I read a fantastic book recently called Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, a research professor and expert on vulnerability and shame. You may recognize her name from the insanely popular (and awesome) TED talks she has done (want to check them out? go here and here). Her words are inspiring, thought-provoking and dare you to take action. Dare you to be great in your life, in your relationships, in your career and in your family.
She opens with the quote above from Theodore Roosevelt, which sets the stage perfectly. Daring greatly is vulnerability in a nutshell. If you think back to all of the big accomplishments in your life, you can probably pinpoint the moments of vulnerability that led to them. If you weren’t willing to be vulnerable, to let your walls down for a little while and risk failure, would you have accomplished this moment of greatness? My guess is your answer is probably no. Vulnerability is necessary to get where we need to go in life. Necessary for us to become who we are meant to be, lead the life we are meant to lead.
“Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.”
Being vulnerable is tough. We are hard-wired to protect ourselves and our hearts, so taking a risk and putting it all out there can be downright terrifying. As Brené Brown explains, one of the main things that keeps us from being vulnerable and daring greatly is shame. Shame is the gremlin in your head telling you that you aren’t good enough, making you terrified of what other people may think. Shame kills courage, squashes vulnerability, and if we let it take over, will prevent us from daring greatly.
Brené Brown goes on to discuss how men and women experience shame differently. To start, she defines the twelve major “shame categories”: appearance and body image, money and work, motherhood/fatherhood, family, parenting, mental and physical health, addiction, sex, aging, religion, surviving trauma and being stereotyped or labeled.
For women, the primary trigger is how we look. “After all of the consciousness-raising and critical awareness, we still feel the most shame about not being thin, young and beautiful enough.” Oh boy how true that is. The beauty, fashion, health and fitness industries have all capitalized on this and made millions. On a daily basis I probably partake in at least one conversation with another woman or overhear a conversation between women where looks are discussed in some way. And even with my background in health and wellness, self love and body image, I catch myself doing some of the talking.
Brené Brown discusses a U.S. study on conformity to feminine norms where researchers listed “the most important attributes associated with ‘being feminine’ as being nice, pursuing a thin body ideal, showing modesty by not calling attention to one’s talents of abilities, being domestic, caring for children, investing in a romantic relationship, keeping sexual intimacy contained within one committed relationship, and using our resources to invest in our appearance.” And if a woman doesn’t fall within this norm? When it comes to the Internet, there is usually always a hater to criticize and bring her down. Most of the time it is other women doing the talking. If that isn’t a sign of someone avoiding her own issues and dealing with her own feelings of shame then I don’t know what is.
For men, the overriding pressure surrounding shame is to not be perceived as weak. Brené Brown describes this pressure as a box. “Like the demands on women to be naturally beautiful, thin, and perfect at everything, especially motherhood, the box has rules that tell men what they should and shouldn’t do, and who they’re allowed to be. But for men, every rule comes back to the same mandate: ‘don’t be weak.’” On top of that, men are also expected to be great and all powerful. Like in the Wizard of Oz where the wizard hides behind his curtain, controlling his mechanical “great and powerful” Oz image.
So how do we combat this shame? We need to give it words. Cultivate an awareness and shine a light on it. We need to stop “turning on each other” and instead “turn toward each other.” In other words, we need empathy. Brené Brown sums it up perfectly… “If we’re going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. To set down those lists of what we’re supposed to be is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.”
~Peace, love and daring greatly~