Lessons On Vulnerability and Shame


“Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” – Brene Brown 

In my last two blog posts, on delayed gratification and “Think and Grow Rich”, I introduced a feature where I am going to periodically share resources that have helped me along my own path of self-discovery and growth. This will be another such post. Apparently TED Talks have really made an impression on me over the years. 

I’m sincerely hoping people take the time to actually watch these videos. The two below are approximately 20 min a piece, which I know turns a lot of people off right away. Your first thought upon hearing “20 minutes,” is probably that you just don’t have the time for that. Well, let me ask you this: How much time have you wasted scrolling through Instagram or Facebook today? 

I’ll answer first. A LOT. I’ve wasted a lot of time mindlessly scrolling through Instagram. I’m not one to judge, and obviously I’m guilty of this, too. But, the problem I have found with this behavior is that when I’m doing this, I’m not really learning anything of substance. Sure, I learned about the discovery of a new galaxy that has no dark matter, and that scientists found a new human organ that has been hiding in plain sight the whole time. However, the knowledge gained from those things is nothing more that some interesting tidbits I can pepper a conversation with from time to time. In gaining this information I didn’t really learn anything new about myself. Hopefully, you’ll find that the information below has value and can be integrated into your life. 

When you engage with this type of material, it forces introspection and reflection on your own life and behaviors. Many of us desperately want to change some aspect of our current circumstance, yet a large percentage of us are also incredibly fearful of pulling back that curtain and taking a long hard look at why we do what we do. The topics of the two videos, vulnerability and shame, are most certainly at the core of the reasons we dare not look. 

In the spirit of keeping the text short so you might actually get to the content, I’m just going to jump right in with two of the most impactful lessons these videos taught me.  

First of all, stepping into vulnerability is one of THE MOST COURAGEOUS things you can do. Many people mistakenly equate vulnerability with weakness. This is not an accurate assumption. Working at its best, vulnerability requires one to step fully into their authentic self and walk through the world with walls down, unguarded. At the heart of every healthy connection and relationship lies vulnerability. To fully connect, you have to allow yourself to be seen. I mean, the alternative is that you could put on a front and act in ways you believe your romantic interest would find desirable. But, I can guarantee that you’ll find yourself down the road stuck playing a role that is not true to you, with a person who doesn’t even really know you (How many people have been there? I know I have). Vulnerability is so crucial to connection, it’s a cornerstone of the couples therapy work I do using Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples (Disclaimer: There are obvious exceptions to when it would not be advised to show someone your more vulnerable side, such as if you are in an actively abusive relationship). 

To provide another quick example of the power of vulnerability, I can point to my own recovery from substance abuse. With all the stigma and shame wrapped up in this topic, it’s no wonder this is something many people like to hide at all costs. By no means am I suggesting people run out and tell everyone about their past struggles. However, I can say that I made a conscious decision from day one to own my recovery and be open with it. Partly because I wanted to be available to others who might be looking for help, and partly because of what I learned about vulnerability and shame in these videos. How I see it, any attempts to cover up my past are solely driven by shame, and if I choose to own it and take the power back, I have nothing to be ashamed of. In all honesty, I am incredibly proud of how successful I have been at this thing that is so unbelievably hard to do, and I have received nothing but support (as opposed to judgment) from the people I have openly shared my story with. 

The second impactful lesson from these videos is one I actually forgot made such an impact until I watched the clips again. In her second TED Talk, Brene Brown recites part of a speech given by Teddy Roosevelt titled, “The Man in the Arena.” In hindsight, without consciously knowing it, these words have probably propelled me to face more fears, take more chances and be willing to be more vulnerable than anything else. I would rather “dare greatly” and face some possible discomfort, than never actually step into that arena and face the same, if not more, discomfort while looking at a life that could have been. 

Below is the quote full quote for your own interpretation:

"The Man in the Arena"

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. “  - Theodore Roosevelt , 1910

And, here are the two video clips: