“To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight- and never stop fighting.” ~ E.E. Cummings
Don’t think you have worthiness issues? Never struggle with feeling good enough? That’s impossible according to author and speaker Brene Brown. Over the weekend I came across this woman’s work and it got me thinking a lot about how even the most confident among us still struggles with feelings of vulnerability. According to Brown, the only ones of us who don’t feel at least a little vulnerable are sociopaths without the capacity for empathy. In fact, Brown believes that, “Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” So what do you do when you aren’t feeling good enough or worthy of love, happiness and success in your life? Fortunately, Brown offers ten powerful practices that can lead to greater courage, confidence and self-acceptance for each of us.
First, here’s a little background on Brene Brown. Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the last ten years studying topics of connection, courage, vulnerability, empathy and shame. Her larger work uncovered that connection is a primary motivation of all humans, and that one of the biggest obstacles to connection is shame and lack of vulnerability. But there was more.
As she researched, she was eventually able to identify a group of people who stood out and managed to thrive and live “full-in” despite the circumstances of their lives. They also seemed more resilient against the limiting nature of shame and vulnerability. Brown calls these people the “wholehearted,” and discovered that they lived their lives fearlessly and authentically because of two things: 1) they honestly believed they were worthy of deep love and belonging in spite of any difficulties their lives might contain; 2) they were willing to continually engage in vulnerability even, and most especially, when it was scary and difficult.
After further study of wholehearted people, Brown was able to identify ten practices that these wholehearted people employ on a regular basis that allows them to resist fear and experience life feeling worthy, loveable and sufficient. Brown calls these ideas, “guideposts”. She is also quick to point out that these are not just ideas that you can read and then claim. Instead these are “practices” that need to be incorporated into ongoing choices and decisions that we all make on a daily basis. They are:
1. Practicing authenticity and letting go of what others think of us. The more we work to try to fit into what others think is good or valuable, the less likely we are to be our unique self. Brown says, “If you trade your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.” If we aren’t practicing authenticity, then we are hiding behind masks and living a life of incongruence.
2. Letting go of perfectionism and practicing self-compassion. Brown sees perfectionism as the fear-based armor we believe necessary to protect ourselves from others, and it is always focused outward on what other people think. She says, “Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.” Face it, if you consider yourself a perfectionist then you are obsessed about how others view you all the time.
3. Letting go of numbing and powerlessness by developing a resilient spirit. Because so many people are afraid to reveal their true nature they will do just about anything to cover it up by numbing themselves—using addictions like eating, alcohol, drugs, shopping, hoarding, victimhood, busy-ness, etc.—actions all incorporated to avoid any pain that being vulnerable can bring. As Brown says, “We cannot selectively numb emotions—when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”
4. Practicing gratitude and joy and letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark. This is actually one of the most interesting practices because it explains why so many people don’t experience excitement and happiness in their lives. According to Brown, many people choose a life without joy because they “don’t want to be disappointed.” She believes that many people are making “disappointment a lifestyle.” It seems these people are thinking they can hold off feeing too sad or disappointed by moderating their joy levels—but instead of experiencing less sadness when something sad happens, they actually sacrifice their daily joy and resign themselves to a constant state of low-grade disconnection.
5. Cultivating intuition and faith by letting go of the need for certainty. Just like the last practice, many of us feel that being “certain” about how things are “supposed to be” is a way to protect ourselves against vulnerability. Unfortunately, just like the last practice, if we only do what we are safe and certain about, then we seldom experience miracles and unexpected possibilities. We are also eroding any “faith” and trust we have in something bigger than ourselves. This type of thinking also leads to “extremisms” of all types in attempts to control the world around us.
6. Practicing creativity and letting go of comparison. I wrote about comparison several weeks ago and I thought it was very interesting to see how it actually destroys our creative nature. Being creative asks us to risk exposing who we really are and what we are capable of in the big picture. But if you are afraid to be vulnerable then you won’t risk creating something that could be judged harshly or put down. Creativity requires a sense of worthiness and the ability to handle the possibility of shame.
7. Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth. Wholehearted people are willing to stop working, rest and enjoy themselves knowing that they are enough exactly the way they are. A work-aholic however needs to constantly push herself to prove to everyone that they are better, smarter, more loving, more whatever, etc. Wholehearted people know that some of the best experiences of life are those ordinary moments of play and connection and never sacrifice that to try to win other people’s love or approval. I like it when Brown says, “The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression.”
8. Practicing stillness and calm by letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle. Many people use constant anxiety and worry as another way to tamper down their disappointment and lack of excitement. Instead of cultivating a peaceful life in spite of the drama around them, they allow fear and anxiety to dominate their lives.
9. Letting go of self-doubt and “supposed to.” If we are working at a job we hate, hanging out with people that we think we must try to impress, and living a life that we think others expect of us, then we are being untrue to ourselves. Brown says, “Shame, for women, is this web of unobtainable, conflicting, competing expectations about who we’re supposed to be. And it’s a straight-jacket.”
10. Letting go of being cool and “always in control.” Brene Brown shared that a willingness to laugh, sing, dance and “be silly” was extremely difficult for her because she was raised to be tough, strong and always look “proper.” That led to constantly worrying about what other people thought and how they would judge that in her as a scientist, an author, a wife, and a mother if she were to let go and be honest enough to be truly vulnerable. But true wholehearted people are not afraid to celebrate and experience joy with wild abandon—and they have also given up the very erroneous belief that they are in control of circumstances in the first place.
Okay, so I found all of this information incredibly interesting—but what does it really mean to you and me? I think it is a great reminder as a writer and as a person I must be authentic and open, even and most especially when I’m afraid to do so. And while that is very easy to say, it is always challenging to fulfill. As Brown suggests, we have to make such fearlessness a “practice” that we incorporate every single day into our choices and decisions. In other words, even though I really, really want everyone who reads this blog to like me personally and “love” my writing, if I only write things that I think everyone will like and love, then I’m only a watered-down version of everyone else. What makes my writing stand out—is my unique take on things.
Plus if I go around trying to be perfect and in control of everything that goes on, I insulate myself from true emotion and joy so much so that I’m in constant fear of being found out as a fraud or losing control. If I routinely compare myself and my writing to other women and/or writers, I immobilize myself with anxiety. Any time I try to do what I think “I’m supposed to do” rather than what I honestly feel inspired to do, then I’m saying I have no faith in either myself or the universal process that created me. If I insist on being right or extreme in any position, I’m really just trying to control the Universe in a way that I can easily understand. No, being vulnerable is never the easy way out. In fact opening up to the possibility of shame is the hardest thing most of us will ever do.
Brene Brown adamantly feels that being vulnerable is not weakness. All of her research shows that is the most courageous thing we can ever do to create a quality life. It connects us to others and into the infinite Source of all love, creativity and possibility—giving our life meaning and purpose. Without its practice we are mere shadows of a whole person.
As I say regularly, this article only scratches the surface of the wealth of insight provided by the work of Brene Brown. Of course it’s not for everyone because, as Brown says, “If comfort is a priority, then vulnerability will be difficult for you.” Overall, I find it essential to remember that staying open to uncertainty and being true to ourselves offers us far greater benefits than the alternative. Even though it may feel scary to face our fears of worthiness, it is immensely more life-giving and empowering than attempting to play small and sacrifice our true nature. And if real courage is measured by our ability to be vulnerable, then the most courageous act any of us takes in life might be to be nothing more than to simply be ourselves.
“Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive – the risk to be alive and express what we really are.” ~Miguel Ruiz
- A great way to get a feel for Brene Brown is to watch a video of one of her TED Talks where she explains how her investigation began, or read her current book Daring Greatly. http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.htm
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/clover_1/
Dave T says
As I wandered down the sandy beach on the well worn path,
The sands of time were slipping away,
I had my armor to protect me from harms way,
My shield to protect the truth beneath.
As the sun was slowing sinking in the distant horizon,
Darkness surrounded me – cloaking me from the unknown,
Storm clouds appeared – wind howling like lost wolves,
Waves crashing into me with foamy fury.
Wave after wave until I was swept to sea,- I was lost,
My armor and shield weighing me down,
Drowning beneath the sea of truth,
My eyes burning from the salty sea could not see my way forward.
Struggling… the sea swept my shield and armor away,
Naked I looked upward – a glimmer – it was the North Star,
And then the dawn broke over the distant horizon – giving hope of another day,
Washed a shore tired, alone and exhausted – was this a dream or my life.
Above me a lone eagle soared with quiet courageous majesty.
Nothing more than an eagle – true to itself.
Without my armor I could feel the warmth of the sun shining inward.
The shield no longer there to protect me, letting my life be known.
Life had presented me a gift,
But I was not ready to receive it freely,
My shield and armor keeping it at bay,
Until the storm washed to sea, the dawn bringing a new day.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Dave! Thank you for this lovely poem of being true to yourself. Did you write this? Please let us all know… ~Kathy
Dave T says
I’m glad you liked the poem. I wrote the poem this past week reflecting some of the challenges I have faced in my life and am working to overcome.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Dave! It certainly sounds like you’ve been working on things in your life. Not easy for sure, but somehow I see that you are recognizing the value of that and coming through to the other side. Surely the benefit of dropping our armour and shields is a better way for all of us to experience the world? I tend to think that is why we are here in this time and space. Thank you again for sharing this wonderful example of the process. ~Kathy
Diana Reid says
what a great set of practices Kathy! I truly admire your authenticity, Its only in the last couple of years I have realized how important this is ( I was even ranting about this this morning). As a somewhat perfectionist I am still working on this and getting better 🙂 Thanks for your Insights and of wisdom.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Diana! Thanks for stopping by SMART Living….and yes, as they say, “Great minds think alike!” (or at least I’d like to think so…) I enjoyed your article over on the Change Your Thoughts/Change your Life website and you also have a great website yourself. It looks like we write about many of the same topics…love them ALL and believe we can all spend much more time on those than what the typical media is putting out. Keep up the good work and I look forward to connecting more in the future! ~Kathy
Kathy D says
Wow. This describes way too much about the ways I have let myself fall into unhappiness during much of my life. During the past year, I have already started trying to incorporate several of these practices into my daily routine, and plan to keep this list handy so I can refer to it and remind myself to let those old habits go. Thank you so much for this inspiring piece.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Kathy D! Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you found the list helpful too. If you haven’t had a chance to check up on Brene Brown I encourage you to do so…I just bought her book after seeing her video because I think the work she is doing is so empowering to us women. This subject is so juicy that I’m sure I’ll be writing about it again! ~Kathy G