Healing Your Shame with the Willingness to Be Vulnerable

March 25, 2013 — 6 Comments

There was a wonderful show on Oprah’s network on her ‘Super Soul Sunday’ show recently. It featured Dr. Brene Brown discussing her newest book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the way we Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

Dr. Brene Brown

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past twelve years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Her groundbreaking research has been featured on PBS, NPR, CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.

Brené’s 2010 TEDxHouston talk, ‘The Power of Vulnerability’, is one of the top ten most viewed TED talks on TED.com, with approximately 6 million viewers. Additionally, Brené gave the closing talk at the 2012 TED conference where she talked about shame, courage, and innovation.

Defining Vulnerability

The Encarta Dictionary defines vulnerable as ‘without adequate protection, extremely susceptible, or open to attack.” If you’re using Encarta’s definition, it’s obviously not smart to put yourself in physically vulnerable situations.

But fortunately, being emotionally vulnerable is different. Emotional vulnerability means sharing your deepest thoughts, feelings and memories with someone you trust. When you are emotionally vulnerable, you let someone into your heart to know you at a deeper level.

In Daring Greatly, Dr. Brene Brown challenges everything we think we know about vulnerability. Based on twelve years of research at the University of Houston, she argues that vulnerability is not weakness, but rather it is our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection.

The willingness to be vulnerable was actually the strongest value shared by men and women in Brene’s research who are able to live ‘wholeheartedly.’ She says, “they attribute everything–from their professional success, to their marriages, to their proudest parenting moments– to their ability to be vulnerable.”

Defining Shame

I was fascinated with Brene’s talk about the power of vulnerability, but I was even more taken by her research with shame. Our shame is the reason we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

The Encarta Dictionary defines shame as “a negative emotion that combines feelings of dishonor, unworthiness, and embarrassment.” It is also “a cause for regret or disappointment or a state of disgrace or dishonor.”

Brene says that shame is different from guilt, because guilt says, “I DID something bad,” while shame says, “I AM bad.”

Shame begins in childhood. Brene says that shame is still the single most used discipline technique among parents and teachers, across all the economic classes of our culture. She reports that whether you attended the highest socio-economic school or whether you grew up in the lowest poverty stricken area, shame was still the most common discipline used to control children.

Overcoming Shame

Overcoming shame brings us back to vulnerability. We have to be willing to be vulnerable in order to overcome our shame. Too often, people stay stuck in their feelings of shame for a lifetime, because of their fear of being emotionally vulnerable.

Dr. Brene Brown’s exciting research provides new hope for overcoming your shame. She says that shame cannot survive in the presence of empathy. She also says that when you expose shame to an empathetic person, it dissolves and releases.

The problem, of course, is finding that empathetic person whom you can trust to expose the deepest secrets of your heart. It can be scary to risk that you will be shamed again for exposing who you really are.

Dr. Brene Brown said on the Oprah Special that you shouldn’t trust someone until they have earned your trust. Oprah agreed with Brene and quoted a Biblical verse that says, “Don’t cast your pearls to swine.”

Finding a Safe Place to Heal

If you have tried being vulnerable in the past and you’ve been hurt by unkind people, please don’t assume that everyone you trust will be untrustworthy. As the awareness for emotional healing grows in our culture, more and more people are beginning to value emotional openness. People who are emotionally vulnerable themselves will honor their friends who are also open and vulnerable.

If it’s scary for you to trust anyone, you can always begin by going to a counselor or psychotherapist. Remember that counselors are bound by the laws that protect your confidentiality. Legally, they cannot hurt you by telling others about what you have said or done.

When you practice sharing your emotional vulnerability in a safe place, then it becomes easier to venture out and find other people you can trust. Make it your goal to find one friend who is trustworthy and committed to their own emotional healing. When you find that one supportive friend, your entire life can begin to change!

Share it with Your Friends and Family

Please do feel free to share this with your family and friends. I’d love to see as many people as possible transform their lives, so that we can all work together to create a better world for everyone!

Leave a Comment or a Question

I’d love to hear your comments and questions. What would you like to hear more about?

Are you afraid to be vulnerable? Have you felt trapped by the shame in your life? What have you done to overcome it?

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More Information

For more information, you may also enjoy reading some of Kari’s other Blog Posts like:

Choose the Growth Path

Emotional Healing for Beginners

How to Practice Emotional Healing

What to Expect with Emotional Healing

50 Long-Term Benefits of Emotional Healing

100 Best Psychology/Self-Help Books

6 responses to Healing Your Shame with the Willingness to Be Vulnerable

  1. I have lived the life of being vulnerable, like so many. I also know that it is one of the hardest things to overcome and just let happen to heal. To be vulnerable is to heal from shame, hate, anger or ever lasting darkness. I am still on my journey of healing completly but each step I take in releaseing the shame opens a new door. I still have trouble letting myself be vulnerable for I hated it as a child and just learned to let anger take over, it felt safer. The anger is no longer safer, but a hinderence from the shame, so here I am little by little learning to trust, release, and learn that empathy can be true, comforting and rewarding. I am lucky to have found a terrific cirlce of friends and guidance from a wonderful Therapist that has changed my life and continues to touch my life daily from all of her wisdom and support. I thank you for sharing the information on Dr. Brown and a new way of healing. Each of us has to find a way that speaks to us so to speak and this is just one more way to explore. Thanks – melissa

  2. Johan Andersson March 27, 2013 at 12:02 am

    Shame is so commonplace that we hardly notice it. In addition to being used to discipline us, we are constantly bombarded with shame in commercials (you are not good enough unless you use our product). Shame is the engine in modern civilazaion.The fuel for fear.

  3. Just read through. Very nice clippings , research on Vulnerxxx and Shame. Excellent! Ben

  4. Daring Greatly is on my list of books to read for an inner strength challenge I’ve created for myself. I didn’t realize it tackled shame. My grandmother was pregnant with my dad when she married my grandfather. My dad wasn’t aware of this until he realized the date on their marriage license had been altered when he was sorting through her papers after she died. My brother’s therapist told him she passed all of her shame onto my dad who in turn passed it on to us. I need to read this book next. Thanks for this post

  5. Thank you so much Kari. I,once again, found incredibly valuable information through you & your blogs. I am just beginning to unearth, uproot my vulnerability issues. I will add Brene Brown to my list of must reads. I have bought a few of your books & just wanted you to know that right now is not the first time you have supplied me with what I most needed next to improve my journey in this earthly life. I truly appreciate and am feeling inspired. Bless you & keep up the great work.

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