the myths of vulnerability

Continuing the key insights that I learned from Brene Brown’s Netflix special Brené Brown: The Call to Courage, the second important takeaway is: Many of us have zero idea of what vulnerability exactly means. 

During the special, Brown points out the following six misconceptions about vulnerability that she often hears from her subjects and from the people that she meets:

  1. Vulnerability is weakness: She clarifies that vulnerability is not weakness, it’s courage. Vulnerability and courage are not two opposite ends of the spectrum, in fact they are hugely inter-linked. She explains, “Give me a single example of courage in your life, or that you’ve witnessed in someone else’s, that did not require uncertainty, risk, or emotional exposure. Here’s the rub: be brave but never put yourself out there. We’ve gotta dispel the myth.”
  2. I don’t do vulnerability: We can’t dismiss the fact that we all have been vulnerable at some point in our life. Being vulnerable is not an option, it’s a necessity for us humans. Brown says, “You only have two options—you do vulnerability knowingly, or vulnerability does you. People are taking their pain, and they’re working it out on other people. And when you don’t acknowledge your vulnerability, you work your shit out on other people.”
  3. I can do it alone: If you’re doing vulnerability alone, it’s no longer vulnerability. Brown informs the audience that we can’t do vulnerability all by ourselves, and explains, “We’re neurologically hardwired for connection with other people. In the absence of connection, love, and belonging, there is always suffering.” 
  4. You can engineer the uncertainty and discomfort out of vulnerability: Brown jokes about engineers from the tech giants of Silicon Valley telling her that they’re designing apps that show people the right time to be vulnerable with others, and remarks on the futility of these attempts. According to her, there’s no secret algorithm or magic bullet that can help us eliminate the uncomfortable parts of being vulnerable. She points out, “The minute it becomes comfortable, it’s no longer vulnerability.”
  5. Trust comes before vulnerability: Vulnerability and trust build on each other to form meaningful relationships, and even if there’s little to no trust established, we can still let our guard down and become vulnerable with someone. Brown says, “It’s a slow stacking over time of vulnerability and trust. We start with little things, and we build over time. You share with people who’ve earned the right to hear your story. Your story is a privilege to hear.”
  6. Vulnerability is disclosure: Vulnerability is not about what kind of details you share with people whether in person or on social media, but it’s about how brave you need to be in order to share those details. Here’s an elementary insight that Brown shares: There’s no vulnerability without boundaries. She points out, “You don’t measure vulnerability by the amount of disclosure. You measure it by the amount of courage to show up and be seen when you can’t control the outcome.”