look at the empathy I have for myself, and I can’t thank you enough for it <3

  • Peach

    Brene is amazing. Her talk is amazing. Daring Greatly is amazing.

    But more, you are amazing. Proud of you. xox

  • Natasha

    I read this again and agree with everything Brené said except one little thing: I don’t think it’s necessary to need other people to display empathy to the things that cause us shame. I think we can be that for ourselves. It’s been so long since I read this that I forgot where it was going and when I read her saying that empathy was the antidote to shame I was in complete agreement but was expecting her to say that we need to have empathy for ourselves. Then I was surprised when she gave that power to other people! What if you do take the risk and then someone is judgey and mean, just as feared? Horrifying. But if we can not need them and be our own fonts of empathy, we can be better off. I think I’m empathetic with others BECAUSE I’m usually so empathetic with myself. I know myself well and I know that I almost always mean well, so I can forgive my own missteps.

    • Shannon

      I like this. Yes. Are you going to tell Brene, or should I?


  • Maris Tyler

    What a great piece, Shannon. I loved reading this. Its like someone else is putting what Ive been feeling for a long time into words. Peace, Love, Empathy xx

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