Ted Talks…what’s not to love? One of my favorite Ted Talks was from a woman named Brené Brown, who dedicated her studies to human connection, our ability to empathize, belong and love. In many ways, her research expanded my perception in how I live my life and those who play a part in it.
Brown got her Ph.D. in social work, so she had always been around people. Her mantra encompassed leaning into the discomfort of her work. As a social worker for 10 years, she came to realize the importance of connection and wanted to study this phenomenon in depth. We’re biologically wired to feel connected with others, it gives us purpose and meaning. Brené found that when she asked people about love, they talked about heartbreak. When she asked people about belonging, they told her their most excruciating experiences of being excluded. In many respects when asking people about connection, the stories they would tell were of disconnection.
Interestingly enough, Brown decided to pull herself out of the research entirely and what she found was shame. “And shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: is there something about me that, if other people know or see, that I won’t be worthy of connection?” No one wants to talk about it, and the less you talk about it the more you have it, right? What underpins shame is the unfortunate sensation of “I’m not good enough.” Now if we take it a step further the thing that underpinned this was excruciating vulnerability. Vulnerability is this idea that if we really want to be seen we have to show ourselves, our raw self.
When Brown took the people she interviewed and divided them into people who really have a sense of worthiness, who have a strong sense of love and belonging, and folks who struggle for it, and wonder if they’re good enough she found one distinct variable that separated them. The people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy. Could it be that the one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we’re not worthy of connection? What was suppose to be 1 year of research turned into 6 years for Brené. She felt stuck for she found that vulnerability is the core of shame, fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, creativity, of belonging, of love. We live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability. We are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history; moreover we cannot selectively numb emotion.
Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these. You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. So when we numb those we also numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. “And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable.” It’s a dangerous cycle. Brown further explains how this numbness doesn’t just stem from addiction. The other thing we do is we make everything that’s uncertain certain. Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. I’m right, you’re wrong. Shut up. That’s it. Just certain. There’s no discussion anymore. There’s no conversation. There’s just blame, a way to discharge pain and discomfort. We also try to perfect. Brené further contends how we most dangerously perfect our children, even when they are hardwired for struggle when they get here. “Our job is not to say, look at her, she’s perfect. My job is just to keep her perfect make sure she makes the tennis team by fifth grade and Yale by seventh grade. That’s not our job.” She believes we need to acknowledge how they are imperfect, and they are wired for struggle, but that they understand they are worthy of love and belonging. A generation of kids raised like that, and we’ll end the problems that many of us witness today. We pretend that what we do doesn’t have an effect on people.
What resonated with me in this Tedtalk is how we have to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even if there’s no guarantee. That ability to feel such vulnerability is truly living and can leave one with a self-actualized sensation of “I’m alive.” If we start working from a place where we believe “I’m enough” then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we are kinder and gentler to ourselves.
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