I’d been stuck in my emotional basement for several days, feeling less than. Although I have a great deal to offer on the topic of vulnerability, my experience was that the charismatic presence of Brene Brown, now on Netflix, had cut my wings. First I had been avoidant, kind of scared of watching. It was a feeling I didn’t like and I didn’t like following my own advice either, which was to slow down and let the feelings be and then move.
Her phrase “daring greatly” as in having the courage to “lead with vulnerability” is one she took from Theodore Roosevelt, commonly known as “The Man in the Arena”. If you go down as in fall down, if you don’t win and often you won’t, at least put yourself out there in life, let yourself be vulnerable, dare greatly in so doing. That is what Brene champions. It rang hollow for me as in too smooth, it rang glib and too easy and way too simplistic. The Ted Talk audience loved her in what seemed an unconditional almost worshipping way. It provoked, not doubt in me at least a sense of failure in not being good at what seemed, coming from Brown, to be so clear-cut and direct.
I didn’t want to hate her; that was not the point and I didn’t want her to be the point. I just wanted to feel in touch with the integrity of my way of seeing and of being, and get through the onslaught of what both she and I might call a shame attack.
I was pluck in the middle of my own basements, a term I use for the lower levels of messiness, chaos, lack of clarity, impulsivity and the like. She, to me was coming from the ceilings, by which I mean the clouds, the upper crust of language and smooth appearance. My take had been for some time that much of the advice we get and sometimes give comes from the ceilings, the fancier places where things are made to seem both sophisticated and authoritative.
Being a kind of basement oriented therapist, writer and person, I had been working on an idea I was calling “vulnerability protected”. By this I meant that vulnerability in and of itself is not necessarily a form of courage, but that first it needs protection and safety in order to be a gateway to courage. I saw vulnerability as often very messy, not at all or certainly not always poetic. But if we are intimidated by advice that comes from the ceilings and seems grounded in absolute wisdom, we may be prone to play the part, to act the role of courage and of daring and to use the language that has been assigned us by what are either celebrities or experts or both.
Fortunately at a certain point in a humiliation cycle (we can call it trauma as well, it’s the same to me) I don’t tend to be addicted to humiliation. In fact at a certain point anger arises within me, towards either external or internalized forces that are squashing me and pushing me towards fakeness or judging me for the lack of it. Some five years ago during my course of chemotherapy for breast cancer, I encountered a good deal of optimism, which rubbed me the wrong way. At first I felt inadequate and ungrateful and then I contacted my anger for being pushed to be grateful when I was not, to be cheerful when it was the last thing available. I got pissed off, and blogged about it in Huffington Post in a piece I called “Cancer Comedy”. I also realized that many witnesses need an ill person to assure them, and that some optimism is a kind of forced and fake positivity.
In a sort of similar experience, I began to feel in touch with my anger at forces that would push me or anyone else to see vulnerability in any one way, and to “do it” in any one way either. I’m not sure that this was daring greatly. It was, in any case, my budding determination to own what I have learned and what I know, about myself and about others. I remembered, if you will, that I, and many people I know (friends and patients), have histories of trauma that make following even good advice a slippery slope. And as we can get depressed about being depressed, we can feel vulnerable about feeling vulnerable or even about not feeling or acting vulnerable in the “right” way. We may need more time; we may need to locate where we, and others near us, are stuck. We may need to be found, whether by a friend or a guide or a therapist, or by ourselves. Most of all, we may need help to turn our assumptions about conforming to the status quo of any given time, on their head, something also much easier said than done.
There is a path to be found for the people who don’t fit right in to the trends that become massively popular and at times consuming. Are you mindful enough; do you meditate well and often enough; did you avoid being a “helicopter parent” without allowing your child to be bullied or ouch—worse—to bully? And then of course comes the question, “Did you “dare greatly today”? Are you current on all the social media at our command or the social media that seems often to be commanding us?
To me vulnerability in and of itself isn’t courageous: it is raw and it is weak. In Merriam Webster’s list of words related to vulnerability include: Uncovered, undefended, unguarded, unprotected, unscreened, unsecured. To be vulnerable is to feel or to be weak, and a question here is: What’s wrong with weakness, with admitting weakness and isn’t admitting weakness a form of strength?
My point is that vulnerability does not equal strength in and of it but can become strength when it is protected. In fact it can become part of the road to becoming stronger if we can admit when we are too vulnerable to dare greatly and need help where we are stuck. And that is when sometimes we are in the muck of not knowing how we are feeling and in the shame that comes to us when we are stuck and feel we shouldn’t be.
#Pressure to do Vulnerability “right”