The Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown
One Line Summary
Love and own every part of yourself to death
Why it’s Awesome
The first time I heard about this concept of vulnerability I immediately dismissed it. I had tried all that “sensitive” shit with people, especially women, and it got me nowhere. My life wasn’t anything like I wanted. I even got angry at people who suggested I needed to be more open.
At best, I saw vulnerability as feel good bullshit. At worst, it was self-sabotaging and idiotic. But as they say in self-development circles, all beliefs are just vehicles. And I eventually came to a point where I had to start dropping these beliefs as well.
Brene Brown is a researcher that studies shame and people who she calls “the whole hearted”. The Power of Vulnerability is actually not a book, it’s recording of a live lecture she gave where she explains her findings. The speech is inspiring, filled with good humor, extremely informative and most importantly, vulnerable. It reminds me a lot of Radical Honesty.
The first thing Brown does is attack the belief that I originally held, which is that vulnerability equated to weakness and idiocy. Vulnerability is actually extreme strength and courage for the very reason why I thought being vulnerable was moronic; it leaves you open to attack.
Yes, when you show vulnerability you are opening yourself up to criticism and shame. You are opening yourself up for people to dismiss the very truth of who you are. Many people will not like or understand you. That’s why it takes courage. Is there anything more terrifying to the human mind than disapproval?
The truth is that most people, including myself, spend their lives mostly in “protection mode”. We are on guard always for things that might threatened our petty self-image. But as Brown points out, how can we honestly create or experience life from this way of living? I love writing these blog posts, but I do so knowing full well that many people are going to think my writing sucks or that my ideas are stupid. It just can’t be helped if I want to live the life I want.
When you refuse to be vulnerable and put on a “front”, you’re also squandering your own self-esteem and ability to feel good internally. The subconscious message of putting up a “front” is that who you are naturally isn’t enough. How could you ever feel good about yourself in this way?
Finally, for all you hard-nosed success people who are just interested in results, realize that vulnerability to the key to your next level of achievement. Otherwise there will always be a ceiling to what you can accomplish.
To see the logic of this isn’t hard. Risk is an inevitable part of success and when you’re still in “protection mode” there’s only so far you can go. Vulnerability is the key to all great works of art, which is why being an artist is one of the most stressful professions there is. You are constantly being judged for what you’re creating and you’ll never make something great trying to live up to other people’s expectations.
A celebrity’s power also comes from vulnerability. They have the ability to have cameras thrown in their face at just about any time and still act “normal”. How many people honestly believe they could handle that kind of pressure? I know right now I couldn’t.
So what’s stopping people who always being vulnerable? It isn’t their stories about why they need to put on a front. It’s shame. The feeling of shame is “there’s something wrong with me”, as opposed to guilt, which is “I did something wrong”. Shame is personal.
Shame is also omnipresent. We all use it and others use it on us. Any “should” statement in your life is probably based around shame.
“I should respect my parents because…otherwise I would be a bad son/daughter”
“I should work hard because…I don’t want to be one of those lazy people”
“I shouldn’t enjoy sex because…sex is a sin”
The cost of trying to get people to act the way we want through shame is a diminishing of self-esteem and a society of paranoid citizens constantly looking over their shoulder to see if people are judging them.
Thus the first step towards vulnerability is self-acceptance. We have to own every part of us, even the parts we may not like. This is living in reality. Regardless of how we want ourselves to be, we are right now how we are. We can work to change in the future, but nothing in this moment can change that.
Why Does It Suck
If you’ve read some of Brene Brown’s other books like The Gifts of Imperfections, you’re going to see a lot of crossover material. Some people also might be turned off by some of her nervous ticks while lecturing.
The only other minor criticism I have about this book is that it’s not necessarily wrong to put on an act. The problem comes from how much you believe in your own act. This is an extremely in depth topic on its own I will go into in later reviews.
The Wrap Up
Vulnerability is a big struggle for me right now. I relate to Brene Brown as she explains her struggles to put these ideas into practice in her life. The benefits are so obvious but true authenticity still scares the shit out of me. It’s an ideal to move towards, not something you either have or don’t have.
If these ideas at all interest you, buy this audiobook. She goes into far more depth than I go in this review and will clear up any questions you have. If not, don’t worry about it. It may just not be the right time for you. Keep it in mind and come back to it later.