Recently, I came across a TED talk excerpt about vulnerability and I thought “That’s what makes group therapy work; people being vulnerable!” Later, I listened to the full talk and realized, that is only part of the equation. The truth is, being vulnerable is what makes LIFE work and worth living.
Brene Brown, a PhD in Social Work, was the researcher and presenter for the talk “The power of being vulnerable.” She makes the argument from her years of research, that connection is the reason why we are here. It is what gives us meaning and purpose in our lives. It is what makes life worth living. In making connections with others we must lean into the discomfort and be vulnerable. As a result, shame is the fear of disconnection; that I am not good/smart/pretty/worthy enough to be connected.
What does vulnerability look like? In group therapy it starts with showing up, listening, speaking, admitting you need and want complete strangers to help you. In life, it is going on an interview, asking someone out, apologizing and having the knowledge that you may fail. By choosing to be vulnerable rejection and hurt is a likely reality. Without the vulnerability one may never experience the positive emotions that are spawned from that risk. In our society, Dr. Brown reminds us, people often try to numb the feeling of vulnerability and disconnection by turning to self-destructive outlets (i.e. food, drugs, alcohol) but because one cannot selectively numb emotions we consequently numb the positive emotions of joy, gratitude and happiness.
In therapy, we often say, you get out of it what you put into it, when actually the willingness to be vulnerable is the key. Anyone can talk, give advice or share information about themselves and put in “effort.” However, when one person chooses to be authentic and genuine they initially feel the uncomfortable feeling of being vulnerable among strangers; that emotion quickly changes into positive emotions such as gratitude and relief when the next person decides to be vulnerable and a connection is made. It is a blessing to be able to see this beautiful human experience play out almost daily in a group setting.
It seems we often miss opportunities to be vulnerable, to connect in order to protect. We end up protecting ourselves from positive emotions and miss out on our own joy and passions. In therapy the therapist may challenge one to be authentic, but without that guide we may never be truly vulnerable. Dr. Brown concludes by encouraging us to “Let ourselves be seen. Love with our whole heart, even though there are no guarantees. Practice gratitude and joy. Believe you are enough.”
When we were children we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… to be alive is to be vulnerable. – Madeleine L’Engle