Recently, I reconnected with the psychologist who helped me last year during some difficult times when I found myself struggling and in a bit of bother.
After listening to me today, she suggested that I watch a Ted Talk by Dr Brené Brown, a researcher who, for years, has studied social connection, vulnerability, worthiness and shame.
It’s a fascinating talk & well worth watching if you have the time. The reason I flag it and am writing about it here is that I couldn’t help but draw parallels with some of what I have been wrestling with and also because it underscores the reason why we all came together as Team Margot.
Dr Brown notes that when you ask people about love, they’ll tell you about heart break. When you ask people about belonging, they’ll tell you about the most excruciating experiences of being excluded. And when you ask people about connection, the stories they tell you are about disconnection.
Please excuse my amateur psychology & interpretation, but what she has to say helps me to understand. Hopefully it will also mean something to you too. The nutshell version is essentially:
The ability to feel “connected” is why we’re all here. However, the thing that unravels connection is shame. Shame is the fear of disconnection. We all have it. No one wants to talk about it and yet the more you don’t talk about it the more you have it !
Underpinning the shame, is excruciating vulnerability i.e. the “I’m not smart enough”, “I’m not beautiful enough”, “I don’t have enough” etc. Shame is the fear of not being worthy of connection.
We all detest vulnerability, but in order for us to be connected, we have to allow ourselves to be seen. Really seen. Being vulnerable is essential to wholehearted living, she argues.
From Dr Brown’s studies, it has emerged that:
People who have a strong sense of love and belonging, believe they’re worthy. She refers to them as “The Wholehearted”.
What the wholehearted have in common is a sense of courage to tell the story of who they are with their whole heart. They have the courage to accept their imperfections and to be imperfect. They have the compassion to be kind to themselves first, and then to others, because you can’t be compassionate to others unless you can first treat yourself kindly.
The wholehearted have connection as a result of authenticity. They are willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they are. She argues that we have to do this for connection.
The wholehearted fully embrace vulnerability. They believe that what makes them vulnerable makes them beautiful. They don’t talk about vulnerability as being comfortable, nor it being excruciating, they just talk about it being necessary. They talk about the willingness to say “I love you” first. The willingness to do something where there are no guarantees. The willingness to breathe through after your Dr calls about your test results. The willingness to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out.
Dr Brown advocates learning to live with vulnerability ! as opposed to living by controlling and predicting life.
If you’re anything like me, instinctively, that doesn’t feel particularly comfortable !
Initially, on learning these were the results of her years of study, she explains that she had a little breakdown. But then wonders whether it was actually a spiritual awakening ! Dr Brown says that you know who you are when you call friends and say “I think I need to see someone”.
She says that therapists will tell you that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and the struggle for worthiness, BUT it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love…
Vulnerability is never good nor bad. It just is what it is.
We struggle with vulnerability and yet we live in a vulnerable world. So we tend to deal with vulnerability by numbing it. But she points out that you can’t opt to numb emotion / numb the hard feelings without also numbing the other things: joy, gratitude and happiness ! which then means we are miserable and we and we go looking for purpose and meaning, which in turn takes us further into a dangerous cycle. She makes the point that we are the most obese, in debt, addicted & medicated adult cohort in history.
We numb by making the uncertain, certain: “I’m right, you’re wrong”. And the more afraid we are the more certain we become. We apportion blame, as a way to discharge pain and discomfort. And we also pretend – that what we do doesn’t have an effect on people. In both our personal & corporate lives.
Instead, she argues that we should be authentic and real and instead of pretending, say “we’re sorry, we’ll fix it”. Instead of striving to be perfect ourselves and to try and perfect our children, we should accept that we are all hard-wired for struggle. And all the while we’re imperfect and hard-wired for struggle, we are worthy of love and belonging.
She summarises the notion of letting ourselves be seen. Deeply seen. Vulnerably seen. And advocates that we love with our whole hearts even though there’s no guarantee. That we practise gratitude and joy, in those moments of terror when we are wondering “Can I love you this much?” “Can I believe in this as passionately ?”, “Can I be this fierce about this ?” and just to be able to stop and instead of catastrophising a situation, instead say “I’m just so grateful”.
And finally, she advocates that we should believe that we are enough. Stop screaming and start listening.
To summarise, there are fundamentally two points being made by Dr Brown:
1. Vulnerability is NOT weakness – that’s a myth ! and it’s a profoundly dangerous one.
Vulnerability is pure courage. It’s emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty, it fuels our daily lives. It is our most accurate measurement of courage. To be vulnerable is to let ourselves be seen. To be honest.
Vulnerability is the birthplace of Innovation, creativity & change.
And in that sense, vulnerability created Team Margot.
2. We have to talk about shame: as Dr Brown puts it: “You have to dance with the one who brung you up”. Shame is the swampland of the soul. We must put on galoshes, walk through and find our way around.
Shame is not guilt. Shame is a focus on self. Guilt is a focus on behaviour.
Shame is: “I am bad”. Guilt is: “I did something bad”.
Shame is: “I’m sorry I am a mistake”. Guilt is: “I’m sorry, I made a mistake.”
Shame is very highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, suicide, eating disorders, bullying, human disorders. Guilt is inversely correlated with these things.
The ability to hold something we’ve done, or failed to do, up against who we want to be is incredibly adaptive. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s adaptive.
She regards shame as an epidemic in our culture and to get out from underneath it, we need to understand how it affects us and each other.
Importantly, we need to know empathy. Because empathy is the antidote to shame. Shame needs : secrecy, silence and judgement to grow exponentially.
But dowse it with empathy and it can’t survive.
To watch the Ted Talk by Dr Brown please see below:
Together, saving lives