Vulnerability, Courage, & Shame: The Myth of Vulnerability

Editors note: Part 2 of the Operation No Shame blogging series Vulnerability, Courage, & Shame

What comes to your mind when you hear the word VULNERABLE?  Is there a negative connotation associated with the word for you?  Maybe something that was said in the past set a negative tone for the word.

Did you grow up with vulnerability equating a weakness?  In my own experience, I have heard people use the term, vulnerable, interchangeably with the words: gullible, promiscuous, weak, and shameful.

“Vulnerability is not weakness and that myth is profoundly dangerous,” says Dr. Brene Brown, a researcher with a focus on debunking this norm.  She researched vulnerability trying to prove that one did not need to be vulnerable, but her hypothesis was wrong.  She found that vulnerability was absolutely necessary.

VULNERABILITY IS AT THE CORE OF SHAME.  Vulnerability is an emotional risk to exposure (showing our authentic selves) and shame is the fear of disconnection.  If we don’t talk about shame, then it stacks up and we can become lonely, angry, sad, depressed, anxious, ect… We miss out on living and instead hide behind a heavy mask weighed down by our shame (baggage).

The more you don’t talk about shame, the more you have.  Until you find the courage to be vulnerable and show your authentic self – putting that cause of shame on the table for all to see – the shame will continue to thicken and weigh you down until you are no more.

After “six years of research and thousands of stories, hundreds of long interviews and focus groups and journal pages” she found that the only difference between people classified as living with shame v. not living with shame was the SENSE OF WORTHINESS.  People could be living with the same past mistakes or experiences and the ones who were not ashamed were the people who could be their authentic selves with no apology.  “Non-shame” people still felt a strong sense of belonging whereas those who were weighed down by shame did not feel worthy of connection with those around them.

“Shame” people are always wondering if they are enough.  They are always contemplating their worth and value in the world.  But when we learn to shed the shame, we expose our authentic selves – the REAL you – and vulnerability becomes easier and less scary.  The less shame, the more vulnerability, and the deeper connections we can experience increasing our quality of life.

Write Your Memoir Prompt for March

Shame: Your First Encounter

The best part about writing a memoir is that you already know all the events in the story (so far). The characters developed in real life and the setting has always been around you. The hardest part of memoir writing is the emotions that come along with remembering and going over your life (over and over and over again).

Memoirs do not document your entire life. The purpose of a memoir is to relay a PART of your life. The memoir is a story of themed events that got you to a specific time and place in your life.

Try your hand at writing your memoir on how that first encounter with shame has impacted your life.

6-Word Story Prompt for March

Staying with the theme of March, Shame: Your First Encounter, try to put together one or more 6-word stories describing some of your earliest memories of shame.  This “sudden fiction or nonfiction” is a writing practice and therapeutic technique that challenges people to write an entire novel in 6 words.

 

 

SHAME Storytime: Student Mom Who Doesn’t Have It All Together

Sometimes I feel like two different people when it comes to making friends. Some of the time I’m really out going and love talking to new people. Listening to people’s stories is one of my favorite things to do as a nurse. Yet, there are just as many times where I’d rather keep to myself and not talk to anyone.

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My fear of disconnection has controlled my life for far too long.

I go through phases of social awkwardness where I can barely will myself to talk to others and forget about me initiating any meaningful conversation. I loathe small talk, so during these times I keep to myself and hide in the corner at events I’m forced to attend. This attitude and behavior makes it hard for me to make friends. However, I still find myself striking up conversations with my patients and communicating with them as if I’d known them for years.

After analyzing my feelings and experiences this past year, all I can come up with is that I can engage with my patients rather than others because I’m not asking myself, “If this person finds out _____ about me, will they still feel me worthy of a connection?”

I have missed out on many friendships, job opportunities, and FUN because of my shame that I carry around. It’s a purse of the past that I can’t seem to put down for too long. I keep jamming shit in it. Every time I work up the courage to let go of some of that shame something comes along and I find new shame to stuff in my purse. This purse of shame weighs more than it should.

So I am going to try and empty its contents through this blog and in my everyday life as I hope you too can let go of any shame baggage you might be packing because no one deserves shame. No one deserves loneliness. And shame attracts loneliness.

Today’s story will focus on when I first started school at Duke University in January 2016 and was too ashamed of the fact that I was mom who did not have it all together. Another girl in my cohort had a toddler and a baby. She carried herself well, never was on edge, and seemed to have it all together. From the stories I overheard in the coffee line, her kids were making a smooth transition.

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Madeline and I at Surf City, NC for Spring Break 2016. Even when I am “relaxing” I have a bad case of mom bags under the eyes.

At the time, my daughter was 2 years old and hated sleep (she still does unless we need to be somewhere early, then she loves sleeping in). Her father and I couldn’t get her in bed before midnight. She despised wearing clothes and tried to take them off every chance she could (including at the grocery store). We had stopped going to restaurants, stores, or anywhere else people congregated at because of fear of one of her tantrums. She loved to play, sing, and entertain which was so much fun but made laundry, cleaning, and studying a nightmare. Oh, and potty-training, I could not have been failing more as a mom. What was I thinking going back to school? And to Duke? Now?

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Every time I have baby fever for another one, I remember how awful potty training was and how I am enjoying not changing diapers at this point in my life.

I felt alone alone at school most of the time. Though home life was chaotic, I felt comfortable and supported there. But at school I tried to put on the persona that everything was perfect at home. I wanted to fit in. I didn’t want to be the mom who didn’t have it together. The other moms were making it look so easy. I didn’t talk to them because of the question that always stopped me, “If they find out I’m a crappy mom, will they still want to be my friend?” Sounds immature, but if I’m being honest, that’s what I thought! “If these women knew my dishes haven’t been done all week and I’m buying my kid new underwear because I haven’t done laundry in awhile, will they think me worthy of a connection?” I didn’t think they would, so I didn’t talk to them. I kept my distance from the moms until this one morning when I couldn’t get my daughter to wake up on time, couldn’t get her to eat breakfast, couldn’t get her to keep her shoes on, and couldn’t get her to stop crying as I dropped her off with the nanny. I felt guilty for giving my child to another woman to take care of for the next 8 hours. I felt shame that I couldn’t make the transition smoother. for my kid and nanny.

That morning, I was running late for an important lecture and noticed dried milk on my blouse, crayon drawings on my pants, and coffee that I had spilled on myself getting out my car in the parking garage. To make it worse, I took a peek in a car window and realized I hadn’t taken off my makeup from the day before. Yep, nasty mom! Didn’t hav

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Madeline manifesting a tantrum after I tell her it’s time for mama to go to school.

 

e time to take a shower. Washing my face had slipped my mind sometime between making dinner and cleaning up breakfast. That’s when I lost it. I smelled like a spit up rag and looked like a worn out clown. I sneaked in the lecture hall 30 minutes late, put my bags down, and found a stall in an upstairs bathroom and locked myself in and cried.

There is something therapeutic about sitting on the toilet with your pants on and letting your frustrations out. As I cried in the stall, I made the choice to let go of the shame because if I didn’t, I was going to drown in it at Duke. I needed support. I needed some mom friends – who, if they didn’t know what I was going through, maybe they could give me advice on what to do better.

So I stopped asking (to myself), “If you know about my imperfections, will you still want to be my friend?” every time I was around the moms who had it all together.

The mom mentioned above who ‘had it all together’, well, I started sitting by her and conversing with her on anything from school stuff, family, Jesus, and food. Turns out the more I opened up about my flaws as a full-time student and mom, the more we found out we had in common. BECAUSE WE ARE FLAWED and just because we aren’t perfect moms and have it all together, doesn’t mean we are any less worthy of a connection (or bad moms!).

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A perfectly FLAWED family watching the Duke Blue Devils play basketball at Cameron Stadium in January 2017.

I almost missed out on a wonderful blooming friendship because of shame that was weighing me down. This friend and her family are an important link in my support system in North Carolina. My daughter almost missed out on playing weekly with one of her best friends having another because of my shame. My family almost missed out on having another family here in Durham to hang out with because I was too afraid to be vulnerable.

No one ever says, thank goodness for my shame. But I have said so many times, thank you God for letting me let go of that shame.

Writing Prompts for March

Writing Prompts

Shame: Your First Encounter

#1 When is the earliest memory of shame you can recall? (What happened? Were you worried about what other people thought?)

#2 What feelings accompanied your shame: guilt, embarrassment, sadness, anger, depression, humiliation, low self-esteem, low self-worth, or dehumanization?

#3 How did you handle your first situation of shame? (Were you able to talk to anyone about it? Did you self-harm?)

#4 What negative thoughts about yourself and life came about after this incident? If none, what other thoughts lingered in your mind?

Vulnerability, Courage, & Shame: The Fear of Disconnection

Editors note: Part 1 of the Operation No Shame blogging series Vulnerability, Courage, & Shame

Do you see vulnerability as a weakness or a strength? To be vulnerable is to let others see you in your most raw, honest form – to open up all your baggage even though there are no guarantees others will accept you as you are or return your respect or love. It’s a scary thing to be vulnerable because we do care what others think because we long for connection in life. That is where shame lurks.

Dr. Brene Brown defines vulnerability as “emotional risk exposure uncertainty it fuels our daily lives… our most accurate measurement of courage” and that in order for us to understand this relationship between vulnerability and courage “we have to talk about shame.”

Shame is the fear of disconnection.  Research has found that the only people who do not experience shame are the ones who have no capacity for human empathy or connection.

Shame is universal.  “Is there something about me that if other people know it or see it, they won’t think me worthy of connection?”

During Dr. Brown’s first Ted Talk, Power of Vulnerability, she said that in regards to shame, “No one wants to talk about it and the less you talk about it, the more you have it.”  Therefore, if we forgo being vulnerable, our shame stacks up. We build a wall only destructible by the courage to be vulnerable and show our true, messy, honest selves to others.

When we lack the courage to be vulnerable, to be the authentic you, we are stuck in a limbo of questioning “Am I enough?”

“Am I pretty enough?” “Am I good enough?” “Am I thin enough?” “Am I successful enough?” “Am I wealthy enough?” “Am I smart enough?” “Am I talented enough?” “Am I strong enough?”

We hold back when we have to ask ourselves “Am I _____ enough” because we want that connection, but the rejection is sometimes too much to bare especially in the social media age of perfect digital lives that are hard to dissemble from truth or fabrication (an easy example: raw photo v. Photoshop).

Being honest with people about our flaws, imperfections, past mistakes, embarrassments, bad decisions, baggage from years ago, etc… is nerve wrecking because not everyone encompasses compassion or understanding or maybe not even the patience to try and understand. We fear these people who lack empathy for our different walks of life. We fear the lack in ourselves. And that’s why hold back, not talk about, and build that wall of shame. Holding on to shame is not as scary as letting it go.