Vulnerability

If you follow my Facebook you will have noticed I have been posting about being vulnerable and what might prevent us from taking a risk (making us vulnerable). As you may have guessed I am reading a new book. I discovered Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, and what a revelation it has been. I have been embracing my vulnerability and examining my shame ever since. I have found myself shoehorning shame and vulnerability into nearly every conversation I have at work.

If you have not read it, I implore you to do so, it has definitely changed they way I view my life.

To give you a taster of whether this is up your street, I will explain to you the biggest impact this book has had on me.

First lets explain what Brene means when she talks about being vulnerable. We make ourselves vulnerable when we do things that are not guaranteed to end in success. Being vulnerable is when we put ourselves in situations where we might be criticised, attacked, rejected, or just ignored. What prevents us from being vulnerable is shame. Shame is when we attach what we do to our self-worth. So if we fail it is that we where not worthy of success. Shame is shaped from external cultural influences, such as our family, work, religion, or wider society. Brene suggests that men and women can experience shame differently. She describes women shame as web, as it is complex and often contradictory potentially trapping women in a web of shame. Men she says experience a box of shame, where their shame keeps us inside a box of conformity.

Now let me explain this a little further. In her book she describes research in to feminine norms and conformity carried out in the US. This research compiled a list of attributes associated with being feminine:

  • Being nice
  • Pursuing a thin body ideal
  • Showing modesty, by not calling attention to ones talents or abilities
  • Being domestic
  • Caring for children
  • Investing in a romantic relationship
  • Keeping sexual intimacy contained within one committed relationship
  • Using their resources to invest in their appearance

I know at first read you think those Americans, they are so backward. If you think that, read it again and think about your life and the women around you, and the attitudes of the media we are exposed to. These attitudes are still prevalent, if not overtly, they are still prevalent in peoples heads. Add to this attributes that are required professionally for women, to be strong minded, driven, the best you can be, be bold and decisive, and you can see that complex web of shame can develop.

The same research listed masculine attributes:

  • Winning
  • Emotional control
  • Risk-taking
  • Violence
  • Dominance
  • Playboy
  • Self-reliance
  • Primacy of work
  • Power over women
  • Disdain for homosexuality
  • Pursuit of status

When I first read this I objected strongly to a number of these statements, and then I thought about growing up as a young man and the conversations I have in the company of men (mostly men that I do not know well) and the majority of these attributes are very evident. I remember in my youth feeling uncomfortable with the fact that I did not share these attributes with men and would often feel shame when in the company of men. For a British man I would add being a pack member (something again I did not partake in comfortably as a young man, causing me shame). The most important message given to men is not to be weak. Never show weakness. On top of that modern man has to listen, be sensitive, and be kind, but if you show weakness whilst doing this you have had it. So men can end up trapping themselves in a box to prevent them from feeling shame

After reading this section of the book, my life fell into place. I have been experiencing shame all my life, along with all my friends. When my old teacher told me I was culturally deprived she was describing my shame for not possessing masculine attributes. I now completely understand Foggy (my negative self talk) as a manifestation of my shame for not being strong and masculine.

I am beginning to understand what triggers my shame. These things that I do that trigger my shame do not define my self-worth. What defines my self-worth is that I can make myself vulnerable. The fact that I can be sensitive, and show emotion, means that I can show empathy to others and care for people that are feeling shame.  I am enough and I am worthy of everything I receive (good or bad).

Writing this blog makes me vulnerable, and I know that I will beat myself up about it after I have published it. Up until 5 minutes before I started writing it, I was telling myself that no one would read it or like it. In fact that is the risk I am taking, but this blog is not attached to myself worth. If no one reads it or likes it, I will be disappointed but it does not make me useless and worthless as Foggy would have me believe.

If you want to do something because you enjoy it, do it (as long as it does not result in hurting others). Do it because you can, because you are worthy, and you are enough.

Brown, Brene. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love and Lead. UK: Penguin Life, 2015.

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Author: Matt Smith Personal and Professional Coach

Performance and Life Coach

2 thoughts on “Vulnerability”

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