I remember the day I truly understood the power of vulnerability. It was 20 something years ago and I was in a mother’s group. A scary place to be for a first-time mom. I used to go there every week because I wanted to connect with other people. The early days of motherhood can be very isolating. Every week I would go and every week I would find myself reaching my car and bursting into tears. It was not because I was in a ‘mean girls’ club, not at all. They were lovely, too lovely. They all seemed to have it so together. They looked immaculate, cooking amazing gourmet food for their babies and the babies were geniuses, all reaching milestones before their time. I felt so much shame and unworthiness, a failure as a mother. I felt so disconnected to the group.
Then one day a miracle happened, an earth angel came to me with the purest gift. It was one of the members in the group and on that day, she had a meltdown. She burst into tears and went on a tangent about how hard this mothering thing was and how she felt she was unraveling and having issues with her husband and the washing was piling up and she has not slept in days and so on and so forth.
I remember exhaling eight months of air at that moment. I could breathe. I felt so validated in my insecurities and so relieved that I was not alone. Then a funny thing happened, it seems like that girl was not only my earth angel, all the other girls who I held up on such a pedestal also started coming forward with their troubles and woes and there was so much love, support, and connection that day and every mother’s group after then. There was such a deep connection, and I am still friends with most of them to this day.
You see the thing is, the same wall that tries to keep out disappointment is the same wall that keeps out happiness and love and connection. Brene Brown did a study on vulnerability and what she found was this. We all strive for connection, that is how we are neurobiological wired, it gives us purpose and meaning in life yet when we carry shame, we have a fear of disconnection. We think if people know or see something about me that I will not be worthy of connection. We all carry some shame and yet the less we talk about it, the more we have it. If you put shame in a petri dish and covered it, it expands, yet if you expose it to oxygen, it dissipates. If we could own our shame, we would have no shame. So, what underpins shame? I am not good enough, thin enough, smart enough, rich enough, I AM NOT ENOUGH!
Watch Brene Brown’s Ted talk here
Brene studied groups of people around vulnerability and what she found out was this. Those people who had a sense of love and belonging felt they were worthy of love and belonging. Those that did not, did not believe they were worthy of it. The first group, Brene referred to as ‘Wholehearted’ people. They accepted the good and the challenging with equal measure. They did not see vulnerability as good or bad, they just saw it, as necessary. This group of people had these three things in common.
- Courage – the courage to be imperfect.
- Compassion – to be kind to themselves first and then to others. Life is a mirror; we cannot give what we do not have. If we judge ourselves, we will judge others. If we are kind to ourselves, we will be kind to others. We can not squeeze a lemon and expect and orange to come out.
- Connection – This is a result of authenticity and a willingness to let go of who they thought they should be to be who they are.
We must do this for connection. We can see from my story at the beginning, my earth angel had the courage to be imperfect, she was kind to herself and therefore kind to the rest of the group and she gave us permission to do the same and so we all connected on a much deeper level. Whereas my shame kept me disconnected from the group.
We try so hard to numb our vulnerabilities and that is why we have an obese, addictive, and over-medicated population. The thing is we cannot selectively numb emotion. We cannot say, fear, shame, grief, the disappointment I do not want to feel you, I only want to feel happiness, excitement, and joy. When we numb the negative emotion, we numb all emotion. Then we fall into a cycle, I eat because I am miserable, and I am miserable because I eat.
We need to lean into the messiness of life because flowers do not grow on marble, they flourish in the messy soil. We would not know happiness if we did not know sadness. The truth is, situations themselves are neutral, it is the story we put onto them that cause us our suffering. If we learn to love ourselves unconditionally and learn to embrace our imperfections, we will be so much kinder to ourselves and show up with kindness to all those around us. If we could lean into the fear and discomfort with gratitude and if we can love without any guarantees, if we could open ourselves to be vulnerable, then we will shift from living a half-hearted life and move into wholehearted living. We will stop sabotaging ourselves with paradoxical intention and we will appreciate all the beauty life has to offer. If we learn to understand that allowing ourselves to be seen, truly seen, is the birthplace of Joy, love, and connection. Once we master this, we will see that vulnerability is not a weakness but is indeed our greatest strength.