Beyond Brené: Why Talking About Vulnerability Just Isn’t Cutting It


This post is likely to garner critics. And I get it. I’m a huge fan of Brené Brown. Her books and TED Talks have been game-changers for me over the course of my own personal evolution. I have prescribed her TED Talks as homework assignments to my clients. I have led groups on her research and teachings. I dove deep into her books on vulnerability, shame, perfectionism, and courage. And yet…

I’m left wanting more. Beyond the research as to why vulnerability is so necessary, so important to both our personal and global evolutions, I’m left wondering where’s the model for this? Brené, brilliant as she is, is not a model of vulnerability. Not the one that I’m craving.

I see Brené practicing the kind of arm’s-length vulnerability that makes it feel like she’s my friend, without me actually knowing anything about her (besides the basics, like she’s from Texas and grew up real Texan and was nervous to share all this game-changing research with the world because she knew we’d all be pissed about it). In other words, there is a professionalism to the parts of herself that she shares. There’s still a wall, a distance. And I get it, on multiple levels. Likely there are boundaries she’s created for herself like any normal human being in the spotlight, so as to protect herself and her life from the public eye. Also, I’m a social worker too. There’s a whole non self-disclosure thing we learn in school and practice rigorously in our clinical lives so as not to violate the ethical bounds of our licensures. And yet…

Brené is an academic with a compelling story and a microphone, exposing the parts of us that we most need to name and give voice to. But she is not herself practicing these things in public. And I’m craving a more public model of this, of what vulnerability actually looks like in practice. What Brené practices in public is controlled, arms-length vulnerability that I already have plenty of practice with in relationships. Many of us do. Arms-length vulnerability literally defined my romantic life in my 20s. I was so good at faking it. I shared just enough to really make the other person feel as though they knew me. I controlled the level of intimacy in the relationship, which allowed me to stay “independent” and ultimately unphased. It definitely seemed like a better idea at the time than having my soul utterly CRUSHED. Am I right?

But when Brené talks about “braving the wilderness” and what that means in her most recent book (which I read to kick off 2018), I feel called to level up. To imagine bigger. Braver.

What I want, ultimately, is for all of us - especially any of us with a platform or the desire to create one - to normalize vulnerability by actually doing it. Not talking about it ad nauseum. But actually balls out doing it.

As much as I’d love to talk to you about *how* to do vulnerability, giving you the tools without actually practicing it myself outloud in public also keeps vulnerability as this thing that we only do in private. Only in our homes or with our partners or in whispered voices. And the more private vulnerability is, the less likely our younger generations will get to learn what it’s all about. Our screens have taken something sacred away from how we mentor our younger counterparts in this way.

And so, I just don’t believe talking about vulnerability without modeling it is enough anymore. It’s not enough for me personally, and I don’t believe it’s enough for us globally to shift the toxic shame and secrecy that binds us. We have to be bigger, bolder, and braver when it comes to vulnerability and speaking out our fears, insecurities, shame, desires, and so on - to bring those things out of the darkness and shine a light on them in company, in connection, in conversation - with friends and strangers alike. To ultimately say and show, THIS is me. Us. Inside out.

I’m taking this moment to commit myself to showing up with more bravery and boldness in this space. I invite you to call me out in the future if you notice me shying away from this commitment. I do believe it’s the ultimate why for me in this work. And I’m here to make vulnerability sexy AF.

How ‘bout some sweet self-soothing techniques for when you catch that dreaded vulnerability hangover? You know, when you step way outside your comfort zone and summon the courage of a thousand Anita Hill’s? On second thought that may require a stronger tonic… but for now you can grab your free copy of “6 Self-Soothing Techniques for When You’re Losing Your Shit” right here.