I recently visited Brene Brown’s wise, eloquent and humorous TEDTalk video titled “The Power of Vulnerability”.  Ms. Brown is an established social work researcher, author and speaker.  In this talk, she discussed her research on the role of vulnerability and shame in human connection. She spent 6 years collecting and organizing data and thousands of anecdotes. Her findings will fascinate you.

Before I share them with you, let’s look at how she defines shame.  Brene says that shame is the fear of disconnection.  She explains this as, “Is there something about me, that, if other’s know or see it, I won’t be worthy of connection”? We all experience shame on some level, that sense of not being good enough for something. As a result, we tend to hide these parts of ourselves that we perceive as “shameful”.  Makes sense, right?  Don’t let people see your “ugly” and they won’t reject you.

Here’s the kicker…the opposite is true.

Within her collected data, she identified one fundamental difference that separated two groups of people.  One group of people had a strong sense of love and belonging, the other group struggled to have a sense of love and belonging. What made that difference?  She summarized her results as follows:

“The group who had a strong sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy of it.  That’s it.  They believe they are worthy”.

She further identified four important commonalities of those who felt worthy:

  • They demonstrated whole-hearted courage.  She defined courage as being able to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.  This meant that these people fully showed up when with others.  Although they felt shame, they did not hide what they felt shameful about.  They allowed themselves to be seen.
  • They demonstrated compassion – kindness to others and self.  She said that those who could feel compassion for others more easily applied compassion to themselves.
  • They achieved connection as a result of their authenticity.  They did what would seem counterintuitive to connection – they risked connection and revealed all of who they were.
  • They demonstrated the courage to be imperfect.

So rather than battle down their shame, they allowed themselves to become vulnerable.  By being authentic, they risked being left or rejected.  As a result of their authenticity and vulnerability, they developed deeper connection with others.  Their vulnerability healed their shame.

I appreciate how Brene managed to capture, quantify and publish theory on an abstract human experience. Brene has made this information easy to understand and accessible to all. Yet the work of applying this information becomes our own.  If you struggle with having a sense of love and belonging, ask yourself, “Am I worthy of love and belonging?”  Study the four commonalities.  Make them your daily practice.