We are "hard-wired for connection," writes Brene Brown. This is how we were designed to live. But what happens when SHAME permeates our being? Generally, it drives us away from connection with others. And yet, "vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experiences." Shame makes us want to hide from others, crushing any sign of vulnerability. But this is a catch-22: without appropriate vulnerability, we cannot meaningfully connect with others.
What to do? We must learn to spot the way that shame creeps into our lives, how to react to it, and how to move forward in meaningful connection with others. And as believers - we let Jesus carry all shame.
Brown is a shame & vulnerability researcher. Yup. She indicates in this book that she attends church and has a spiritual side - but she does not give specifics, so she does not necessarily write from an evangelical Christian perspective. That being stated, there is much to learn from her research. I believe that much of what she teaches can be Biblically supported - God has wired us to connect with others, and has designed a Gospel that disempowers shame - Jesus took it for us.
Here are some nuggets I took from the book -
"When shame becomes a management style, engagement dies." - so true! As leaders, parents, bosses, etc. - we must learn when and how we receive or give out shame so that we can intentionally choose another approach.
"What we know matters, but who we are matters more." - I've heard this kind of idea before, but when it comes to shame - it relates to the way that I make others 'feel' around me. Do they feel supported, loved, or even confronted with truth and mercy? Or do they sense my critical spirit? My impatience? My sense of superiority?
Brown writes about the "scarcity" problem - that we are never "enough" - fill in the blank with your preference. Never thin enough, strong enough, smart enough, safe enough, etc. When we enter relationships and life from a foundation of "not enough" - then we are operating from a place of shame. This issue of a lack of 'worthiness' is a common human experience. The most important issue is how we respond to this feeling. We conciously or unconciously try to make ourselves 'worthy' through various methods and strategies - but in the end these strategies fall far short. We try to hide our 'unworthy' sides - but Brown points out that this is actually hindering us from connection with others - which is ironically where the solution lies.
Brown defines Shame - "...the fear of disconnection - it's the fear that something we've done or failed to do, an ideal that we've not lived up to, or a goal that we've not accomplished makes us unworthy of connection. i'm not...good enough...I'm unlovable. I don't belong. ...Shame is the intensely powerful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging."
Vulnerability is not weakness. Vulnerability is "uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure." "Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness." Literally, in latin, vulnerability means 'capable of being wounded,' whereas weakness means the "inability to withstand attack or wounding."
Vulnerability is what opens our lives and hearts to others for meaningful, wholehearted connection. To love, to live, to do art or sing or write poetry, to engage instead of running away, to try and start a business, to share an opinion when it might be rejected - all of these are examples of vulnerability - and so many more. But what makes vulnerability so fearful is that we are afraid that we are NOT ENOUGH.
"We love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we're afraid to let them see it in us. We're afraid... that what we have to offer isn't enough without the bells and whistles, without editing, and impressing." Brown describes the crux of the struggle: "I want to experience your vulnerability but I don't want to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me. I'm drawn to your vulnerability but repelled by mine."
But here's the kicker: experiencing vulnerability is not a choice. "...regardless of our willingness to do vulnerability, it does us. When we pretend that we can avoid vulnerability we engage in behaviors that are often inconsistent with who we want to be. Experiencing vulnerability isn't a choice - the only choice we have is how we're going to respond when we are confronted with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure."
To grow in vulnerability - we must grow in our shame-resilience. Brown describes several ways to do this. As a believer, I would emphasize that our ultimate resilience to shame lies in the cross. Jesus paid for me, lived the life I wish I could have lived, and has nailed it all to the cross. My level of belief in this profound truth is equal to how bravely I choose to live free of shame. Brown does indicate that guilt and shame are different. Guilt is "I have done something bad," shame is "I am bad." Salvation deals with our "badness" once and for all - we are now Saints robed in His righteousness. Therefore, we can approach life from a place of 'worthiness,' and deal appropriately with guilt.
Brown describes four steps to cultivate shame-resilience: (1) recognize shame and understand its triggers, (2) practice critical awareness - reality check the shame messages, (3) reach out - own and share your story with trusted others, and (4) speaking shame - talk about how you feel and what you need from others when you feel shame.
Brown does not promote undiscerning vulnerability - its about "sharing our feelings and experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them." Its part of trust. We are not obligated to be vulnerable with those we do not trust.
I could go on and on...but I think you get the summary of this book. What it impacts the most for me - is my leadership style. If I want to seed a culture of vulnerability - then I need to be willing to be exposed within my own team. Brown includes this statement in her book: "There's actually some very persuasive leadership research that supports the idea that asking for support is critical, and that vulnerability and courage are contagious. In a 2011 Harvard Business Review article, Peter Fuda and Richard Badham use a series of metaphors to explore how leaders spark and sustain change. One of the metaphors is the snowball. The snowball starts rolling when a leader is willing to be vulnerable with his or her subordinates. Their research shows that this act of vulnerability is predictably perceived as courageous by team members and inspires others to follow suit." Research also shows that a shame-resilient work culture nurtures creativity and openness to feedback, whereas shame kills innovation.
This is a long summary - and I'm nowhere near capturing the strength of this book. I highly recommend reading this book - take it with a grain of salt and overlay Biblical teaching and you will benefit deeply. I think its a great idea to talk about what you read and learn with a trusted friend or spouse in order to grow in your awareness of shame and the role it plays in your life.