The power of vulnerability | Brené Brown

The power of vulnerability | Brené Brown


So, I’ll start with this: a couple
years ago, an event planner called me because I was going
to do a speaking event. And she called, and she said, “I’m really struggling with how
to write about you on the little flyer.” And I thought,
“Well, what’s the struggle?” And she said, “Well, I saw you speak, and I’m going to call you
a researcher, I think, but I’m afraid if I call you
a researcher, no one will come, because they’ll think
you’re boring and irrelevant.” (Laughter) And I was like, “Okay.” And she said, “But the thing
I liked about your talk is you’re a storyteller. So I think what I’ll do
is just call you a storyteller.” And of course, the academic,
insecure part of me was like, “You’re going
to call me a what?” And she said, “I’m going
to call you a storyteller.” And I was like, “Why not ‘magic pixie’?” (Laughter) I was like, “Let me think
about this for a second.” I tried to call deep on my courage. And I thought, you know,
I am a storyteller. I’m a qualitative researcher. I collect stories; that’s what I do. And maybe stories
are just data with a soul. And maybe I’m just a storyteller. And so I said, “You know what? Why don’t you just say
I’m a researcher-storyteller.” And she went, “Ha ha.
There’s no such thing.” (Laughter) So I’m a researcher-storyteller,
and I’m going to talk to you today — we’re talking about
expanding perception — and so I want to talk to you
and tell some stories about a piece of my research
that fundamentally expanded my perception and really actually changed
the way that I live and love and work and parent. And this is where my story starts. When I was a young researcher,
doctoral student, my first year, I had
a research professor who said to us, “Here’s the thing, if you cannot
measure it, it does not exist.” And I thought he was just
sweet-talking me. I was like, “Really?”
and he was like, “Absolutely.” And so you have to understand that I have a bachelor’s
and a master’s in social work, and I was getting my Ph.D. in social work,
so my entire academic career was surrounded by people who kind of
believed in the “life’s messy, love it.” And I’m more of the, “life’s messy,
clean it up, organize it and put it into a bento box.” (Laughter) And so to think that I had found my way,
to found a career that takes me — really, one of the big sayings
in social work is, “Lean into the discomfort of the work.” And I’m like, knock discomfort
upside the head and move it over and get all A’s. That was my mantra. So I was very excited about this. And so I thought, you know what,
this is the career for me, because I am interested
in some messy topics. But I want to be able
to make them not messy. I want to understand them. I want to hack into these things
that I know are important and lay the code out for everyone to see. So where I started was with connection. Because, by the time
you’re a social worker for 10 years, what you realize is that connection
is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose
and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about. It doesn’t matter whether
you talk to people who work in social justice,
mental health and abuse and neglect, what we know is that connection,
the ability to feel connected, is — neurobiologically
that’s how we’re wired — it’s why we’re here. So I thought, you know what,
I’m going to start with connection. Well, you know that situation where you get an evaluation
from your boss, and she tells you 37 things
that you do really awesome, and one “opportunity for growth?” (Laughter) And all you can think about
is that opportunity for growth, right? Well, apparently this is the way
my work went as well, because, when you ask people about love,
they tell you about heartbreak. When you ask people about belonging, they’ll tell you their most excruciating
experiences of being excluded. And when you ask people about connection, the stories they told me
were about disconnection. So very quickly — really about six weeks
into this research — I ran into this unnamed thing
that absolutely unraveled connection in a way that I didn’t understand
or had never seen. And so I pulled back out of the research and thought, I need
to figure out what this is. And it turned out to be shame. And shame is really easily understood
as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that,
if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection? The things I can tell you about it: It’s universal; we all have it. The only people who don’t experience shame have no capacity for human
empathy or connection. No one wants to talk about it, and the less you talk about it,
the more you have it. What underpinned this shame,
this “I’m not good enough,” — which, we all know that feeling: “I’m not blank enough.
I’m not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough,
smart enough, promoted enough.” The thing that underpinned this
was excruciating vulnerability. This idea of, in order
for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves
to be seen, really seen. And you know how I feel
about vulnerability. I hate vulnerability. And so I thought, this is my chance
to beat it back with my measuring stick. I’m going in, I’m going
to figure this stuff out, I’m going to spend a year,
I’m going to totally deconstruct shame, I’m going to understand
how vulnerability works, and I’m going to outsmart it. So I was ready, and I was really excited. As you know,
it’s not going to turn out well. (Laughter) You know this. So, I could tell you a lot about shame, but I’d have to borrow
everyone else’s time. But here’s what I can tell you
that it boils down to — and this may be one of the most important
things that I’ve ever learned in the decade of doing this research. My one year turned into six years: Thousands of stories, hundreds
of long interviews, focus groups. At one point, people were
sending me journal pages and sending me their stories — thousands of pieces of data in six years. And I kind of got a handle on it. I kind of understood, this is
what shame is, this is how it works. I wrote a book, I published a theory,
but something was not okay — and what it was is that, if I roughly
took the people I interviewed and divided them into people who really
have a sense of worthiness — that’s what this comes down to,
a sense of worthiness — they have a strong sense
of love and belonging — and folks who struggle for it, and folks who are always wondering
if they’re good enough. There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense
of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have
a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy
of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy. And to me, the hard part of the one thing
that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we’re not
worthy of connection, was something that,
personally and professionally, I felt like I needed to understand better. So what I did is I took
all of the interviews where I saw worthiness,
where I saw people living that way, and just looked at those. What do these people have in common? I have a slight office supply addiction,
but that’s another talk. So I had a manila folder,
and I had a Sharpie, and I was like, what am I going
to call this research? And the first words that came
to my mind were “whole-hearted.” These are whole-hearted people,
living from this deep sense of worthiness. So I wrote at the top
of the manila folder, and I started looking at the data. In fact, I did it first in a four-day,
very intensive data analysis, where I went back, pulled the interviews,
the stories, pulled the incidents. What’s the theme? What’s the pattern? My husband left town with the kids because I always go into this
Jackson Pollock crazy thing, where I’m just writing
and in my researcher mode. And so here’s what I found. What they had in common
was a sense of courage. And I want to separate courage
and bravery for you for a minute. Courage, the original
definition of courage, when it first came
into the English language — it’s from the Latin word “cor,”
meaning “heart” — and the original definition was to tell
the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply,
the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind
to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion
with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. And the last was they had connection,
and — this was the hard part — as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go
of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were,
which you have to absolutely do that for connection. The other thing that they had
in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them
vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability
being comfortable, nor did they really talk
about it being excruciating — as I had heard it earlier
in the shame interviewing. They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness
to say, “I love you” first … the willingness to do something
where there are no guarantees … the willingness to breathe
through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They’re willing to invest
in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental. I personally thought it was betrayal. I could not believe I had pledged
allegiance to research, where our job — you know, the definition of research
is to control and predict, to study phenomena for the explicit
reason to control and predict. And now my mission to control and predict had turned up the answer
that the way to live is with vulnerability and to stop controlling and predicting. This led to a little breakdown — (Laughter) — which actually looked more like this. (Laughter) And it did. I call it a breakdown; my therapist
calls it a spiritual awakening. (Laughter) A spiritual awakening
sounds better than breakdown, but I assure you, it was a breakdown. And I had to put my data away
and go find a therapist. Let me tell you something:
you know who you are when you call your friends and say,
“I think I need to see somebody. Do you have any recommendations?” Because about five
of my friends were like, “Wooo, I wouldn’t want
to be your therapist.” (Laughter) I was like, “What does that mean?” And they’re like,
“I’m just saying, you know. Don’t bring your measuring stick.” (Laughter) I was like, “Okay.” So I found a therapist. My first meeting with her, Diana — I brought in my list of the way
the whole-hearted live, and I sat down. And she said, “How are you?” And I said, “I’m great. I’m okay.” She said, “What’s going on?” And this is a therapist
who sees therapists, because we have to go to those,
because their B.S. meters are good. (Laughter) And so I said, “Here’s the thing,
I’m struggling.” And she said, “What’s the struggle?” And I said, “Well, I have
a vulnerability issue. And I know that vulnerability
is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also
the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love. And I think I have a problem,
and I need some help.” And I said, “But here’s the thing:
no family stuff, no childhood shit.” (Laughter) “I just need some strategies.” (Laughter) (Applause) Thank you. So she goes like this. (Laughter) And then I said, “It’s bad, right?” And she said, “It’s neither good nor bad.” (Laughter) “It just is what it is.” And I said, “Oh my God,
this is going to suck.” (Laughter) And it did, and it didn’t. And it took about a year. And you know how there are people that, when they realize that vulnerability
and tenderness are important, that they surrender and walk into it. A: that’s not me, and B: I don’t even hang out
with people like that. (Laughter) For me, it was a yearlong street fight. It was a slugfest. Vulnerability pushed, I pushed back. I lost the fight, but probably won my life back. And so then I went back into the research and spent the next couple of years really trying to understand
what they, the whole-hearted, what choices they were making,
and what we are doing with vulnerability. Why do we struggle with it so much? Am I alone in struggling
with vulnerability? No. So this is what I learned. We numb vulnerability — when we’re waiting for the call. It was funny, I sent something out
on Twitter and on Facebook that says, “How would you
define vulnerability? What makes you feel vulnerable?” And within an hour and a half,
I had 150 responses. Because I wanted to know what’s out there. Having to ask my husband for help
because I’m sick, and we’re newly married; initiating sex with my husband; initiating sex with my wife; being turned down; asking someone out; waiting for the doctor to call back; getting laid off; laying off people. This is the world we live in. We live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal
with it is we numb vulnerability. And I think there’s evidence — and it’s not the only reason
this evidence exists, but I think it’s a huge cause — We are the most in-debt … obese … addicted and medicated
adult cohort in U.S. history. The problem is — and I learned this
from the research — that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability,
here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers
and a banana nut muffin. (Laughter) I don’t want to feel these. And I know that’s knowing laughter. I hack into your lives for a living. God. (Laughter) You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing
the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then, we are miserable, and we are looking
for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers
and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle. One of the things that I think
we need to think about is why and how we numb. And it doesn’t just have to be addiction. The other thing we do is we make
everything that’s uncertain certain. Religion has gone from a belief
in faith and mystery to certainty. “I’m right, you’re wrong. Shut up.” That’s it. Just certain. The more afraid we are,
the more vulnerable we are, the more afraid we are. This is what politics looks like today. There’s no discourse anymore. There’s no conversation. There’s just blame. You know how blame
is described in the research? A way to discharge pain and discomfort. We perfect. If there’s anyone who wants their life
to look like this, it would be me, but it doesn’t work. Because what we do is we take fat
from our butts and put it in our cheeks. (Laughter) Which just, I hope in 100 years,
people will look back and go, “Wow.” (Laughter) And we perfect,
most dangerously, our children. Let me tell you what we think
about children. They’re hardwired for struggle
when they get here. And when you hold those perfect
little babies in your hand, our job is not to say,
“Look at her, she’s perfect. My job is just to keep her perfect — make sure she makes the tennis team
by fifth grade and Yale by seventh.” That’s not our job. Our job is to look and say, “You know what? You’re imperfect,
and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” That’s our job. Show me a generation
of kids raised like that, and we’ll end the problems,
I think, that we see today. We pretend that what we do
doesn’t have an effect on people. We do that in our personal lives. We do that corporate — whether it’s a bailout, an oil spill … a recall. We pretend like what we’re doing doesn’t have a huge impact
on other people. I would say to companies,
this is not our first rodeo, people. We just need you to be authentic
and real and say … “We’re sorry. We’ll fix it.” But there’s another way,
and I’ll leave you with this. This is what I have found: To let ourselves be seen,
deeply seen, vulnerably seen … to love with our whole hearts,
even though there’s no guarantee — and that’s really hard, and I can tell you as a parent,
that’s excruciatingly difficult — to practice gratitude and joy
in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering,
“Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of
catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable
means I’m alive.” And the last, which I think
is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place,
I believe, that says, “I’m enough” … then we stop screaming
and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler
to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves. That’s all I have. Thank you. (Applause)

You May Also Like

About the Author: Oren Garnes

100 Comments

  1. Tbh my experience really conflicts with this. In the past, I’ve tried to be vulnerable and I feel like it made others perceive me as less likeable and competent and more complicated. The only positive feedback I get is when I fake being confident and share less (or share only what is socially acceptable). Am I missing something? Also, companies won’t take blame for oil spills because that’s liability. Companies are strictly concerned with business unless public perception is effective profit. That was a terrible point.

  2. Brené Brown changed my life. The change is palpable and tangible. It’s also contagious. Thanks, Brené.

  3. So, after the spiritual awakening, she said "I'm not going to surrender myself to vulnerability." Then begins the project of inscribing vulnerability as a productive tool in the maintenance of the status quo; it can facilitate the ability of oil companies to fix their oil spills. And how is believing that "we're enough" related to vulnerability? Something seems strange.

  4. If you’re dealing with trauma, divorce, anger, anxiety, or anything else that’s making you feel alone and unhappy, please check out the 100% free website: www.holisticdivorcecounseling.com. Despite the name, it provides support, resources and comfort for all life’s issues and transitions, not just the cosmic hazing of divorce.
    No ads and nothing for sale.

  5. People who feel worthy had a primary care giver who was very attentive in a loving way during their first 6 years. After that we're set for life. Attachment theory. People who don't receive proper emotional support as infants and toddlers can never over come it and most do not know why they are so deeply troubled.

  6. This talk reminds me of the scene in Game of Thrones when Tyrion tells Jon "Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you." https://youtu.be/7St9TtLzoLk

  7. I'm here in July 2019 because a friend of mine told me about it. I went out and listened to two of her books on CD, which I love. ("Rising Strong", and Braving the Wilderness.")

  8. I love this… she’s a talented researcher/storyteller… her approach in sociology is very touching. More people like that please ❤️

  9. True vulnerability is courage to say "I love you" first. To open your heart, there is no guarantee that you will be accepted or loved.

  10. It's ok for women to be feminine and vulnerable. What an original thought in this age where women are expected to be men.

  11. You can’t numb bad emotions and only choose to feel the good ones. Damn dat really hit home. Just found out I was numbing my bad emotions in the past years cause I was afraid to fail and rejection.. It indeed made me feel empty from the inside.. This woman is brilliant!

  12. I gave a #TEDx talk a month ago and Brene Brown was a huge #inspiration:
    https://youtu.be/DKB5rR7QUac – to show up entirely #vulnerable and trust that people will relate! It was NOT easy but I am SO glad I did it – so many people thanked me for my vulnerability, for sharing my #pain as well as my #joy so openly with the world. 

    I talks about how to apply #gamification in your life in order to achieve more #success and #happiness – check it out and let me know what you think!!
    https://youtu.be/DKB5rR7QUac

    #tedtalk #tedx #idea #inspiration #gamification #games #play

  13. Your brain cannot tell the difference between fiction and reality (because there is a very thin line between them). So the stories you tell it shape your existence. Tell your brain new stories and you will shape a new reality. I spent 15 years denying this because of how irrational it sounded. Until life got really tough. So I decided to stRt changing the inner monologue and my life changed in a matter of days. First my mood lifted, then my actions started changing and then of course my life started changing. It's a chain reaction that all starts in the brain.

  14. One day the algorithms will be doing all this data analysis for us. Wait and see. And they'll do it faster and more efficiently.

  15. Chindu nwankwo the wife of shohfah-el isreal the man standing accused of the murder of fellow church member Joy Morgan told the court on Friday 12 of July 2019 that she had just found out less than a week ago through the media that her husband shohfah-el isreal had not driven Joy Morgan home like he told the police in a documented statement only to change his mind and statement when confronted by the police that they had found Joy Morgans house keys in the footwell area in his motor vehicle when they stopped him whilst shohfah-el isreal was driving his own vehicle in England. shohfah-el isreal told the police that he had forgotten that he in fact had not driven Joy Morgan to her home were he claimed he had dropped her off but now is claiming that he had driven her to his home in cricklewood were he says Joy Morgan stayed for two days alongside himself but forgot to mention it to his wife, the church or the police even though he followed church members to Joy Morgan’s home on more than a few occasions to find out what had happened to her and also forgot to mention he had keys to her home which in fact his wife said that both her and her husband suggested Joy Morgan give to them as Chindu nwankwo explained to the court that the key ring for Joy Morgans house keys were in fact purchased by herself on her personal eBay account on Joy Morgans behalf as Chindu nwankwo claimed that Joy Morgan was forgetful and her and her husband are now claiming that they are a bunch of spear keys to Joy Morgans home which they had both forgotten to mention that they were in possession of but chindu nwankwo remembered her husband possessing the keys in court. When asked by the prosecuting counsel why shohfah-el isreal began calling Joy Morgan ‘darling’ (who Joy Morgan herself explained to shohfah-el isreal that she saw and looked towards him as a sort of father figure) the court was told that it was common practice for shohfah-el isreal to refer to the women of the church as darling.

  16. we're trying a grass root effort in spreading the world about the amazing sailing you tube channel called “Sailing La Vagabonde”…. Lets Help the Sailing La Vagabonde get over 1 Million subscribers…they are so close. Elana & Reilly are amazing partners & have been sailing around the world for the past 5 years.

  17. I once did something unspeakable, for which I can not forgive myself. It scarred my concience and I torment myself with self condamnation, to keep that scar from ever healing, because I fear forgetting the pain and my resolve to never make the same mistake again. Until I am confident to have anihilated the part of me, that was the root cause for what I did, I can't see myself as worthy of love. Thing is, I will never be able to do that, because it is a basic instinct, and I am actually way too comfortable with it throughout all other aspects of my life as to try and fight it. The best I can do is try to understand and accept that it is part of me, and make sure I'll never expose anyone to it, so I don't hurt them. So basically I caged myself and threw away the key.
    I do numb my emotions,both good and bad ones, because I just can't handle them spiking. I can't handle judgement and rejection as much as I can't handle hope and excitement. They derail me so much I can't think conciousely. So I settled for mediocrity, because there I am safe and therefor keep others safe from me.

  18. It's interesting to note that this was uploaded in Jan 2011 and she mentions that we no longer have discourse (discussion) in Congress. That was 8-1/2 years ago and is still true today. It's more of a trend of human condition than of party politics.

  19. Shame: the fear of disconnection; is there something about me that if other people know it or see it that I won't be worthy of connection.
    Shame: I'm not good (________) enough.
    Underpinned by excruciating vulnerabilty– in order for connection to happen we have to allow ourself to be seen, really seen.
    … a sense of worthiness, worthy of love and belonging… authenticity; courage to be imperfect; fully embraced vulnerability (necessary, made them beautiful)– say "I love you first", do something without gaurantees.

    Poor and inefficient ways we currently use to deal with vulnerability: We numb. We make the uncertain, certain. We perfect. We pretend.
    Another way: Let ourselves be seen, deeply, vulnerably; Love with our whole hearts despite there being no guarantee; Practice gratitude and joy; I am enough.

  20. So lean into joy to express gratitude
    Avoid numbing things: for me coffee.
    Allow myself to sit down and feel dark emotions so I can also feel the opposite.

  21. https://youtu.be/muqEM6ukvGU For me, I struggle with professional vulnerability. It seems creativity can thrive at the heart of vulnerability with our coworkers but it can also be looked at as "crazy."

  22. Your definetion of research is wrong, you dont start with an answer and look for data to support it. You start with a question and look for data to answer it. #ScienticMethod

  23. I came here from LinkedIn, this video was mentioned, and as a Ted Talk junkie, I sought it out. I am so glad I did, this talk is a game changer!! I took lots of notes and several times I had to stop the video, and just pause for a moment to fill in the blanks of my life up until now. I desperately needed to feel worthy, I didn't know just how desperate- to believe I am worthy of love and belonging. Vulnerability is not a weakness, no, it is a strength, and once we fully embrace it we will become who we were meant to be. Watch this video!

  24. I honestly have never heard of this woman before until last Thursday when I randomly listened to 3 different podcasts that all mentioned her name in the span of 12hrs. Okay, universe. I'm listening… So, here I am ready to be hit in the feels.

  25. My psych counselor brought me here. I am at the bottom of the emotional scale (my words, not my counselors) and that realization sucks. Lot of work to do.

  26. I had to hide my vulnerability since I was a child. I grew up with a Narc mom. Narcs believe vulnerability is for the weak. I have always struggled with feeling like I am enough and worthy of love. Maybe one day I will get it.

  27. I saw this vid year's ago and just learned she had a Netflix vid so I went to watch it and I must say that her 'routine' has developed quite a bit. This one vs Netflix.

    Like a true performer – her act has developed quite nicely.

  28. No. They had courage because they had a safe space to be able to express themselves. Fear comes from being taught fear and shame of ourselves from a very young age. We are TAUGHT that we are not worthy as children; as adults, we then have to come out of what others have defined us as children.

  29. My goodness, this is such a powerful talk but for the love of God, what was she thinking when she put on this outfit? She looks like she just got out of bed and the shirt is 2 sizes too small. Couldn't you afford a jacket after all her books and talks? Come on Brene, I almost couldn't watch this despite the powerful message because of your lack of respect for your audience shown by your dress sense.

  30. If you don't like this video, read her book "Daring Greatly"
    If you don't like her book…c'mon, admit it…you're just a troll…

  31. I read that a lot of people wrote they are here because of Netflix…well I am here of because of the book “Tribe of Mentors.”

  32. I won't be taking advice from a glory chopping liberal. My life was destryed by your movement. I own my right to defend my life from liberals that claim the moral high ground, why at the same time they have no morals at all. Enjoy your slave life. Oh and stop milking Oprah.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *