Shame – we all have it, in fact, many of us even fell shame on a daily basis, yet it is something that so few of us even dare to talk about. The mere mention of the word can instantly make most of us cringe and desperately seeking a change of topic whenever it is uttered. As a result, it is as if we all have collectively accepted an unspoken rule to treat shame as a taboo and to avoid the topic at any cost.
In contrast, a renowned shame researcher, Brené Brown, believes that talking about our shame and having the courage to be vulnerable to others is mandatory in order to achieve genuine connection as well as to receive love and belonging. Through the findings of her decades of research in this topic, she aims to encourage all of us to start shedding a light on our shame and muster up the courage to show others who we truly are.
I first came across Brené’s work through her poignant, witty yet simultaneously relatable TEDx talk entitled “The Power of Vulnerability” she had done in Houston, Texas back in 2011. With over 2.5 million views, it is now one of TED’s all time most popular talks. The reason for this is because Brené had strike a chord with viewers by successfully addressing the fear that most of us feel when it comes to disclosing our shame and being vulnerable to others. In her talk, she explained that many of us are afraid to share and/or talk about our shame – even with those we love and trust – because we have a deep fear of being disconnected to others. To put it simply, we are afraid that should we decide to show our vulnerability and show them who we truly are, flaws and all, they would not perceive us as good enough and hence unworthy of their love and connection.
Through her research, Brené found that our avoidance of expressing our shame and embracing vulnerability actually have the reverse effect – it hinders us from having the “good stuff” such as love, joy and trust that we desperately desire from others. She explained that the only way we can create a genuine connection with other human beings is to fearlessly make the choice to step into and embrace vulnerability. This means that we would need to bravely make the choice of being truly, deeply seen. In order to do so, we must be willing to courageously show our imperfections and believe that despite it, we are worthy of love and belonging.
She further explained that based on her findings of the thousands of interviews she conducted for her research, the only difference between those who she fondly called the “wholehearted“, those who feel that they achieved genuine connection with others, and those who are not, is the belief that they are worthy of love and belonging.
So how do we start cultivating a sense of worthiness for love and belonging?
In order to cultivate the courage to own our imperfections and begin to shine a light on our shame, Brené suggested that we need to start by extending kindness and compassion to ourselves. As it turns out, she found that as human beings, we do not have the capacity to be compassionate with other people if we are not compassionate to ourselves. The “wholehearted” people she had interviewed were able to let go of the thought of other’s expectations of who they think they should be and embraced who they are instead. They believed that their vulnerability, shame and imperfections are what makes them beautiful. The “wholehearted” are willing to put themselves out there – to do things without being given any guarantees i.e: being the first to say “I Love You” to their partner etc.
We can further build our sense of worthiness by choosing to share our shame and show our vulnerability to our loved ones and trust that they will not perceive us any less. After all, no one in this world is perfect, every single one of us have flaws and we all experience shame. As Brené so eloquently advised the audience at her TEDx talk “Choose to be authentic, be real, let ourselves be seen – deeply seen…Believe we are enough because when we work from a place where we believe we are enough, we stop screaming and start listening. When we do, we become kinder and gentler to the people around us and become gentler to ourselves“.
Perhaps if we choose to courageously become more genuine and real through learning to embrace vulnerability and to shed a light on our shame, we can collectively create a more emphatic, kinder and loving world.
Brené Brown TEDx Talk: The Power of Vulnerability