As a social researcher, it’s Brené Brown’s job to develop and share stories about who we are and what defines us both as individuals, and as a members of a society. It’s her passion. It’s what she does best. But it was in the crafting of a particular, career-defining story, that Brown faced an uncomfortable truth that threatened everything she believed in.
Brown’s early research focused on the importance of connection, the aspect of the human experience that she considers the most important. Conducting interviews, she quickly realised that when asking subjects about their own history of connection, most instinctively recalled negative experience. When asked about love, they talked about heartbreak. When asked about belonging, they talked about their feelings of alienation.
These were people scared of being judged. People who felt they were not worthy of love and connection. People who dwelled in fear and shame.
This didn’t really come as a surprise to Brown. These were the symptoms of extreme vulnerability, a state Brown hated. In her mind, a sense of vulnerability was something the happy and successful learnt to ignore. Those that acknowledged it? Well, of course they were so negative.
However, the further Brown went into this research, the more her view was challenged. As she studied the data of subjects who had shared positive experiences, she noted three qualities that set them apart from the rest:
Courage to embrace their imperfections.
Compassion to be kind to others, which they had developed from being kind to themselves.
Connection established from a place of love and authenticity.
These happy few weren’t invulnerable to vulnerability, as Brown had believed. In fact, they were just as vulnerable.
The difference was that they embraced the parts of themselves that made them feel vulnerable, and came to recognise them as that which made them unique and beautiful.
Brown had a nervous breakdown.
The findings so fundamentally clashed with her preconceptions that her impulse was to resist them until she couldn’t any longer. That was when she decided to seek psychiatric help.
“I lost the fight (for my beliefs), but won my life back”, she declared in her 2011 TEDx Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, which has been viewed over 7 million times on Youtube.
Brown’s case is not an unusual one. Whether you’re an artist, an entrepreneur, or anything in between, confronting that which makes you vulnerable is the key to self-respect and perseverance in the face of doubt.
To avoid it is to feed fear and shame. To justify the voice in your head that says you’re a failure, unworthy of love and happiness.
The voice is a liar.
It took Brown a year in therapy to come to terms with the benefits of accepting that which makes us vulnerable, and now she works to share what she learnt through that period of her life. She speaks at events around the world, has written books including Rising Strong and the bestseller, Daring Greatly, and penned the foreword for Amanda Palmer’s memoir, The Art of Asking.