RATING: 9/10…READ: August 20, 2013
The go-to book on learning how to be more vulnerable and deal with shame. Yes, it’s self-helpy, but also a book that cut deep to the heart of my problems in life and the defensive mechanisms I use. A great book for dealing with emotional insecurity.
Each strategy was built on the same premise: Keep everyone at a safe distance and always have an exit strategy.
We humans have a tendency to define things by what they are not. This is especially true of our emotional experiences.
The mandate is not to be perfect and raise happy children. Perfection doesn’t exist, and I’ve found that what makes children happy doesn’t always prepare them to be courageous, engaged adults.
Our first inclination is to cure “the narcissists” by cutting them down to size. It doesn’t matter if I’m talking to teachers, parents, CEOs, or my neighbors, the response is the same: These egomaniacs need to know that they’re not special, they’re not that great, they’re not entitled to jack, and they need to get over themselves. No one cares. (This is the G-rated version.)
For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is “I don’t have enough time.” Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of.…Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack.…This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life.…
The counterapproach to living in scarcity is not about abundance. In fact, I think abundance and scarcity are two sides of the same coin. The opposite of “never enough” isn’t abundance or “more than you could ever imagine.” The opposite of scarcity is enough, or what I call Wholeheartedness.
To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of a fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living.
I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow—that’s vulnerability. Love is uncertain.
It starts to make sense that we dismiss vulnerability as weakness only when we realize that we’ve confused feeling with failing and emotions with liabilities.
From the field of social psychology, influence-and-persuasion researchers, who examine how people are affected by advertising and marketing, conducted a series of studies on vulnerability. They found that the participants who thought they were not susceptible or vulnerable to deceptive advertising were, in fact, the most vulnerable. The researchers’ explanation for this phenomenon says it all: “Far from being an effective shield, the illusion of invulnerability undermines the very response that would have supplied genuine protection.”
Vulnerability is based on mutuality and requires boundaries and trust. It’s not oversharing, it’s not purging, it’s not indiscriminate disclosure, and it’s not celebrity-style social media information dumps. Vulnerability is about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them.
Sharing appropriately, with boundaries, means sharing with people with whom we’ve developed relationships that can bear the weight of our story.
Vulnerability without boundaries leads to disconnection, distrust, and disengagement. In fact, as we’ll explore in Chapter 4, “letting it all hang out” or boundaryless disclosure is one way we protect ourselves from real vulnerability. And the TMI (too much information) issue is not even a case of “too much vulnerability”—vulnerability is bankrupt on its own terms when people move from being vulnerable to using vulnerability to deal with unmet needs, get attention, or engage in the shock-and-awe behaviors that are so commonplace in today’s culture.
Trust isn’t a grand gesture—it’s a growing marble collection.
‘Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.’”
If John’s self-talk is “God, I am a loser. I’m a failure”—that’s shame. If his self-talk is “Man, my boss is so out of control. This is ridiculous. I don’t deserve this”—that’s humiliation.
Interestingly, Steve and Karen’s responses were totally different. Steve was more serious and more “Oh, man. I know that feeling!” Karen took an approach that had me laughing in about thirty seconds. What the responses shared in common was the power of “me too.” Empathy is a strange and powerful thing. There is no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of “You’re not alone.”
If you’re not in the arena with the rest of us, fighting and getting your ass kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in your feedback.)
We’re hard on each other because we’re using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived shaming deficiency.
We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
I am enough (worthiness versus shame). I’ve had enough (boundaries versus one-uping and comparison). Showing up, taking risks, and letting myself be seen is enough (engagement versus disengagement).
What the perpetual-disappointment folks described is this: “It’s easier to live disappointed than it is to feel disappointed. It feels more vulnerable to dip in and out of disappointment than to just set up camp there. You sacrifice joy, but you suffer less pain.”
I drank and smoked to minimize my feelings of vulnerability and to look busy when all of the other girls at my table had been asked to dance. I literally needed something to do, something to help me look busy.
Living a connected life ultimately is about setting boundaries, spending less time and energy hustling and winning over people who don’t matter, and seeing the value of working on cultivating connection with family and close friends.
In her book The Life Organizer, Louden writes, “Shadow comforts can take any form. It’s not what you do; it’s why you do it that makes the difference. You can eat a piece of chocolate as a holy wafer of sweetness—a real comfort—or you can cram an entire chocolate bar into your mouth without even tasting it in a frantic attempt to soothe yourself—a shadow comfort. You can chat on message boards for half an hour and be energized by community and ready to go back to work, or you can chat on message boards because you’re avoiding talking to your partner about how angry he or she made you last night.”
When it comes to vulnerability, connectivity means sharing our stories with people who have earned the right to hear them—people with whom we’ve cultivated relationships that can bear the weight of our story. Is there trust? Is there mutual empathy? Is there reciprocal sharing? Can we ask for what we need? These are the crucial connection questions.
When we stop caring about what people think, we lose our capacity for connection. When we become defined by what people think, we lose our willingness to be vulnerable. If we dismiss all the criticism, we lose out on important feedback, but if we subject ourselves to the hatefulness, our spirits get crushed. It’s a tightrope, shame resilience is the balance bar, and the safety net below is the one or two people in our lives who can help us reality-check the criticism and cynicism.
The gap starts here: We can’t give people what we don’t have. Who we are matters immeasurably more than what we know or who we want to be.
I hear from parents all of the time. “I was wild,” they say. “I did things I don’t want my kids to do. Should I lie about my escapades?” As a former wild person, I don’t think the issue is whether to lie or not to lie. It’s about what we share and how we share it. First, not everything we do or did is our children’s business. Just as, when they’re adults, not everything they do is our business. So we should examine the motivation for sharing a particular story and let the question about what we’re teaching drive our decision.
I’ve come to believe that a leader is anyone who holds her- or himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes. The term leader has nothing to do with position, status, or number of direct reports.
If we look at what we do best as well as what we want to change the most, we will often find that the two are varying degrees of the same core behavior. Most of us can go through the majority of our “faults” or “limitations” and find strengths lurking within. For example, I can beat myself up for being too controlling and micromanaging, or I can recognize that I’m very responsible, dependable, and committed to quality work. The micromanaging issues don’t go away, but by viewing them from a strengths perspective, I have the confidence to look at myself and assess the behaviors I’d like to change.