Updated: Jul 26
In a recent interview with Adam Grant, Brene Brown referred to herself as the Queen of Vulnerability and the Assistant Queen of boundaries. She goes on to say: ‘we are raised to be told it’s important to be brave.’ Does this, therefore, mean that being vulnerable is showing weakness?
What springs to mind when you think about the word brave? The Oxford dictionary definition is: “having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty: having or showing courage.”
Let’s start with a few questions:
When was the last time someone said something to you, and you felt hurt by their words?
When was the last time you did something for someone, not because you wanted to, but because you were too scared to tell them you didn’t want to do it, because in your mind it may mean they don’t like you anymore?
What stopped you from being open about your feelings?
Being vulnerable takes, amongst other things, courage. We are taught how to be brave as we grow up. As a child, if we maybe fall over, or leave our caregiver for the first time to go to nursery and we don’t cry, often we are praised for being brave. What is the real message that is being passed on here?
In Transactional Analysis, Bob & Mary Goulding (1976) named 12 different patterns of ‘Don’ts’ as injunctions passed on to us via our caregivers and our culture. They are child-made and child-held beliefs about how to stay safe in the families we grew up in. And our inner child still believes them.
‘Keep calm and carry on’ ‘Stiff upper lip’, ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘man up’ and ‘you just have to get on with it, don’t you?’ ‘Suck it up!’ Some families pretend not to have feelings at all. Or in your family of origin, some feelings are allowed and ‘stand in’ for others. So, a family might show anger and not joy or fear or sadness. They might appear as if they are always angry, but as anger is the one feeling that is acceptable, some of their anger might be covering up the real ‘forbidden’ feeling underneath. Some men, in particular may cover fear or hurt or sadness with anger because anger is culturally ‘allowed’ for men. One of the greatest fears of being vulnerable is that we risk feeling shame.
So, if as adults we hold these beliefs inside us and behave in ways to support them, how are we supposed to break out and allow ourselves to be vulnerable in our relationships?
Covid has allowed us to show more of ourselves at work, particularly if you found yourself working from home. Zoom calls gave us an insight into other people’s homes, we saw kitchens, bedrooms, children and pets. For the first time in our lives, we found ourselves in a ‘similar boat’ to our managers.
How can we show more vulnerability?
Ask for what it is that you need. Often in my counselling room, clients tell me that when they have to ask for what they need, somehow, whatever it is becomes devalued. ‘Why should I have to ask my husband what I need? Why doesn’t he know?’
When we are hurt, it’s easy to put up a defence to protect ourselves from the people around us and shut down. If we can admit that we are struggling or that we need help, our family and friends then have the opportunity to respond. People aren’t mind readers, and if we don’t tell them what we need, there’s a high chance they will make a guess, get it wrong, and then also shut down.
Tell people what you want. As a counsellor, I’ve worked with many clients who are very clear about what they don’t want and cannot talk about what they do want, probably because this reveals too much about their desires. Telling people what you want does not mean you will get it, but what is certain is that if you don’t tell people what you want, they will have no idea how to meet your needs.
Express what you really think. By this, I don’t mean being insensitive to those around you. Our close relationships are a space where we can hopefully express our wants and needs without fear of abandonment or shame. Next time someone asks for your opinion, how comfortable are you saying what you really think? Being on the end of criticism is never a nice experience, if you value your relationship being more open and honest will encourage those around you to do the same, which can help change the way you and your family interact.
Learn to accept things don’t have to be 100% perfect
Brene Brown said: “the belief that if we live perfectly, look perfectly and act perfectly, we can avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame.”
Perfectionism doesn’t promote growth, improvement, or personal achievement, it’s about fear and avoidance. You could be focusing on accepting the best version of yourself, despite your imperfections. This perspective is healthy and inclusive and leads to personal growth, it helps raise your self-esteem, as you are focusing on your positive qualities rather than constantly trying to achieve the impossible.
Be willing to show your feelings. Sometimes we are afraid to acknowledge our feelings even to ourselves. Often, we fear what other people think, in my experience when we share our feelings, others around us are more likely to share theirs. A big part of strengthening our relationships with others involves the ability to be open and honest with them.
For the full podcast, here’s a link: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/taken-for-granted-brené-brown-on-what-vulnerability-isnt/id1346314086?i=1000510270643
Goulding R, Goulding M, ‘Injunctions, decisions and redecisions’. Transactional Analysis Journal, 6, 1, 1976, 41-48.
The full list of injunctions is here:
· Don’t Exist
· Don’t be important
· Don’t be You
· Don’t belong
· Don’t be a child
· Don’t be close
· Don’t grow up
· Don’t be well
· Don’t make it
· Don’t think
· Don’t (do anything)
· Don’t feel