Brené Brown is an American scholar, author, and public speaker, who is currently a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. Over the last twelve years she has been involved in research on a range of topics, including vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. She is the author of The Power of Vulnerability, The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.
So where I started was with connection. Because, by the time you’re a social worker for 10 years, what you realize is that connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about. It doesn’t matter whether you talk to people who work in social justice and mental health and abuse and neglect, what we know is that connection, the ability to feel connected, is —neurobiologically that’s how we’re wired — it’s why we’re here.
(…) when you ask people about love, they tell you about heartbreak. When you ask people about belonging, they’ll tell you their most excruciating experiences of being excluded. And when you ask people about connection, the stories they told me were about disconnection.
So very quickly — really about six weeks into this research — I ran into this unnamed thing that absolutely unraveled connection in a way that I didn’t understand or had never seen. And so I pulled back out of the research and thought, I need to figure out what this is. And it turned out to be shame. And shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection? The things I can tell you about it: it’s universal; we all have it. The only people who don’t experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection.
The thing that underpinned this was excruciating vulnerability, this idea of, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.
There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging.That’s it. They believe they’re worthy.
What do these people have in common?
These are whole-hearted people, living from this deep sense of worthiness. (…) And so here’s what I found. What they had in common was a sense of courage.
The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.
You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those [vulnerability, grief, shame, fear, disappointment], we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.