How's this for a conversation stopper: "I'm reading the most fascinating book about shame and vulnerability."
Head cocked to the side, eyes narrowed, skepticism emanates from her eyeballs. "Hmm. Really."
"Yeah. It's by Brené Brown. She's a shame and vulnerability researcher. It is amazing. Absolutely transformative."
"Huh. That's, uh, interesting."
"More than interesting. Mind-blowing. Life-changing."
And so it goes. This is the reaction that people have when I tell them that I am reading a fascinating book written by a shame and vulnerability researcher. Brené Brown's book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead does just what it promises: it transforms. It also can seriously freak you out in the best possible way.
My friend Sandy and I read this together. (We started to call her our new friend Brené. Then our BFF Brené. Then just NeNe for short, because, you know, we are now tight).
Here is our adorable and brilliant new friend.
Thank goodness I had Sandy as my intrepid reading partner, because this is a humdinger of a book that needs some serious discussion and processing. We both found that we had to read it slowly, and over time, in order to emotionally integrate all that we were learning and discovering. And sometimes, it would hit so close to home that anxiety would creep in. So we would put it aside. Think a bit. Talk some. Breathe. And resume.
Brown, I mean NeNe, begins with this quote by Theodore Roosevelt:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. . . " (emphasis mine)
She argues that the notion of stepping into the arena is the essence of vulnerability, and that despite what society teaches us, vulnerability is not weakness. Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage. Being fully engaged, exposed, daring greatly, means taking emotional risks. Some bigs ones. Like Showing Up. Being Seen. And, to quote Brené, "getting your ass kicked on occasion." (Metaphorically speaking, of course. But she's Texan, so maybe not.)
Do yourself a favor. Before you read on, go see NeNe for yourself.
Wow. It's amazing that something so seemingly simple can be so transformative.
When it comes down to it, I think that Daring Greatly is a research-based, non-fiction, secular book about God's amazing grace. It's about showing yourself grace and giving others grace. Understanding brokenness (vulnerability) and admitting shame helps allow people to receive and accept grace for themselves, and enables them to show grace and empathy to others. To me, this is true wholehearted living. To me, this is also the promise of the Christian life.
The following are the truths I have gleaned from Daring Greatly. . . .
We live in a culture that is fueled by scarcity. . . the syndrome of "never enough." Never enough time, money, sleep, status, beauty, power, influence, talent. . . take your pick. This is a culture that allows shame to run rampant.
Shame is the swampland of the soul. We all experience shame, but no one wants to discuss it. Shame is the feeling that we are not _______ enough. Fill in your own blank. Your first instinct may be to say you don't experience shame, but I would recommend thinking hard about that. You likely are not a sociopath, and sociopaths are the only people who truly don't experience shame. So. . . admit it. You experience shame. Now, that wasn't so bad, was it?
Shame and guilt are not the same thing. Shame is saying you are bad. Guilt says that you did something bad. Big difference. We all have heaped both guilt and shame on others and ourselves. Guilt can cause positive behavioral change. Shame cannot.
While shame is positively correlated with addiction, aggression, suicide, anxiety, and depression, shame cannot exist in the presence of belonging and connection. Empathy is the antidote to shame.
We create armor to protect us from shame and vulnerability. My particular armor are perfectionism and what Jason calls "borrowing trouble". NeNe calls this foreboding joy. I am way too proficient in foreboding joy. I have a postdoctoral degree in foreboding joy. Declaring a personal jihad on foreboding joy may be the struggle of my life.
People who are have the most effective shame resilience, from a research perspective, are those who are living life with their whole hearts. A wholehearted life. Living a wholehearted life starts with the idea that we are worthy. . . worthy of connection, love, and belonging. And the wholehearted allow themselves and others to be vulnerable. . . especially and most importantly their children.
And finally. . . .Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation, and change. You say you don't "do" vulnerability? Well, then, no creativity. No innovation. No change. No kidding.
In January, I found myself in a funk fueled by postpartum hormones, sleep deprivation, a return to work, and the demands of parenting. I decided something needed to change. I needed to change. So I chose a word for the year.
And for me, transformation comes always comes through reading, writing, and prayer. So I started writing about what I read, and this little blog was born. But I showed no one. I told my shame voices to simmer down and forced myself to be vulnerable and keep writing. After a long while, showed it to my husband. And then to Susan. And then to Sandy. And then I wrote a review of Carry On, Warrior, and sent it to the author. And Glennon read it and responded. Favorably, even! And I got emboldened and showed my little Facebook world that I was writing. Little did I know that I was building my own arena. I find that this arena makes me feel vulnerable, but it also makes me feel creative, innovative, and alive. I like it here.
Show up and be seen. Get yourself in the arena. . . I'll meet you there.