“Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.”
Brené Brown is a research professor studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame and I just learned about her by happening across this video of her TED talk “Listening to shame”. She said a lot of thought provoking things, but what resonated with me the most was the quote above.
I spent the majority of my life trying to avoid to be vulnerable, because I only knew the bad kind. The kind that’s imposed and cruel and painful. When I was MADE vulnerable. So initially what I resented about being part of a family the most was that I couldn’t hide my vulnerability as well anymore. In any professional arrangement, like at a hospital or group home or even therapy, staff are working shifts and I could hide from them by simply awaiting the end of their shift (or the end of the session). They would be gone, had lots of other stuff to focus on and it’s relatively easy to detach, tune out or turn my back for a brief period of time when shit upsets me.
Not so in my family. Mom’s shift never ends. Gosh, and just a gazillion of things about family life make me feel vulnerable. So after some days of honeymoon and feeling like the luckiest person on earth being in a family, reality had me crashing down when a million things at once made me feel crappy and awful and miserable about being in a family and there was nowhere to go. I couldn’t discreetly hold it together until someone’s shift ended and just break down in private. No, when I was upset someone noticed and inquired.
In the beginning I fled, tried to lock myself in rooms, tried to leave the house or even hid in closets or under the bed (very mature, yes). If that wasn’t possible, I defended myself by attacking, by trying to hurt the other with insults and yelling and threatening to do terrible things if I wasn’t left alone.
It never worked out so well. My mom never yielded even an inch. She stayed, patient and calm and far away enough to not seem physically threatening, yet close enough to be THERE. If I wasn’t doing anything dangerous, she just waited me out. Even when dinner went cold. Or if it was way past midnight. How I hated that. Those were the times when I was the most determined to leave that damn family the first chance I got and never see them again, those monsters who didn’t have the decency to at least give me a break when I was the most embarrassed about myself.
But before I could do that, I had to survive the terrible situations I was in somehow. Sooner or later I always got exhausted to the point of caving in. Letting on what I was feeling so awful about. Putting my vulnerability right on display for my mom to see. Feeling mortified.
And now guess what? After the initial mortification, it got better. No ridicule, no mockery. No hurt. My mom was aware of how hard it was to be so honest. Of how weak and unworthy of anything I felt. And of how brave it is to dare and be vulnerable. How much courage it takes. How understandable it is to feel so anxious about it. And at the same time how much closer we can get to one another if we share and learn to recognize vulnerability as a gift. In the end, I never wanted to run away anymore, but felt a little more at home. A little safer.
I am convinced this is one reason why I am so close to her now: I feel safe enough to be vulnerable around her. She values vulnerability and she cherishes the bravery that’s involved. And while it still takes courage, every single time anew, it got easier. And it feels good to know that she knows me at my worst, knows my weaknesses and how terrible I often feel about myself – and still wants to be my mom.
Safe relationship + vulnerability = even safer and stronger relationship.
So what can I say. . . Be courageous and vulnerable, and careful about who you give that gift to! Someone who tramples all over it isn’t worth giving it to. Cherish it when someone gives you the gift of his or her own vulnerability! And listen to Brené Brown talk. I find her inspiring.