Just Call Me “Vulnerable”
“Adam and his wife were both Naked, and they felt no Shame” (Genesis 2:25).
I’ve been called “vulnerable” more than a few times since I launched this blog last July. It just happened again last night. And actually, it’s a label I’m happy—and humbled—to own. Or, at least, aspire to. If I’m going to share our life here, I don’t see much point in doing it any way other than honestly. Good. Bad. And ugly.
But then, vulnerability is sort of in vogue. Isn’t it? Made recently popular—at least in part—by Brene Brown, PhD, and her New York Times Bestselling book Daring Greatly and her viral TEDS talks on the matter. If you’re not among the almost 15 million people who have already viewed this one, it’s worth a look.
As a part of her research, Brown conducted hundreds of interviews, asking people to complete this sentence: “Vulnerability is _____.” What would you say? The answers she received ranged from asking for help to sharing an original piece of art to waiting for the doctor to call with the results of a test. Based on the great variety of responses she received, Brown ultimately defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” And no matter the situation, Brown writes, vulnerability requires two main ingredients. Truth and Courage.
She also asked participants, “How does vulnerability feel?” Hmmm. Some people answered simply. “It feels like fear, every single time.” Others waxed metaphorical, describing it as a walk on a tightrope. A rollercoaster ride. A freefall. I described it as a new sort of elaborate water sport here. But, Brown says, the answer that appeared over and over, more than any other, was one word: Naked.
Brown admits that it took her twelve years of dedicated study to come to this key conclusion: “Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences.” We can’t grow, we can’t create, we can’t heal, we can’t relate, we can’t live wholeheartedly, and we certainly can’t love…without being vulnerable.
Why, then, does the very word cause many of us to freeze in our tracks or run the other way?
Quite simply. Because there is another side to the vulnerability coin. Brene Brown’s other area of expertise. Shame.
Shame is the tape that gets stuck in our heads. The “I’m not good enough” song with the “who do I think I am?” refrain. Shame is the often paralyzing fear that I’m not important. I’m not worthy. I’m not loved. I don’t matter. I’ll never get better. I won’t succeed. Shame is the primal fear that others won’t like us if they know who we truly are.
And it’s different from guilt, Brown says. Guilt believes that I did a bad thing. Shame believes that I am a bad person.
But here’s the thing. Shame isn’t just for those of us who have endured the worst of life’s trauma. Brown stresses this point. We all have shame. No matter how adorable or exciting our pictures on facebook. No matter how clever our tweets. No matter how much we accomplish. No matter how many friends we have. No matter how many adventures we lead. No matter. No matter. No matter. We. All. Have. Shame.
It is powerful. It is destructive. And it keeps us from being vulnerable.
In fact, it is impossible to be vulnerable until we learn to deal with shame.
I like Brene Brown’s work. I find it interesting and helpful and even validating when it comes to what I am trying to do here. With This Odd House. Sharing our lives. Good. Bad. And ugly. Hoping that I can encourage you to continue to explore and share yours.
But here’s the thing. What I find most remarkable is this: Brene Brown is, in so many ways, Biblical. I don’t know if that’s a label that she would ever own or aspire to. But it’s true.
What she identified after twelve years of in-depth study, God created and ordained on the sixth day. Human beings. In community. With one another. And with Him. Absolutely vulnerable. Nothing hidden. Yes, there’s that word: Naked. Genesis chapter 2.
And then what happened? The tree, of course. The temptation. The taking. The eating. The sin. And with it, the Shame. Genesis chapter 3.
Interestingly, Brene Brown makes another distinction between guilt and shame. Guilt produces a positive move toward restoration. But “when we feel shame, we are most likely to protect ourselves by blaming something or someone, rationalizing our lapse, offering a disingenuous apology, or hiding out.”
Of course that’s what we do. It’s Adam and Eve all over again. The fig leaf clothes. The hiding in the bush. The “it’s the woman you gave me” line. And all of that.
Vulnerability forever tarnished by Shame.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Brene Brown’s plan for combating shame and embracing vulnerability is detailed and multifaceted. (You’ll just have to read the book.) In summary, it involves strategies for giving grace. Practicing gratitude. Taking every thought captive. Healing, rather than numbing, our pain. And feeding our souls. (Still sounds pretty Biblical, right?)
God’s plan is quite similar—with the added, all-important detail of the Cross. The ultimate image of Vulnerability. The only truly effective antidote for Shame.
So, call me “vulnerable” if you like. I’m trying to be. And feel free to join me out on the limb. It’s scary, for sure. But so far, I am finding that the reward is well worth the risk.
What do you think about Vulnerability and Shame?
What hinders Vulnerability in your life?
How do you combat Shame?
When you have exercised and experienced Vulnerability, what have been the rewards?