20 July 2014

I'm Vulnerable, so Why Aren't I Worthy?

A friend of mine brought to my attention this TED Talk by Brené Brown. The impetus for my friend sharing this with me was the connection made by Brown between people who have ownership over their vulnerabilities and being "whole-hearted people, living from this deep sense of worthiness." Here's the entire talk, if you're the kind of person who'd rather go over primary source material first, rather than through the filter of a secondary source (i.e., my reactionary post about it). If you'd rather read the transcript, it's here.

Whether you just watched that or not, I want to highlight what Brown says beginning at 9:39:
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.
Now, Dear Reader, I suspect you already see the connection I've made to Brown's remarks but just to spell it out, I identify with this characterization to a tee. It's something I have used for most of my life, really. I know it's hard for a lot of people to even articulate things about which they feel vulnerable, much less summon the fortitude to raise their hand and draw attention to these things. But I can articulate things reasonably well, and I am also willing to expose myself to criticism.

I was reminded of all this in 2011, when I was hospitalized at Our Lady of Peace to treat suicidal depression. What helped me more than anything about being there were the conversations in which I found myself articulating and volunteering things that others couldn't, or wouldn't. But after each group session, at least one other patient would privately thank me for speaking up.

Sometimes they were just uncomfortable speaking in front of a group - difficult for many people anyway, much less at a time in their lives like where they were at that time! Sometimes, my fellow patients just didn't know how to put into words what they wanted to share. Regardless of what their reasons for not volunteering to put their vulnerabilities on display, I was reminded throughout that weekend that I am capable and comfortable doing it.

This brings me back to Brené Brown and her research linking ownership of vulnerability with self-worth. Reading the transcript of Brown's TED Talk, I nodded along at almost all of it. It was like she was explaining why I am the way I am. I very much agree with Brown's points about how being comfortable with our vulnerability is a linchpin of our connections with other people; it's why my hospitalization helped me in 2011, and I like to think it's why you, Dear Reader, get something helpful out of this blog every now and again. That possibility is why I share what I share, after all.

So why have I never felt the self-worth that Brown's research correlates to ownership of vulnerability?

Why can I put myself on display so openly and make those personal connections, etc., but not feel that "sense of worthiness" that Brown says I should also feel?