Courage, Vulnerability and Connection vs Shame and Guilt

I'm a big fan of TED talks, and I love the speakers who have the confidence and courage to talk directly from the heart. One of my favorites in Brené Brown's speech The Power Of Vulnerability, which you may have heard me rave about before. Every time I watch this speech, I find it connects me to a deeper to my own feelings of fear and shame around being vulnerable.

I'm still working on overcoming my deeply rooted fear of other people knowing how I'm feeling, and for me this is the essence of vulnerability. Watching this speech moves me to tears and I know that means that I'm healing my own fear and shame around feeling vulnerable in the past, which leaves me feeling more confident for the future. Which is why I keep coming back to this talk every few months for more.

Brene's research into human connection and vulnerability led her to explore the emotions of guilt, and it's rarely discussed cousin: shame.

Connection with others gives purpose and meaning to our lives. It's why we're here. When you ask people about love, they tell you about heartbreak. When you ask people about connection, they tell you about disconnection. Shame is the fear of disconnection. That I won't be worthy of connection.

Guilt tells us that we've done something wrong. Shame tells us that we are wrong. That's why it cuts to our core and undermines our confidence so badly. Ever since I first started reading about shame in John Bradshaw's book Healing The Shame That Binds You, I've realized that shame is the big issue for me.

No-one wants to talk about shame, and the less you talk about it the more you have it.

In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen: what may feel at first like excruciating vulnerability, if you're not used to it.

The thing that keeps us out of connection is the feeling that we're not worthy of it. Worthiness is a strong sense of love and belonging. The difference between people with a sense of worthiness and those without is that people with a strong sense of love and belonging believe that they are worthy of love and belonging.

People who feel worthy are whole-hearted. They have a sense of courage: telling the story of who they are with their whole heart. They have the courage to be imperfect. The compassion to be kind to themselves first, and to others.

Connection requires authenticity. Brené's research showed that authentic people were willing to let go of who they thought they should be, in order to be who they were. They fully embraced vulnerability and believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. Vulnerability is not excruciating for them, it's necessary. It's the willingness to say “I love you” first. To do something where there are no guarantees. To invest in a relationship that may or may not work out.

Vulnerability is the core of shame, fear and the struggle for worthiness. It's also the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging and love. I love how Brené described her experience of therapy: “But here's the thing: no family stuff, no childhood shit; I just need some strategies... Vulnerability pushed, I pushed back... I lost the fight, but probably won my life back”.

We numb vulnerability. We are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated people ever. But the problem is you cannot selectively numb emotions. “You can't say here's the bad stuff: vulnerability, fear, shame, disappointment... I don't want to feel these... without also numbing joy, gratitude, happiness.” We end up miserable and feeling meaningless. This is the part that really hits me the most; it makes me tear up as I grieve for all the joy I've missed out on by numbing my own feelings. Healing the grief allows me to feel more joy and happiness in the future, so I feel grateful right now.

To be vulnerable is to let ourselves be seen. To love with our whole hearts even though there is no guarantee. To practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, instead of catastrophising. Feeling vulnerable means feeling alive. When we work from a place that says “I am enough”, we stop screaming and start listening; we are kinder and gentler to the people around us, and to ourselves. That's the sort of thing I mean when I talk about true confidence.

If you haven't seen it before, or even if you have, take the time to watch this speech now. It could be the most powerful twenty minutes of your life:

And if you liked that, check out her follow-up talk on Listening To Shame to see what happened next...

Graham Stoney

About Graham Stoney

I struggled for years with low self-esteem, anxiety and a lack of self-confidence before finding a solution that really worked. I created The Confident Man Program to help other men live the life of their dreams. I also offer 1-on-1 coaching via Skype so if you related to this article contact me about coaching.

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