By: Julia D’Addurno
Finding purpose in your life looks a little different for everyone. Researchers in social work and psychology have come to determine one of our main reasons for existence can be boiled down to one thing: connection. Our need to connect with others is as fundamental as our need for food and water (Cook, 2013). Connection provides us with a purpose and adds meaning to our lives. We are neurobiologically wired for connection, love and belonging.
Dr. Brene Brown, a social worker, explains in her book and TedTalk, The Power of Vulnerability her quest in researching connection. Using qualitative research through interviewing participants and collecting anecdotes over a period of six years, her work is so inspiring and important. In her research, she found that when she asked individuals to share stories about connection she would get occasional responses about love and belonging, but the majority of participants responded with stories concerning disconnection, exclusion and heartbreak. She realized there was a vast difference between these people and wanted to learn more and dig deeper into the research.
Her research revealed that there was a theme of shame and fear of disconnection that the individuals who shared stories about disconnection had in common. Shame, as we all know, is a universal feeling that everyone experiences. “The only people who don’t experience this feeling have no capacity for human empathy or connection” (Brown, 2012). Shame can be described as a thought process that resembles questions such as, “is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won't be worthy of connection?”. It’s a feeling of not being good enough, or enough of something such as smart enough, pretty enough, rich enough, etc. Most people can relate to these feelings.
What Dr. Brown found was that underneath shame was actually pure vulnerability, and this confirmed the notion that being excruciatingly vulnerable is absolutely essential for connection. The reasoning behind this is that in order for connection to happen, we must be able to allow ourselves to be truly seen (Brown, 2012). Most people can probably agree that they hate vulnerability. Being vulnerable is a scary feeling and most people try to avoid at all costs. Most of us will try our hardest not to feel it, put up emotional walls and do anything to keep ourselves out of any state of vulnerability. This can be perceived as a source of strength. But, what this really comes down to is fear. The one thing that keeps us out of connection is the fear that we are not worthy of connection.
When Dr. Brown looked back at the interviews and anecdotes she collected, she found that the difference between those that focused on connection versus disconnection was the belief of worthiness. The main distinction between those who have a strong sense of love and belonging and those who don’t is that those who do truly believe that they are worthy of love and belonging. It’s as simple as that.
Beyond this, those who felt worthy also possessed a strong sense of courage. As most people know, courage is the ability to do something that frightens you. The original definition of courage was “...to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart,” (Brown). These people essentially live and love with their entire heart. They are vulnerable, they feel shame like everyone else, but it is overridden by their sense of worthiness and acceptance for themselves. These people fully embrace vulnerability and they have the courage to be imperfect. They are compassionate to themselves and to others, which is absolutely vital to connection. Vulnerability is often uncomfortable but it is something we can’t usually avoid. We live in a vulnerable world full of rejection, loss, fear and discomfort. Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear but it is also the derivation of joy, creativity, belonging, love and connection. It is scary and uncomfortable but necessary for growth.
Our society tends to numb vulnerability, but what we learn from these individuals, is that you cannot selectively numb emotion. If you numb the pain, loss, rejection and discomfort, you are also numbing the joy, gratitude, happiness and beauty. You are missing out on living with your whole heart and, as Brown explains, we become miserable when we try to numb emotion. We end up searching for purpose and connection, causing us to feel vulnerable once more, and the process of numbing occurs again. It takes time and it’s not an easy process but every uncomfortable moment of vulnerability can lead to something new and beautiful.
The goal is to let ourselves be truly seen, to love with our whole hearts. When we find ourselves in a vulnerable situation that is uncomfortable, we should stop and take a minute to find gratitude and joy in those moments of uncertainty and say “I’m so grateful because to be this vulnerable means that I’m alive” (Brown, 2012).
Most importantly, we have to believe that we're enough. Because when we build a foundation from a place that says “I’m enough” we're kinder and gentler, and more compassionate to the people around us, and better to ourselves. It takes time as well as practice but we live in a vulnerable world so the best way to cope with vulnerability is to embrace it with a whole heart!
Definitely make sure you watch Brene Brown’s new netflix special, Brene Brown: Call to Courage! I highly recommend it!
Brown, C. B. (2012). The power of vulnerability. Louisville, CO: Sounds True.
Brown, B. (n.d.). Courage Is a Heart Word (and a Family Affair). Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/parents/experts/archive/2010/11/courage-is-a-heart-word-and-a.html.
Cook, Gareth. “Why We Are Wired to Connect.” Scientific American, 22 Oct. 2013, www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-we-are-wired-to-connect/.