Vulnerability

The end…of NaBloPoMo

Well…I made it to the end of the month. I missed a few days here and there but kept it up for the most part.

Life’s been busy this past month and I didn’t get a chance to write about some of the things I wanted to, but there’s always next month.

I’ll leave you with something I’ve been thinking about for the past few days. I don’t think we, as a society, know very well how to “hold space” for each other. What I mean is that we don’t know how to deal with the darker emotions like regret, sadness, anxiety, anger… From my observation, when these emotions are expressed people tend to be quick to find an encouraging word or divert attention to something else. How well do we actually allow ourselves and each other to “sit” with the emotion for a while? Not to wallow in it but to acknowledge it, name it? Sometimes there isn’t a solution to the problem, sometimes life is hard and that’s just the way that it is.

How do we help each other in the midst of life’s “hardness”? I would suggest that we learn to sit with each other…in the mess…not try to “fix” it. But to sit and be with the person – to say “this sucks” and I’ll be with you in it. You’re not alone.

I know that’s often what I want to hear. That I’m not alone. Even though my circumstances tend to be beyond my control, walking the journey doesn’t seem quite so overwhelming when I know I’m not alone.

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On vulnerability, weakness and meaning

Great quote from Brené Brown.

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Vulnerability and Courage

A photo posted by Brené Brown (@brenebrown) on


Here’s vulnerability for you

I haven’t been feeling that good emotionally lately – too much emotional processing going on. Somedays I feel okay and other days I feel crappy and so, so tired. Today is one of the crappy days. I was planning to write a post on surrender but I just don’t have the heart or energy to put it together today. So I don’t have anything for you…except my vulnerable, worn out self. Thanks for sticking with me on this journey. See you tomorrow…hopefully.

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Brene Brown on Embracing Vulnerability


Jesus: A Model of Vulnerability

I believe one of the things Jesus came to Earth to do was to model vulnerability for us. If you take a look at Jesus through this lens, you start to see his life from a different perspective:

  • He didn’t have a home to call His own (Luke 9:58).
  • He told His disciples that in order to be a leader they needed to be servants and slaves (Matthew 20:26-27, Mark 10:43-44). Those are very vulnerable positions.
  • He allowed a woman to wet his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair (Luke 7:36-50). That’s quite the intimate act on the part of the woman but allowing someone to do that to you involves intimacy and vulnerability, too. The Pharisee who was hosting Jesus was upset that Jesus was letting this happen and I wonder if part of the reason was because he felt too uncomfortably vulnerable being witness to this.
  • Jesus wept, more than once. He wept for Jerusalem (Luke 19:41) and he wept at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:35).

Then Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). He took off his robe, wore a towel around his waist, and washed the disciples’ feet. How vulnerable is that?! On top of that, he told the disciples that he was setting an example for them to follow in doing this. I believe not only was He telling them to serve others but to be vulnerable in the serving.

And finally, there was the crucifixion. Jesus allowed Himself to be mocked, stripped and beaten. He allowed men to torture him by hanging him on a cross, naked and exposed for all to see. I can’t think of anything more vulnerable than that. To me, His sacrifice is that much more beautiful in the vulnerability of it. He didn’t hold anything back from us, but was completely naked before us. So great and true is His love for us.

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‘Healthy’ Vulnerability?

There’s been some pretty emotional stuff happening in my world lately. Lots of processing, lots of thinking about the stories I tell myself. Yesterday, something triggered memories of deep wounds and it left me feeling very, very emotionally ‘raw’. And it got me thinking about what I wrote two days ago about vulnerability (Why Vulnerability?).

I believe there are ‘degrees’ of vulnerability, and while I haven’t figured this all out, I know that it’s not healthy (or ‘safe’) to share all my most intimate details with everyone I meet. In fact, doing this is a shield against vulnerability as I mentioned in my Vulnerability Armour post (see “letting it all hang out”).

Brene Brown uses a beautiful phrase to describe being vulnerable. She says we share with those who can bear the weight of our stories. These are the people we have built connection with, we’ve cultivated these relationships, there is trust and mutual empathy – in other words, these people have earned the right to hear our stories in honesty and vulnerability.

This doesn’t mean we’re not honest in the rest of our world. We should be! But the ‘degree’ to which we are vulnerable will depend on the strength of the relationships we have with the people we are with. The more intimate and ‘raw’ the vulnerability, the smaller the circle of people with which that is shared. I’m going to call this ‘healthy’ vulnerability (I just made it up; it’s not from any research I’ve read).

I’m just starting to figure this out. It wasn’t something I really thought about before because I had so much vulnerability armour up there wasn’t much vulnerability happening. But as I’m slowly learning to take down the armour, I’m thinking about what it actually means to be vulnerable. How much do I share online? How much do I share in my larger church community? How do I learn to be vulnerable in a healthy way with the people closest to me? It’s easy to throw the old vulnerability armour back on when I’m feeling uncomfortable and exposed. How do I not do that and allow myself to be ‘seen’ without being overexposed at the same time? I don’t have the answer for that.

Because of what happened yesterday, I decided not to go to a mini women’s retreat at our church today. I knew I was feeling emotionally tender and ‘raw’. The retreat would mean hanging out with 30 women that I have varying degrees of closeness with – for the day. I was anticipating what would happen – either I’d throw up my vulnerability armour and pretend as if everything was okay or I’d be a weeping mess at the back of the room. Many of those women don’t have the strength of relationship with me to bear the weight of what I was feeling and processing. While this might have been an opportunity for women to surround me and encourage me, the scene could just as easily have backfired with people who don’t know me potentially giving ‘pat’ or inappropriate responses which would have left me feeling worse. So I opted to stay at home.

Considering my degree of emotional tenderness I chose not to be with a larger group of people, although I would have been willing to be with a smaller group that I am closer with (like my church life group), though probably not for the entire day. I’m finding making these decisions involves learning to have healthy boundaries and to understand what we need. Sometimes it’s okay to consider ourselves and our well-being first. Too often I put others and their expectations first to the detriment of myself. I think it serves us well to become more self-aware and to take steps to care for ourselves in the ways we need to when in pain. And this means sometimes saying, “No”, and that’s okay.

So, embrace vulnerability in healthy ways and be true to yourself. They must not be mutually exclusive.

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Why Vulnerability?

So far this month I’ve talked a lot about shame and what we do to try to cope and protect ourselves from it. We put up shields and armour in order to hide. What are we hiding from? I’d say it’s from being ‘seen’. When we’re in shame, we feel worthless and unworthy of connection. We don’t want to be ‘seen’ for fear someone will further increase our sense of shame. The problem is that hiding keeps us from connection and it’s in connection and experiencing empathy that we can begin to walk out from underneath shame.

Which brings us to vulnerability. Vulnerability is necessary for connection. How can I feel a connection with someone when they won’t let me ‘see’ them and/or I won’t let them ‘see’ me? It is in taking down our shields and allowing ourselves to be ‘seen’ (i.e., being vulnerable) that we can truly have connection with others. This is where empathy and wholeheartedness grow.

It’s not an easy thing, especially for anyone who has experienced trauma in their lives. Often there is so much pain around vulnerability and so many walls of protection built up, that stepping into vulnerability is difficult. But…it’s not impossible. It takes baby steps with those people whom we trust (and sometimes with the help of professionals), with those who can bear the weight of our stories. With each baby step into vulnerability and receiving empathy and understanding in return, walking into vulnerability becomes a little bit easier.

Vulnerability involves risk. There are never any guarantees how the other person will respond. And sometimes the people we most love and care about will let us down. Even with knowing this…even so…I believe vulnerability is absolutely worth it. There is no other way to get through our healing to the other side. How can we become healed and whole if we never let anyone catch a glimpse of our brokenness and pain? If we never even admit it to ourselves? Sometimes vulnerability means being vulnerable with ourselves and taking the risk to see what’s really going on inside. And then reaching out to others.

Vulnerability is not easy for me. My vulnerability shields and hiding techniques are pretty entrenched, and I’ve had to do the work of learning to stop using them. I still have a long way to go. I want with all my heart to live as the wholehearted do, to learn to be vulnerable and authentic, because I know that’s where real connection happens. It’s where I won’t feel alone.

We all put up shields and masks to protect ourselves. We’ve convinced ourselves (or others have convinced us) that this is the best way to walk through life. But I believe there is a better way, a way that will bring deeper meaning to our lives, if we’re willing to take the risk to step out and be seen. Won’t you join me?

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How we protect ourselves – the Vulnerability Armor

I’m taking the information I list in this post from Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly and I’ll list source information at the bottom of this post.

Here’s a great quote from the start of her chapter on the Vulnerability Armory:

“As children we found ways to protect ourselves from vulnerability, from being hurt, diminished, and disappointed. We put on armor; we used our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as weapons; and we learned how to make ourselves scarce, even to disappear. Now as adults we realize that to live with courage, purpose, and connection – to be the person whom we long to be – we must again be vulnerable. We must take off the armor, put down the weapons, show up, and let ourselves be seen.” (p.112)

The armor Brene Brown talks about acts as a shield against vulnerability. The major shields (used by just about everyone at some point) are:

Foreboding joy

This is the experience of feeling the intense emotion of joy and as soon as we feel that, our thoughts immediately go to catastrophe. Here’s an example: my life was looking pretty good – I had a decent job, good friends, my children were healthy…and in that moment my thoughts went to “something bad is going to happen, I’ve got it too good.” I’m very good a rehearsing tragedy and less good at accepting (and enjoying) the moments of joy when they come to me.

Perfectionism

If I can make myself ‘perfect’, then I’ll feel accepted, and I can avoid the feelings of shame, judgement, and blame. There are a few problems with this – I can’t attain perfection, it sets me up to feel more shame because I’m never ‘good enough’, and it becomes a vicious cycle of striving and self-loathing. This was (and is to a lesser extent) my modus operandi.

Numbing

Numbing can come in the form of addictions and eating disorders. But…it also comes in making ourselves super busy, eating chocolate when we feel crappy, playing video games/watching TV/surfing the internet for hours, having that glass of wine to ‘take the edge off’ our day. The research shows the main drivers for numbing are shame, anxiety, and disconnection. These are very uncomfortable feelings and when we don’t have strategies for sitting in them, we numb the emotion (which means we actually numb all emotions – we can’t ‘selectively’ numb).

Some less common shields are:

  • “Viking or Victim” – these people have no use for vulnerability and possess a worldview that sees all of mankind categorized either into “Victims” (those who can’t hold their own and are being taken advantage of) and “Vikings” (those who are constantly on guard against being the victim, who dominate and try to stay in control)
  • “Letting it all hang out” – this is oversharing when there isn’t the level of connection in the relationship to bear that level of vulnerability (floodlighting) as well as oversharing with the intent to shock and get attention (the smash and grab)
  • “Serpentining” – the immense efforts used to avoid vulnerability; it might mean “trying to control a situation, backing out of it, pretending it’s not happening, or maybe even pretending that you don’t care.” (p.165)
  • “Cynicism, criticism, cool, and cruelty” – these are pretty self-explanatory and do a good job at shutting down vulnerability in the person and in others

In the Vulnerability Armory chapter in Daring Greatly Brene Brown talks about the things we can do in each category to help us take down our shields. I don’t have time or space to go into them but here’s the source information for the book:

Source: Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York, New York: Gotham Books.

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Why Grace is a big deal to me

For any of you who have followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that grace is a big deal to me. It’s a very big deal to me. And here’s why: for someone who grew up in an environment underscored by shame, who deep down felt was never good enough no matter how hard I tried…GRACE is the lifeline.

It’s the lifeline to experiencing connection and love. It’s the lifeline to learning to have compassion for myself (when all along I learned to hate myself – I would say terrible things to myself, things I would never say to anyone else). Grace is the lifeline to learning to be vulnerable (when all along is wasn’t ‘safe’ to be vulnerable – I learned very well how to ‘hide’, how to not let people see me because that would have been far too risky – my sense of self-worth was already being hammered…no way I would give anyone the chance to hammer it more).

Without grace I would be dead inside. I need to know, I need to hear, I need to experience over and over and over again that I AM worthy of love and belonging. Because God says so. I have His unmerited favor…that no matter what I do, no matter how broken, He loves and accepts me unconditionally. I have always had His love. I have always belonged to Him. Nothing in all creation can separate me from His love.

The messages I learned to tell myself are still in my mind, lurking under the surface. When I get struck by the warm wash of shame, they kick into full force, telling me I am the mistake, that I am stupid, that I am worthless. When I am experiencing these strong feelings in the darkness of my soul, I can look up and see the Light and it reminds me that grace is holding me and it will not let me go. Even though I feel like crap, I can tell myself that God loves and accepts me, that I am enough, that I am worthy of love and belonging. I may not feel that at the moment, but leaning into these truths helps lift me out of my hole of shame.

Because of grace and my growing ability to receive it in the midst of my brokenness, shame does not ‘knock me out’ for as long as it did before. Before I would be living in a shame storm for weeks, months, years. Now, I might be knocked out for a couple of hours, days, or if it’s really bad, a week at the most.

So I will keep talking about grace; I don’t think we talk about it nearly enough. I will make it a big deal until the day I die. It is Life to me. Or as Glennon Doyle Melton says: “Grace is the only buzz I have left and they will take it from my cold, dead hands.”

Here’s the video where she says this – it’s worth watching the whole thing.


Light and Darkness (and how they fit with vulnerability and shame)

I love the concepts of “light” and “darkness” and they are strewn all over the Bible. John in particular uses these metaphors. Here’s a few passages:

“God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed.” [emphasis mine] (John 3:19-20, NLT)

“Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.’” [emphasis mine] (John 8:12, NLT)

“I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” [emphasis mine] (John 12:46, NLT)

“…God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other…” [emphasis mine] (1 John 1:5-7, NLT)

To me it seems that what John is talking about is linked with vulnerability and shame. The idea of light brings to mind thoughts of being seen, truly seen, without the masks and facades I may put up to protect myself. It has to do with vulnerability. Darkness brings to mind hiding and I’ve already talked about how shame drives us to hide. We don’t want to be seen so we withdraw, we put on masks, we do whatever we can to not be exposed.

In the first passage I quoted, the people who “do evil” hate the light precisely because they are afraid their sins (actions) will be exposed. I think these people are living in shame, and they hate vulnerability. They would rather live in darkness than be seen in the light.

I’ve mentioned this before: I think one of the reasons Jesus came to this Earth was so that we wouldn’t have to walk in shame. Look at the John 8:12 and 12:46 passages. Jesus is saying we won’t have to walk in the darkness (in our own shame).

And the 1 John 1:5-7 passage tells us one of the results of living in the light: we will have fellowship with each other. I haven’t talked a lot about vulnerability yet (I will later on this month) but vulnerability is a vital part of our sense of connection with each other. The strength and depth of our relationships is linked to our capacity to be vulnerable with each other. Walking in the light, which I believe vulnerability is a part, means we have fellowship and connection with each other. And the research confirms this.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about grace and my “aha” moment.

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My Story, Part 1 – Why shame and vulnerability are such a big deal to me

So why do I want to talk about shame and vulnerability all the time? Because I know what it’s like to be ruled by shame. It is a terrible master. Learning about shame and what vulnerability means has brought new levels of freedom in my life. It has been transformational for me.

I grew up in a world where it seemed shame was the fuel we ran on. Of course, I didn’t realize that was what it was at the time. But feelings of never being good enough, no matter how hard I tried to be ‘perfect’, were my constant companion. Love always seemed to be offered on condition: if I behaved like a good little girl, then I would be loved; if I wasn’t ‘good’, I felt the sting of condemnation. I’m sure my parents never intended to communicate this message. But when messages of shame are passed down from generation to generation, that kind of stuff flows straight to the children.

This feeling and believing of “not good enough” resulted in a lot of fear. Constantly afraid of what people would think of me, wondering what I needed to do to feel accepted. I remember thinking to myself in high school that I could not imagine living one day without being afraid. I could not even imagine what that would be like, so ever-present was my fear.

I learned to hate myself and to hide my feelings. Actually, I learned to not feel at all. Although that’s not true: as much as I learned how to numb myself to emotion, those emotions went somewhere. They’ve been locked in a vault in my heart for decades.

I learned to become a chameleon. Just be who you think people are expecting you to be. Don’t dare be yourself…actually I had no idea who I was because “who I was” wasn’t good enough. I needed to be someone else. I believed that was the only way people would accept me. I wanted so desperately to feel accepted, to have connection, I would do anything to get even a small morsel of it.

Much of this belief system was running in the background; I wasn’t consciously aware this is what I believed but it definitely drove my actions. It wasn’t until I began learning about grace and experiencing it that I started crawling out from under my boulder of shame. Ironically, I didn’t start learning about grace when I became a Christian, or even when I was baptized. My life experience was my frame of reference for my Christian faith and because grace was foreign to my life, it was foreign to my Christian life as well.

Learning about grace has been a journey. There’s been a continuous process of unlearning the lies I believed. And as my beliefs shifted I became more open to hearing what grace actually is and I started to experience it through others who understand grace.

And then I saw Brene Brown’s TED Talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” and it blew my mind. More about that tomorrow.