This article was based on the TEDxKC Talk, “The Price of Invulnerability,” by Brené Brown:
|The price of invulnerability: Brené Brown at TEDxKC|
Bliss Versus Doom
Brené Brown is a researcher who has spent the last ten years studying vulnerability. She collects and studies fatalistic stories from subjects who are caught between a state of bliss and foreboding doom. She shares that the fatalistic response is not universal. It is, however, a symptom of an issue that is both universal and profoundly dangerous, and that is: we are losing our tolerance for vulnerability.
In our culture vulnerability is synonymous with weakness. Vulnerability is at the core of fear, anxiety, shame, and very difficult emotions that we all experience. Vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, love, belonging, creativity, and faith. This makes it very problematic when, as a culture, we lose our capacity to be vulnerable.
Symptoms of Vulnerability Avoidance
One of the symptoms that we are losing our capacity for vulnerability is that joy actually becomes foreboding. When something good happens, or we’re thinking of something we care about, we become compelled to consider our vulnerability. Another symptom is that we choose disappointment as a lifestyle. It is much easier to live disappointed than it is to feel disappointment. Low-grade disconnection is also a symptom of our vulnerability avoidance.
Brown found that accomplished people who strive for excellence are the biggest negotiators and compromisers. Perfection and extremism are tools used to protect ourselves. There is a very simple equation: faith minus vulnerability equals extremism. Faith is the vulnerability that flows between the shores of certainty. Spirituality is inherently vulnerable. It is believing in things we don’t understand or really can’t see.
What is driving this intolerance for vulnerability in us? The answer is scarcity. We live in a culture that tells us that there is never enough. In this world, an ordinary life has become synonymous with a meaningless life. We are missing what is truly important because we are on a quest for the extraordinary. We forget that we can find the most joy in the ordinary moments of our lives.
In our culture, we are constantly and unconsciously collecting images and experiences of sacristy. We are unaware of how many messages of scarcity we collect every day because we are numb to our vulnerability. Evidence of this numbing is seen in the facts that we are the most addicted, medicated, obese, and in debt adult cohort in the human history.
Numbing Our Vulnerability
We stay busy so that the truth of our lives cannot catch-up. There are consequences of numbing our vulnerabilities. You cannot selectively numb emotion. When we numb the dark emotion, when we numb vulnerability and fear, and shame of not being good enough, we, by default, numb joy. We cannot selectively just numb the dark emotions.
There is research in addiction studies that shows us that an intensely positive experience is as likely to trigger relapse as an intensely negative experience. If vulnerability is a sharp edge, there may be nothing sharper than joy. To let yourself soften into loving someone, to caring about something passionately, is being vulnerable. So, the question becomes: How do we embrace vulnerability?
The Answer Is Gratitude
The answer Brown has learned from her research is to practice gratitude. We need to stop and be thankful for what we have. Practicing gratitude is about honouring what is ordinary about our lives because that is what is truly extraordinary. Be grateful for what we have and honour what is ordinary because that joy and love are what we need when hard things happen. In vulnerability, we will find what really gives purpose and meaning to our life.