Something I have noticed since I started doing therapy is that the same topic, idea, problem, or experience will occur several times in a short amount of time. My clients will probably be able to recall at least one time I have said something to the effect of, "I talked about this same idea earlier today with another client." The most recent theme that has been present in my therapy sessions is Brené Brown's work on vulnerability and shame.
I first learned about Brené Brown's work on the first day of a qualitative research class in my Master's program. We watched "The Power of Vulnerability", which is, to my knowledge, Brown's first TED Talk. The point of showing us this video was to introduce us to qualitative research; however I was left feeling like I had been hit in the stomach with realization about how I viewed relationships.
Before we can talk about Vulnerability we need to talk about Shame (a word I use with every client, regardless of the Problem that brings them to my office). Shame is the feeling that we are not "enough" for people to love us. Often times Shame focuses on attractiveness, weight, masculinity, wealth, intelligence, and confidence; however this is far from an extensive list.
Brown makes some very important points about Shame:
Fear of disconnection
No one wants to talk about it
The less you talk about it the more you have it.
The tricky thing about Shame, this fear of not being good enough for connection, is that the stronger it is, the stronger that fear of not being good enough, the less connection we have. To put it simply, increased Shame = decreased Connection.
That leaves us, people with Shame, isolated in our feeling of not being enough, struggling in silence to somehow be better and then worthy of love and connection. This isolation, this not talking about Shame, just creates more Shame, which builds up our walls even more, preventing the Connection we are craving.
Brown's work shows us that the people who feel Love and Belonging believe they are worthy of Love and Belonging.
So how do we stand up to Shame and finally get that Connection we each deserve?
The first step is to identify it. How do you know Shame is around? I most often notice Shame being present with me when my internal dialogue (the voice in your head that we all have) uses the words "should" and "enough." "You should have made more money last year, you aren't thin enough, you should have worn your hair differently, you didn't read enough, you should have gone to the gym more often," and the list goes on, and on, and on...
The second step is to decide if you are going to play along. When I would hear these thoughts, the thoughts Shame put there in the first place, I used to do one of two things: push myself harder or shut down completely. The trick is that no matter how hard I pushed myself, how much I accomplished, Shame kept putting the same thoughts in my head. Either way I was playing along with Shame.
Then I decided I was not okay with Shame making me feel like a failure of a person and decided to tell those thoughts to shut up, and that I was just fine the way I was. This second step, of deciding to not keep playing the game, is crucial. Until we decide to do something different, we will continue to be in the control of Shame.
The third step is to invite Vulnerability into our minds and relationships. We often think that Vulnerability is a bad thing. We think it is weakness, that we will be inevitabley hurt if we show it, and, perhaps worst of all, that we brought that hurt upon ourselves for being Vulnerable. This idea...is crap (see the link below of the "Price of Unvulnerability if you don't believe me).
Vulnerability is the antidote to Shame. If Shame tries to convince us that we are not good enough for connection, Vulnerability tells us that it is okay to show who you are and that you will be loved for being you. Vulnerability is showing your partner that you are lonely and afraid of the future, rather than expressing anger and pushing them away. Vulnerability shows us we do not have to listen to those "should" and "enough" voices, that we can climb out from behind that wall that Shame has built to isolate us and we can connect with the people who have been waiting on the other side. Shame tries to convince us that on the other side of that wall is judgment and pity, but Vulnerability allows others to feel empathy and connection with us instead.
Invite Vulnerability to reduce Shame. If you want more information, strategies, and ideas on how to actually do this, contact a therapist you trust.
For more information on Shame, check out these links:
The posts provided here are intended to provide psychoeducation, resources, and support for current clients, potential clients, or anyone seeking information about mental health. These posts are not a suitable replacement for mental health services including medication, therapy, counseling, or crisis managment. If you are seeking help for any mental health or relationship struggle, please contact a mental health professional you trust.