Apparently, there’s a new movement afoot. It’s all about the wonders of being vulnerable and in order for the world to continue on its axis, we must all be live and breathe in the suits we wear, purchased at the Vulnerability Shop at the nearest mall.
I don’t get it.
I’ve lived 54 years on this Big Blue glass cat’s eye and I always thought vulnerability was one of the worst words anyone could think, write, utter, use an an adjective to describe a levy, a military position or a person.
Vulnerability means a breach…a breach means weakness and weakness is just a hop, skip and a jump away from full on catastrophe.
Nope, says Dr. Brené Brown, the latest avant thinker on the Oprah Winfrey Shelf Of Iconography. She’s been a frequent guest on O’s channel and can be seen on several different Super Soul Sunday segments. She’s a human Pez dispenser of tweetable quotes that delight Oprah and sates her audience of the wisdom starved.
As for Brown, she’s a Texas girl, I think. At least her accent is persuasive. I do know for a fact that she has Lone Star roots. She was educated at the Universities of Texas and Houston, respectively. She’s a professor of Social Work at U of H, but I have a feeling that she’ll have her own show on OWN soon. Oprah has a big ol’ girl crush on this chick. I’ve seen that look in Oprah’s eye before. Last time it glistened that way , Dr. Phil’s career was was born.
Anyway, Brown is obviously a clever gal who is likeable once you realize the platform on which she speaks. She’s also one of the few scholars around who researches, writes and lectures on the subjects of shame, authenticity and of course, vulnerability.
Now, here’s the deal with all this: I actually think I can better understand the psycho/social/political ramifications of the human genome project on Aloite Muslims who eat pork platters during Ramadan, than comprehend this stuff.
But Brown is growing on me. According to her curriculum vitae, has spent more than a decade studying connection – specifically authenticity, belonging, and shame, and the affect these powerful emotions have on the way we live, love, parent, work and build relationships.
Easy enough to comprehend, but why is it hitting me in the forehead and circling there like errant electrons?
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.
Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”
Yeah, right and all, but how is this mindset any different from that of any other professor cum New Age human guilt remover?
Well, when I did a little digging, I realized that Brown isn’t trying to remove shame from our lengthy lifetime library catalogs of failure. She wants us to embrace it. She claims guilt is good and one helluva motivator to ‘stay on track’ because it’s in direct correlation with our behavior. And providing we’re not sociopaths, we know that guilt rears its little head when we compare something we’ve done—or not done—with our personal values. Thrill stealing, eating two pounds of Amedei truffles in thirty minutes, cheating on a test, philandering…. any good Catholic or Jew will tell you the list of guilt ridden examples is endless. The deal is, the discomfort it causes can, if we let it, result in positive changes, namely in how we see ourselves and others.
Brown goes further to explain that there are huge differences between classic guilt and that good oil’ get down dirty shame which she insists is a totally separate emotion.
But wHat’s the difference?
She cites this example: ” If you made a mistake that really hurt someone’s feelings, would you be willing to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake”? If you’re experiencing guilt, the answer is yes: “I made a mistake.” Shame, on the other hand, is “I’m sorry. I am a mistake.” Shame doesn’t just sound different than guilt; it feels different. Once we understand this distinction, guilt can even make us feel more positively about ourselves, because it points to the gap between what we did and who we are—and, thankfully, we can change what we do.”
Okay, but wouldn’t we have to be fairly evolved to separate the emotional wheat from the condemning chaff as soon as its presented to us?
In Laurieland yes—in Brené Brown’s very researched world, no.
She also writes about perfectionism which she claims isn’t at all about achievement, but rather a belief that if we live perfectly, look and act perfectly, we can avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame of ourselves and others. But the word perfect is an aberration.
I grew up in a world that was based on on performance, the focus was on the outer Laurie and how that reflected on my parents. Grades, manners, sports, how I dressed, cheerleading, gymnastics, being popular at school, being loved by my teachers who because of the small town I called home, had also taught my sisters, most of my cousins, aunts, uncles and my mother and father. I sought praise from my parents, but that was for naught. They were withholding, at least to my face. I’d hear from other people how proud they were. I guess they didn’t want to play favorites or fill my head with ego. So, I went to great lengths to hear I was talented, smart, funny from anyone with a pulse. I didn’t care that my friendships should have clued me in to the fact that I was a good friend in returned, that my good grades reflected my intellect and drive…that a display case filled with ribbons and awards indicated my talents. I needed a constant flow of emotional recompense from outside sources.
But the reality is I’m hardly alone in this sad pup tent. I know tens of people, especially around my age who grew up this way and consequently chose careers that were performance based. I learned early on how rewarding it was to be able to make people laugh. And I did this by going for the laugh regardless of the price. And make no mistake, there was always a price in one way or another. I grew up with this self imposed bounty on my head. In the end, everyone applauded but me. THINK: Lon Chaney’s Tito in the 1928 silent flick, “Laugh Clown, Laugh”. The resulting rush of emotion rush was too short lived. You can’t give a starving Biafran child a few bread crumbs every other day and expect her to be sustained.
The one positive in all this is that I have learned we evolve from the guilt/shame continuous loop, that plays in our heads. Think of an old flame. At one time the loss of this person could make you wail like a banshee. Years later, when you think of him or her, IF you ever think of him or her, you feel no emotion at all. You’re over it. To me, that’s more of a definition of evolution than anything Darwin could present. In this day an age, it’s all about the emotional evolution. I think we all have our personal thoughts on the on the subject that we humans once had webbed toes, gills, scales and communicated with the monosyllabic “Ugh”; that subject has grown tired and boring. Besides, I’m fairly sure Charles Bronson was the missing link. Call me crazy.
The emotional spelunking is all we have left.
This is what Brown does, in essence. She feels if you ask yourself ”How can I improve?” , that’s a form of perfectionism that keeps focus elsewhere. It basically means you’re asking yourself or anyone listening and willing to opine, ”What will they think?” It’s all part of that perfectionism bugaboo which in the long run, always hampers success and allows entré to a whole slew of vices and mind screwing negatives.
Ah…okay, I think I’m getting this, especially when I realize that an earthquake is the planet’s way of letting off steam, that a hole in a darkened cave lets light in….and air. That a castle without its impervious moat and drawbridge and vassals on the rooftops at the ready with vats of boiling oil ready to spill on marauders who dare get close to the walls, well…maybe that’s not the best analogy. But those who breech the castle aren’t always the bad guys. Sometimes, a battering ram is the only way to enter…
So then, the question beckons: is imperfection the only perfect thing we know for sure??
And this intriguing point forces me to think. We don’t do enough editing or Photoshopping of our thoughts. In fact, we should Air Brush the shit out of them, not for the sake of rearranging or completely morphing bad memories into something more palatable, but for the character these life lessons can build. Kennedyesque as this might sound, we sometimes have to do what’s uncomfortable, because it’s the right thing to do.
CASE IN POINT:
While in college, I was broke. Couldn’t even afford the the 15 cent packages of ramen, the collegiate food staple. I called my mother, crying, begging for money, embarrassed by my underemployment and damned tired of the all consuming, relentless classes that were keeping me impoverished. I was tired, burned out and feeling desperate on many levels. I asked for cash and she told me no. Flat out refused to give me a dime. I don’t remember her offering a reason why she refused to help. She may have given one, but I was too hurt and overwhelmed by feelings of maternal betrayal to have heard a word. She became the Queen Bitch in my eyes, cruel and heartless.
So, I begrudgingly realized that it was all up to me. I came to terms with the reality that I simply had to do survive on my own by doing more in some areas and not as much in others. I had to work more hours, study harder, party less, save more by any means legally necessary. For me, that meant collecting aluminum cans along the highway and stomaching the honks and cat calls from passersby. I had to hock jewelry, I considered surrogacy for barren couples, for a price, thought about being a guinea pig for outlandish medical experiments and getting involved in black market organ harvesting. I didn’t have to do anything unsavory…. I didn’t shrivel up and die. I learned a great deal about my mother’s wisdom and a lot about myself.
Her response left me vulnerable and that vulnerability forced to me to go to places I wouldn’t ordinarily go. And there was absolutely nothing wrong with that, though it took me decades to realize what she did, had actually been a favor. I realized that a little struggle often builds character. Hell, as the late Viktor Frankl who was held for years in a Nazi concentration camp and survived could attest, a lot of struggle can completely alter perspective and often times, that turns out to be a good thing—if we allow it to be. It’s our choice, really. If misery moves in, we have to decide how to treat it as the roommate from hell.
I still find myself in vulnerable states from time to time, but that’s only because fear drives it into my life and parks in a red zone with time expired on the meter. I have a better understanding of the cause and affect of what vulnerability is...and isn’t....and that’s forcing me to rethink the entire process of rethinking. I now get it. Vulnerability is risk…and risk is worth it. Closed doors, open windows. Failure often breeds success. A break up leads to an even more profound relationship. Maybe we don’t realize any of this at first, I mean, it’s hard to feel anything beyond the immediate rage, pain and disappointment , but eventually clarity comes.
It’s like the ironic symbolism involved in removing a blindfold over our eyes after days of being forced to wear one in a room that’s very well lit. The contrasting brightness makes you wince, turn your head, put your hands go up to your the eyes to replace the darkness that you once pleaded to escape, but going back to what’s familiar and dark sure beats the ocular pain and struggle involved in the the readjustment process. Ma Nature made the eye resilient. Its very make-up allows us to get used to either the bright sunlight or faded light, after a while. And the best thing about being blindfolded–if there is an upside? If we’re ever kept from the light again, if we learn from the experience, at least we’ll know what to expect and how to make necessary adjustments if the darkness is prolonged or when brightness returns.”
And somehow, the light always does.