Vulnerability and Letting Go
In a time of uncertainty, our brains are hardwired for wanting to establish some control. Unfortunately, so much of life is beyond our control which leaves us feeling stressed out, anxious, and even depressed. For many of us, the idea of letting go is counterintuitive and opens us up to feeling vulnerable. But there’s nothing wrong with being vulnerable, in fact, being vulnerable is not only good for us but also helps us to form connections and improve our relationships.
Brene Brown and Vulnerability
At TEDxHouston in June 2010, Brené Brown did a groundbreaking talk on courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. This talk not only launched her work into the mainstream, but has spread the mission to own our stories and create meaning from experiences that are holding us back throughout the world. (You can watch the TEDx talk here).
In 2018, I was fortunate enough to travel to Houston to train in two of her programs: The Daring Way and Rising Strong.
The Daring Way focuses on courage-building, shame resilience, and uncovering the power of vulnerability.
Rising Strong has the following objectives:
- Continue to lead and participate in a global conversation about vulnerability, courage, shame, and worthiness.
- Increase global access to information on emotion and how emotion is connected to behaviour and thought.
- Awaken people’s curiosity about emotions – awareness and the ability to articulate – and build our understanding of emotions.
- Use the rising strong process at both the micro and macro levels to increase wholeheartedness in living, loving, and leading.
Through these programs, participants are encouraged to give themselves permission. Permission to be curious and open-minded, to take time to explore their feelings, to dig deep and not have all the answers, but instead find courage as they develop a way to own their stories and write endings in a way that feels best for them. During these programs, it’s also important to be mindful about being connected to how we’re feeling and intentional about breathing to develop stability as we work through the corners of our life experiences and relationships with others.
We can think about vulnerability in terms of how we choose to understand and tell our story.
What is Vulnerability
We all have beliefs about what vulnerability means. It’s often connected to the idea of weakness – in other words, the belief that being emotional is a sign of weakness and that emotions shouldn’t be discussed openly.
Most people don’t know how to talk about emotions. And, to be honest, we’re often too busy to even know how we feel. We may subconsciously think, ‘what we don’t know can’t hurt us’ – but just because we don’t acknowledge our emotions, doesn’t mean they aren’t impacting us.
These ideas about vulnerability keep us cut off from developing meaningful bonds with people in our lives. They keep us separate, alone and fearful of connection.
Vulnerability is defined by Brene Brown as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” The idea that vulnerability is weakness is the opposite of her message. Rather, viewing risking our vulnerability as being courageous is a way to build our confidence and deepen our relationships with ourselves and others.
What prevents us from being vulnerable?
As mentioned previously, when we are faced with uncertainty, it’s automatic for us to want to maintain control. This is the opposite of being vulnerable. Being vulnerable can be scary and it can open us up to the risk of getting hurt.
As a result, many of us put up armour in order to avoid feeling vulnerable. Which, according to Brené, revolves around one of three methods:
- striving for perfection
- numbing out
- disrupting joyful moments by “dress rehearsing tragedy” and imagining all the ways that things could go wrong.
In her work, Brené also talks about the idea of hustling for worthiness. In Gifts of Imperfection (a must-read, in my opinion!), Brené explains the idea of how we try to aim for perfection unnecessarily. Instead, we can start to get curious about why we behave the way we do and adjust our perspectives to open up to see that courage comes from the ability to practice being vulnerable.
How to be more Vulnerable and Let Go
- Identifying Values: Feeling comfortable with our vulnerability starts with identifying our values. Many people don’t take the time to identify their values for themselves or in their relationships. Often, a difference in values helps to understand where conflicts begin.
- Being Brave and developing confidence in why we feel the way we do helps us navigate uncertainty with more success.
- Rewrite our Stories. Understanding what gets us stuck is another way to move towards feeling like we own our stories rather than our stories owning us. The Rising Strong curriculum supports the discovery of our patterns of ‘stuckness’ so we can develop a more wholehearted way of living. Sometimes we don’t even realize or know how to identify what we’re tripping over that is holding us back. Working through the curriculum really helps us develop a deeper understanding of old behaviours that are keeping us unhappy in life.
- Making Meaning. One of the key concepts of Brené’s teachings is about how we make meaning. Our brains are designed to figure out a story that makes sense to us. Depending on how we feel our stories are creations informed by our experiences and perspectives. Working through the material we learn new ways of creating a better feeling story and deciding who has earned the right to hear our story.
- Cultivating Change. Part of this process brings in our emotions, our physical feelings, our thoughts, beliefs and actions. We challenge ourselves to understand the perspectives of others and our own reactions to our experiences. Some of the themes that come out through the process are shame, trust, grief, anxiety and feelings of criticism. There is so much discomfort to accept the uncertainty, risk and vulnerability of feelings that come up during this process but so helpful in releasing what is no longer working and finding a way to let go.
Participating in this program supports people to let go of perfectionism, fear, grief, sadness and self-judgement. We learn how to set boundaries with integrity and be generous with others to expect their best rather than fear their worst.
There is also an opportunity to understand grief, loss, forgiveness, longing and feelings of being lost in your life. Some of these are very difficult and not often discussed, but vital in the process of letting go and developing vulnerability in owning our stories. Anxiety and criticism are other areas of focus and how we unhook from those powerful ways that we stay small.
Result of the Program
The program is 16 lessons which can be done over 8 weeks. It culminates with a new, better-feeling story of our lives. A story that we created in a way that took ownership of our experiences, rather than let our experiences take over. The work helps us develop our vulnerability and see it as courage, to let go of old patterns and ways of thinking and live as the owner of our lives rather than a bystander.
There are very few clinicians trained in the Daring Way and Rising Strong curriculum in Canada and fewer in British Columbia. I went to Houston, Texas in 2018 to have a fully immersive experience learning the material. I didn’t know what to expect, but participating in the training was life-changing. Working through these programs has helped me and so many of the people I am fortunate to support through their growth and change.
Susi Bolender (she/her/hers) is a Registered Clinical Counsellor with Dr. Joti Samra, R. Psych. & Associates. She has extensive experience working with couples, families, children & youth. In addition, Susi is passionate about working with the Deaf community and is fluent in American Sign Language and of course is a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator, specializing in the work of Brené Brown. Check out her full bio here, and reach out through our Contact Page or our Clinical Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org, for more information or to book an appointment.
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