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We live in a vulnerable world, says social researcher Brené Brown. And what do we do in the face of this vulnerability? We numb it.

But Dr. Brown says we cannot selectively numb emotion. When we do, we anesthetize personal joy and gratitude and happiness. In today's society, we are masters of this numbing, but there are those out there who "lean" into their vulnerability and fragility. They are our teachers, the ones who can model a way forward to love wholeheartedly and see ourselves for who we are. World Domination Summit 2012 - Portland, ORThe key, says Dr. Brown, is to acknowledge that we are "wired for struggle." Her solution: let ourselves be seen, deeply and vulnerably, by others; love others wholeheartedly even though there's no guarantee of reciprocation; practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror; and believe we are enough.

We're preparing for our interview with Dr. Brené Brown this Thursday morning. If you have a question about vulnerability, courage, authenticity, or shame, post it here in the comments section. I'll be sure to pass them on to Krista and see if we can get some of them asked during their conversation.

Photo by Chris Guillebeau/Armosa Studios and licensed under Creative Commons.

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59 Comments

Seems as though confidence is a self-silliness, an arrogance, a nonchalance, a stupidity -- any marriage of these. Can people genuinely be confident?

Yes--genuine confidence is that core place of "I am enough" shared in generous compassion with others.

Twenty years ago....I don't think we would be having this conversation, would we?! Why it is that the topic of "vulnerability" even needs to be discussed nowadays? What is it about NOW that makes vulnerability so important?

I've read Brene's newest book "Daring Greatly" and blogged about some ponderings (www.acrazykindoffaith.blogspot.com). She gives us good food for thought!

when will this interview be on the radio? would love to hear it!

Trent Gilliss's picture

Karie, we've tentatively scheduled it for release during the Thanksgiving weekend.

Thank you. That seems very timely indeed. As always-good stuff, great work.....you are a fabulous program that I wish everyone could have piped into their world some how. Keep up the good work!

How has current technology changed what vulnerability looks like?

How can we live vulnerably and authentically in a world of tweets and status updates?

I think it's entirely linked. Our kids are making themselves completely vulnerable by posting their lives/their authenticity
for all to see.

Have you considered the authenticity of what gets posted? Some post only those things about themselves that they want to share. Some only post when they are not busy doing, so that what you get reflected in the technological mirror is just their idle time. And I'm sure there are other possibilities. In other words, I don't think a Facebook timeline is a modern approximation of a personal journal, and while I agree that the exposure increases vulnerability on some level, the meeting experience remains the same: using a new technological medium, we & our children try to study each others' vulnerabilities, and hide our own, not so?

Occupational Vulnerability
It seems to me, intuitively as you say, that courage and vulnerability are deeply linked. How does vulnerability inform courage in situations that aren't intimate relationships, can we use new understanding of vulnerability at our workplaces? On another note, authenticity and autonomy are seen as important constructs for finding our "path," our meaningful work, and in current literature you seldom hear these concepts linked to vulnerability, what do you think the questions are that are worth looking at more in depth in order to understand wholeness and meaning in our life balance?

At most workplaces, if someone acts vulnerable, some people will take advantage and smite them.

What practical things can we do every day to "practice gratitude and joy" and to live wholeheartedly?

The ultimate paradox is, no matter how realistic, rugged, fair, proper, complete, appropriate your efforts or projected solution (to life's problems) is, tomorrow you are starting all over again, you will have this same general problem!

Think back: if you had been where you are now ten years ago these are just the problems you would face. It would have been ten years earlier and now you would have a different set of problems but it would still be a version of the issue: "What am I going to do now?" "Where are we?" "What are we working with?" And, "What can we make out of it?" There is noting you can do to avoid that--except die, get Alzheimer's or willfully avoid it--in which case, you don't have what we would call 'full and proper human life.'

It's a creative process. It requires two somewhat opposed but complimentary--and mutually absolutely necessary, efforts--becoming aware of things as they are and making something that doesn't yet exist, isn't yet the case.

The two great things you have to fear as a conscientious person, are 'chaos' and 'order'.

Chaos: is nothing, by definition. That is, everything might be there but it doesn't count in any meaningful way, it isn't working toward any useful purpose (except maybe as a randomizing process in scientific experiments)!

Order: is NAZI Europe, Stalinist Russia, Maoist China, Pol Pot's Cambodia--Creative, productive, conscious, conscientious (where it matters what you do in any meaningful, estimable way) 'human' life is somewhere in between...and every day it's up to us to find it!

I am a 44 year old who decided to go back to University to finish my Psychology Degree. ( talk about leaning into vulnerability) Your talks and books have helped me immensely. I am doing a project on PTSD and discovered the term shame-shame. The idea of having secondary shame about the reaction of shame. I am interested in your insight in this phenomenon

Sirach 4:21
There is a sense of shame laden with guilt,
and a shame that merits honor and respect.

It's the constant conundrum - how to be vulnerable but be safe and responsible at the same time.

Thank you for sharing this moving talk. I remember back in my 20's saying "My vulnerability is my greatest strength" and 30 years later, I find it is what has made my life so rich and given me compassion for others. So much beautiful insight here.

I love this TED talk by Brenee Brown, and also love the spiritual and civil conversations that Krista engages in and mediates. I try to draw strength in midlife from mindfulness, gratitude and compassion in myself and others, especially as I encounter and confrot th eexpected and non-expected family and personal health issues and career realities. But we also live in a fierecly competitive and not-altogether kind world. How are we to find the courage on a daily basis to practice mindfulness, to be whole-hearted and vulnerable when we are surrounded in our daily lives by many others who are half-hearted, invulnerable, close-minded, or worse? What does she advise us to do when our self-preservation instincts urge us to revert to our old ways of closing down, being critical and judgmental of ourselves and lashing out at others. What if the meek don't inherit the earth?

Just as Dr Brown is getting to the heart of her talk about connection...the video feed stopped and could not be restarted. Frustrating! Will this be rebroadcast again on MPR anytime soon? Today is Nov 3rd 7am.
Thanks. How relevant and important this is for all of us to hear!

What role do you see for life review/ reflection on childhood, especially, as 78 million people move into the age we used to call retirement? Can we seniors writing memoir offer something of value to the next generation? What kinds of questions will draw out our deepest wisdom?

Thank you.

How can I let others see me when I can't see my own self?

Find time to - and get used to - sitting quietly.

Is Dr. Brown in a Buddhist Twelve Step program? I love the way she describes things. I am working with al-anon and use Buddhist philosophy to help describe, understand and work through what she calls vulnerability, shame and fear.I hope to hear more from Dr Brown. Thank You

What a challenge!

This is an interesting 20 minute video on shame and vulnerability

I'm normal, thank you Dr. Brown, this has helped me answer my own question on me!

I love Brene's video and books and have gleaned a lot of insight from both. Vulnerability seems like only one side of the coin tho. How do we protect ourselves in a way that preserves our vulnerability, rather than in a way that cuts us off from ourselves, or hardens or numbs ourselves?

Thank you Brene for your very much needed efforts to help sort out the causes of dysfuntion in relationships-Men feel that being Vulnerable, (EZ to read) allways leeds to a situation where they are taken advantage of-and after a years of this proving True, it becomes very difficult to beleave this can actually change. Relationships inevitably devolve into a struggle over power, and resources-with No warm/fuzzy feelings left ! Men who remain in their Relationships-inevitably are punished for their commitment . (No good deed goes un-punished!) Past Female examples-cause Women to try to replicate what is no longer possible-or healthy here in the U.S. (Home Bodies just seem to deteriate-if they rarely leave home-or sit in from of the TV !!

I'm looking forward to this weekend's broadcast of Krista's interview with Brene Brown, and yesterday I thought of you all when I encountered the "unpublished fragment" by Rilke below. I saw it in the Conclusion of the book, "Creativity, from Potential to Realization," by Sternberg, Grigorenko, and Singer.

"As long as you catch what you yourself threw into the air,
all is mere skill and petty gain;
only when you unexpectedly become the catcher of the ball
that the Goddess, your eternal playmate,
threw toward you, toward the center of your being
in a precisely calculated curve, in one of those arcs
reminiscent of God building bridges;
only then is being able to catch the ball an ability
to be cherished --
not yours but a world's. And if you
were you have that strength and courage to return the throw,
nay, even more miraculous ... if you had forgotten about
strength and courage
and had already thrown ... as the year
throws birds, the migrating flock
that an older warmth flings
across seas to a younger -- only
through your daring is your play genuine.
You neither make throwing easier nor harder
for yourself. From your hand issues
the meteor that races towards its place in the heavens."

It took a year of therapy for Dr Brown to bring this insight to fruition;
and to embrace vulnerability as she suggests is an ongoing challenge.
Why are we wired this way? Is it because we are social animals
and feel that to protect the herd/community we must internalize
feelings that are different from the herd; or is it a survival extinct to protect ourselves
from the herd? In other words, in the same way that physical pain has a
protective purpose may not shame have a purpose? Finally, the greatest insight
I learned in this talk is that you cant numb your negative emotions without
also numbing your empathic and life affirming ones and that as a result the only
way to a rich and deeper and more fulfilling life is to embrace the whole of you
with warts and all and as best you can in whatever way you can and whenever you can
to share your heart with whomever you can.

This is a wonderful philosophy to have when you are an accomplished professor or under the protection of a recovery program. Its suicidal if you live in any other world.

My perpetual disappointment with talks like these is grounded in reality. The same people who will pursue a psych degree over the age of fourty are the the same who will buy into this.

If you are a corporate warrior, a mother of a family in flux, a parent.... its feel good about the idea then move on with reality and put the armor back on.

Ivory tower schmaltz.

A poignant indictment of "The Greatest Generation" as the most puffed up, over achieving and vulnerable collection of Americans to have parented another generation of future non-adventurers. How many looked great in uniform but were little better than Willy Loman when they became father and LEADER of family at home. Shame on them for their fear of vulnerability and need to remove opportunities for failure from their children.

That talk for me is what I've been searching for. I have cut off myself from feeling vulnerable due to shame. Thanks I have now found the piece to the puzzle that will connect me to others.

Just found this--interview and TED talk are wonderful. I wonder what Dr Brown would say about the issue of repeatedly expressing vulnerability with a partner who is himself repeatedly unable or unwilling to reciprocate, and indeed shows expressions of discomfort when such vulnerability is being expressed. I have found for myself that such expressing, over time, on my part seems to feel like a form of self-harming, given the same reaction I keep getting--just wonder if Dr Brown would say that there may be certain people with whom we might need to be careful when it comes to expressing vulnerability.

After finding myself a bitter, dried out and angry woman, I turned to a group meditation class out of desperation to get out of the inertia and pattern of self-destruction I had been forging for years. The cumulative effect of the rising anger and resentment was beginning to surface in all areas of my life - health, relationships, and inability to move forward with any notion of a career path. Through this group meditation, I came to spend time with an individual who informed me that simply changing my outlook, to be grateful every day, to not get on that loop of negativity was somehow going to rewire my brain. Miraculously, it has. Without me even being conscious about it, I began to notice changes in my life - I am not abroad, lost weight, and can honestly say that I'm much happier. But at the same time, I continue to struggle with disappointments from people. I continue to have expectations of reciprocation of kindness, which elude me. I feel that I have this bottomless pit of love and I give and give and give, and after a while, I feel empty, lonely and used. Is this normal? I realize that we cannot be one way at all times, but I often find myself disappointed with my fellow mankind. I don't seem to attract good, grounded, honorable people in my life, but the opposite. It is a struggle to be vulnerable with people when it seems more and more that I must be guarded in life, which leads to even more loneliness as I don't want to engage with people anymore. I was at a breakfast nook in the 6th arrondissment in Paris, and because the woman sitting at the table did not appear to want to chat (since she was chatting with the owner) and I just wanted to eat and look at a video of my party I hosted the night before, I proceeded to watch it. Then, she began to whisper to the waitress that I am rude for not even saying hello to her and engaging in conversation, that the neighborhood has become overrun with tourists and non-French (bringing in the racism as is typical here in France), that I am representative of the problem with the changing times in the neighborhood, etc.). And all i wanted to do was eat a bagel with lox and coffee and just be left alone, not to be harassed and maligned in public with them assuming that I didn't understand anything they were saying. I suppose I could have said something to her, but I find that arguing with unreasonable and stupid people serves no purpose. But then I also thought, is this indicative of my trend toward turning into a miser? not wanting to engage with people? This incident was quite a sad note to my day, though I did manage to get through the day somehow as I surprisingly always do.

Chang-Soon, your post really spoke to me as it went straight to the heart of what we all fear -- that we will reach out and connect to the world but discover in the moment of our awakening that we are the only one who cares. Do not be disheartened by what happened on that day. Although we try to grow -- some days we cannot. It is a journey that lasts a lifetime. I would encourage you to take your memories of that day and use them as an exercise for what might have been. Replay the time in your head replacing her actions and your actions. Ask yourself how might this look if I had said ... or she said ... or I sat in a different place and talked to another person. Visualize positive outcomes. It gives you strength to face the next encounter. One more thing that may be hard to consider and that is a note about Truth and Perception. As you look back on those people who hurt you -- intentionally or not --also remember that they too are on this journey. Sometimes their great truths are yet to be spoken and when they hurt you hear and know that they are like us -- fumbling around in the dark. All of us trying to find the light. Some of us know this but others do not. Some of us are searching for it but others of us are being it -- yes being the light in the world. Do not give up.

What about dealing with drug addicts and living this vunerable life, showing love and courage and authenicity. They use us, we wind up enabling them and sometimes when we unknowling help them get more drugs, they wind up dead. How can we be authentic and loving to a sick druggy who is out of his mind and doesn't realize we are trying to help.

When my marriage failed, I had to look at myself in a different way, as a person not a wife. This talk made me rethink again what I see works in my life, and what doesn't work. Being vulnerable without being a punching bag, being authentic that isn't external 'confidence,' but an internal knowing of the worthiness of self. Dr. Brown has given me the courage to say what I see in a relationship I cherish, but know does not fulfill my needs. Thank you for having the courage to be vulnerable. It is wonderful

thankyou. proud to hear such a wonderful talk from a fellow social worker

I'm daring greatly here by sharing a project with you that I did last month about the kind of vulnerability we feel when we deconstruct nudity. Written in letter form to a friend of mine, I spend a week blogging in the nude to see what I uncover when I decide to just sit with myself without any clothes on. I'd be honored if you'd browse through it.

I just heard Brene Brown say on her pod cast that "appearance and body image are still the number one shame trigger for women" and I'm going to take that as a sign to go ahead and post my link. Thank you for having this conversation. It is so needed.
http://letterstogabriel.com/blogging-in-the-buff/

My hedge against vulnerability was to say I was a victum of circumstances. Knowing full well why I was in deep Dodo. My course is great to reflect on now; at the time fear and bravery at the same time, didn't come to mind, only fear. As I ease back into the unknown, back into deep Dodo your Ted talk will make it much more enjoyable. Thanking You

Brene's comments on radio introduced huge potential drawback here. That is, women, herself included, are terribly, unconsciously reactive to men being vulnerable. Ouch! Evolved women harshly judge men able to feel and express to them their brokenness. Same old story then? Healthy and wealthy men getting the gal..lesser beings marginalized by women we wish to love, getting vulnerable..and getting rejected for it.

I ended up getting lost on what should have been the last fifteen minutes of my ten hour drive home from NC to my current home in Cincinnati. It took an hour and a half to find my way while I listened to you and Renee. I know that God meant for me to hear the show. Thank you so very much.

¿Why flushing occurs?
¿Blushing is a way to show my vulnerability and I should not worry to stop it?
¿What causes that trigger the flush?
¿What do you recommend simple literature to learn about how to avoid the blush?
Colombian man, Thanks

Guillermo - Thank you for mentioning "blushing". I blush like a beacon. I avoid even thinking about it, hoping the attention focused on me will shift to someone else. Next time perhaps I will be prepared to courageously acknowledge the situation: "I blush easily. It probably has something to do with shame or worthiness (with which we all struggle). Does anybody here [for example at a dinner party] have a good story about how they have responded to their own blushing other than becoming numb ?" [ A dinner party would probably not be the best place for me to completely unburden myself. ]
Thanks for having the courage to reach out to others.

What a lot of hard work on all that data and not one moment of genuine vulnerability on Dr Brown's part. I think intellectually she's right and emotionally she's still in the closet. Maybe another year on the couch.

Trent Gilliss's picture

Hi Elaine. What makes you think she's disingenuous?

Vulnerability is an integral part of life. Whether we want to face it or accept it, that is an entirely different matter, When tragedy strikes we tried not to feel, deny, or sublimate, The fact of the matter is that to be alive is to be unsafe, The acceptance of that truth and the trust that there is some of model or intelligence that is aiding us in this journey is the only way that we can deal with life on life's terms. There is no home schooling, gun control, being extra-nice or helpful to others that will insure our safety, Safety is an illusion deeply ingrained. The faster we accept it as such, The fastest we know that we are all in the same boat so to speak, whether some are aware of it and others are not, the better our life will be. The less we will struggle, At least that is my experience. So yes, leaning into vulnerability is not unwise. It keeps me in touch with my humanity; it makes me a better human being.

I do a lot of work in Addiction Counseling and many people (maybe even most) who attempt to numb their feelings fail to understand that they simultaneously numb good feelings as well.
I also have a question: "What exactly is a "shame-based personality" and how does one combat this brokenness?

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