I don’t remember when I first saw this video.
It must have been sometime in autumn last year.
I had recently discovered the wonders of TEDTalks and was watching talks of all sorts, from inspirational artists to famous women changing the world.
And then one day I had the luck to find this TEDTalk by Brené Brown.
It changed my life.
Ever since I was a teenager I hated what I called (and still call) “self-help nonsense”. I never enjoyed those self-help talks our school would take us to in high school. They all seemed to have the same meaningless message -a message telling people to repeat a miraculous mantra that would make everything all right. The infallible recipe for overcoming any challenge was, most of the times, repeating to yourself that you were great, that you could do it. Basically, to unconvincingly try to brainwash yourself with the belief that you could do anything. Obviously, I was dubious about the effectiveness of this method.
As time passed, however, I slowly came to the realization that people need something to keep them going. We need that rock that will prevent us from falling or that will help us stand up every time we fall. We need something called hope.
Hope comes in different forms. For me, it came in the form of a TEDTalk. That is right, it came as the TEDTalk by Brené Brown.
Ever since I was a child, without knowing, I slowly constructed destructive notions about myself and my relations with others. I somehow always strove for perfection, and in order to achieve that perfection I worked hard to have straight A’s, to be first in class and to attend prestigious universities. I started to construct the notion that, to connect, I needed to be PERFECT.
This obsession with perfection extended to other areas of my life as well -in particular, in the romantic arena. Here, my struggle for perfection was further exacerbated by a succession of romantic failures. Failure after failure, I would barely recover from one disappointment to be led into another one. The problem was that I blamed the failure on me. On my lack of perfection, and hence my lack of worthiness. I constructed notions of myself, where my self-worth came to depend on my sense of physical attractiveness. Since there was probably nothing on the inside to be noticed and to be seen, and even if there were, even if I tried my hardest to show it to the world, it was invisible or simply was not “loveable”, then all that was left was the outside. That sent me through an enslaving spiral to try to embellish the outside.
The fight to be attractive, though, was also being fueled by the sense that I could not change myself on the inside in spite of having to change to connect. Constantly being judged or told to change, in spite of not feeling an urgency to change, I felt I needed to do so to be able to connect. So I sometimes did try to change, but I never could — I did not know what I had to become to be “loveable”, to be able to connect. So again, I placed my bets elsewhere, on what I felt I could change.
But, why is this story here, you might wonder.
Well, here is where Brené Brown’s talk enters the stage.
Her talk on vulnerability triggered the reflection that led to these painful realizations.
Her talk on vulnerability starts by reminding us of the often-forgotten truth that all human beings look for connection, as it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. However, because connection is so important, so is the fear of disconnection. And that fear is called SHAME.
Shame is wondering whether something about ourselves that, if seen or known by others, will make us unworthy of connection. What underpins shame, according to Brown, is excruciating vulnerability -that is, the idea that in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, REALLY seen. But vulnerability is far from a comfortable feeling. Vulnerability attracts the fear of rejection of what has been exposed. For me, it means the fear to be told or to feel that I am ugly on the inside.
The problem is that, according to Brown’s results, for connection to happen, it is necessary to be exposed, to be vulnerable. True, the possibility that someone makes you feel unworthy is always present. However, on the other hand, how will they ever appreciate your beauty if not by your being exposed?
Apparently, from the results, the extent to which people embrace vulnerability plays a significant role in their sense of worthiness. In general, people who had a strong sense of worthiness believed that they were WORTHY of love and belonging. They had a strong sense of courage —the courage to be imperfect. They also had the compassion to be kind to themselves first as if we are unable to be kind to ourselves, we cannot be kind to others. Finally, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, i.e. they placed their bets on authenticity.
Bottom line, people who had a strong sense of worthiness thought of vulnerability as necessary for connection. If we numb vulnerability, we also numb the possibility for connection. As Brown says, we cannot selectively numb feelings because when we numb bad feelings we also numb the good ones.
So, what is necessary for connection? Wholehearted living, i.e.:
1. Let ourselves be seen.
2. To love with our whole hearts even if there is no guarantee.
3. Practice gratitude and joy because to feel vulnerable means I’m alive.
4. Believing I’m enough.
So, from now on, instead of succumbing to the destructive forces within me, I think I am going to try to follow “wholehearted living”.