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.


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 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.