(Breather) Brené Brown has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is the author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness, and her latest book, Dare to Lead, which is the culmination of a seven-year study on courage and leadership.

Brené’s TED talk ― The Power of Vulnerability ― is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world with over 35 million views. Today, I’ll be sharing the most eye-opening revelations and life-altering lessons I’ve gained from Brené’s fascinating research and work.

Empathy

Developing empathy requires that you look into someone’s eyes and reflect their story back to them. But, “empathy is not the default human response.” Brené points out how hard it can be to “understand and accept other people, particularly when they behave disgracefully. You still have to work hard to tell them, ‘I get it.’

No one reaches out to you so that they can be taught how to behave better! They reach out because they believe in your capacity to know your darkness well enough so that you can sit in their darkness with them ― to have empathy for them.”

Unfortunately, we have a tendency to flip on the lights. We say, “Don’t worry, it’s not a big deal. Everyone makes mistakes.” However, this is not empathetic. Neither is lecturing them about how lame they are (a good reminder for parents out there). Brené stresses that, we cannot feel empathy for others beyond the love and compassion we have for ourselves.”

Everyone runs into a moment (or two or three or fifty) of having screwed up something in their lives. And when this happens to someone you know and they come to you, Brené advises that, instead of reacting to the situation from a judgemental perspective or making light of it, the most helpful, effective, and empathetic response you can give them is to say, “You can do this. You can take this on.” Brené says you can “climb into the hole with them” but you also need to be sure that you don’t get trapped in that hole with them – you need to be able to get out. Of course you’re going to want to give your love, energy, kindness, and support, but you don’t want to get dragged down by other people’s issues. This is because doing so signifies that you are over-identifying, codependent, etc.

Look at it this way: Sympathy is, “I feel bad for you,” not, “I feel with you.”

Vulnerability

What even is vulnerability? It is:

  • Asking for help, saying, ‘I don’t know”
  • Facing up to difficult situations and decisions
  • Getting promoted and feeling like you’re not sure you’re up for it
  • Getting fired
  • Initiating sex with your partner
  • It is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure
  • It is loving someone and knowing that you cannot control if they love you back

Vulnerability is actually our most accurate measure of courage. It is not weakness ― that is the biggest myth. Brené says: “In the face of contention, don’t shrink, don’t puff up ― just stand your sacred ground: whole-hearted and empathetic. This is the goal for evolving to your highest self.”

Brené then references studies of whole-hearted people, and highlights how they cultivate rest and play. She shares that these whole-hearted people actually “piddle around and waste time a lot.” And around 1/4 of whole-hearted, empathetic people are raised that way with optimal parenting. For the rest, empathy and whole-heartedness is a skill to cultivate.

But, modern, messed up cultural dynamics have led us to regard exhaustion as a status symbol, and productivity as a measurement of self-worth (think of triathlete culture, workaholics that we all know or are personally, harried supermoms trying to do everything they can for everyone, helicopter parenting, etc.). Brené’s insights prompt you to rethink the ideas we all have and reprioritize being whole-hearted and taking care of yourself. 

Another important part of vulnerability is accountability. Brené frames accountability asauthenticity, action, and amends.” A good example is saying, and acknowledging, ‘This is what I did, this is how I’m going to fix it.’

Shame

Brené reveals that we always judge in the areas where we ourselves are most vulnerable to shame. Further, we always pick people who are doing worse than we are doing, because we are seeking validation, through the idea that, Well, at least I’m better than this person I am judging.

The reason why shame feels bad is because it’s about your character. No wonder shame is strongly correlated with depression and addiction! Contrastingly, guilt can actually be productive and adaptive, because it’s rooted in your behavior. “The shame triggers are your prerequisites for worthiness,” Brené reveals, and these are usually handed down from our upbringing. As my show covering Dr. Bruce Lipton’s book, The Biology of Belief, explains, most of us are still carting around emotional baggage from early childhood programming and this has a serious effect on our bodies, precisely because of how strongly and directly our thoughts affect our cellular function.

Brené says that shame “has one purpose only: to discharge pain. It serves no other use.”

Here are some highlights from Brené’s Netflix special, Call to Courage:

  • Vulnerability is not a sign of weakness.

Despite what some may think, Brené says, “Vulnerability is our most accurate way to measure courage, and we literally do that as researchers.”

Vulnerability actually allows them to assess fearlessness: “We can measure how brave you are by how vulnerable you’re willing to be.”

  • There are numerous benefits that come with opening up.

Brené says vulnerability is the “birthplace” of things like love and joy. Pointing out the risks that come with love, Brené asked her audience: “Are you 100% sure that person will always love you back, will never leave, will never get sick? How many of you have every buried someone you love? How many of you have lost someone you love?

To love is to be vulnerable, to give someone your heart and say, ‘I know this could hurt so bad, but I’m willing to do it; I’m willing to be vulnerable and love you.’ When we lose our capacity for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding. It becomes scary to let ourselves feel it.”

  • Being vulnerable has advantages even at work.

Brené’s advice to a company with a huge creativity and innovation problem was…you guessed it: vulnerability.

“No vulnerability, no creativity. No tolerance for failure, no innovation. It is that simple,” she said, adding: “if you’re not willing to fail, you can’t innovate. If you’re not willing to build a vulnerable culture, you can’t create.”

  • Vulnerability is inescapable.

Here’s the thing: even if you think you are avoiding being vulnerable, you are still, in fact experiencing the emotion. Brené says: “You do vulnerability knowingly, or vulnerability does you.”

Highlighting the importance of openness, she said: “It is so much easier to cause pain than feel pain, and 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. Stop working your shit out on other people!”

  • The choice to embrace exposure is easier in the end.

“Vulnerability is hard, and it’s scary, and it feels dangerous, but it’s not as hard, scary or dangerous as getting to the end of our lives and having to ask ourselves, ‘What if I would’ve shown up?’ ‘What if I would’ve said, I love you?’ Show up, be seen, answer the call to courage…‘cause you’re worth it. You’re worth being brave.”

TIMESTAMPS:

To develop empathy, you must look into the other person’s eyes and reflect their story back to them. [05:29]

We cannot feel empathy for others beyond the love and compassion that we have for ourselves. [07:20]

Vulnerability is not a weakness.  It is being powerful. [08:24]

Accountability is authenticity, action, and amends. [10:42]

Shame is destructive because it’s about your character. [10:55]

We can measure how brave you are by how vulnerable you’re willing to be. [12:26]

There are many benefits to opening up. [13:23]

Being vulnerable at work has advantages. [14:17]

Vulnerability is inescapable. [15:00]

Show up. Be seen. Answer the call to courage because you’re worth it.  [15:40]

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Get Over Yourself Podcast

Brad (04:10):
Hey, you probably heard of number one, bestselling author. Berne Brown. The researcher from Texas who writes about topics like vulnerability, empathy, and shame and overcoming these things. She’s written five. Number one, New York times bestsellers. The titles are the Gifts of Imperfection. Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness and Dare to Lead.

Brad (04:38):
And I really love her work. I listened to a great audio book called The Power of Vulnerability. And I wanted to share with you some notes and tips and insights. I think it’s going to give you some good, basic exposure to the kind of work that Berne Brown does. You can also go turn on her Ted talk. One of the most viewed Ted talks of all time, the title is the Power of Vulnerability, 35 million views. And I think that’s what launched her into prominence years ago, probably a decade ago when she first got on that Ted stage and laid it all out there. And boy, Oh boy, she really does walk your talk. Well, she talks about her own personal struggles and her journey to get to this point today, how she’s pulled out her insight. She’s deep into the research. She’s an authentic researcher, uh, before she became an author.

Brad (05:29):
So everything she says is really well steeped in science. And I think you’re going to dig some of these quick insights. Maybe it will inspire you to go get one or more of her books. So this is from the Power of Vulnerability and on the topic of empathy. Here’s what she say to develop empathy you must look into the other person’s eyes and reflect their story back to them. Empathy is not the default human response. It’s very difficult to understand and accept other people particularly when they behave disgracefully, you still have to work hard to tell them I get it. I get, yeah. Realize that no one reaches out to you so they can be taught how to behave. They’ve better. They reach out because they believe in your capacity to know your darkness well enough so that you can sit in their darkness with them and have empathy for them.

Brad (06:28):
Unfortunately, we have a tendency to flip on the light and say, Hey, don’t worry. It’s not a big deal. Everyone makes mistakes. This is not empathetic. That’s a huge mistake. I can see that happening in parenting a lot where here trying to be supportive, super thumbs up positive parent, but you’re not really getting into their darkness with them. You’re being flippant. As she says, flipping on the lights. I made that up, but Oh, very interesting to kind of check your responses, especially I can relate to this toning down my positivity at times, and just listening, not necessarily trying to put a sugar coat on everything that comes your way when people are reaching out to you. So it’s not empathetic to flip on the lights and say, don’t worry. It’s not a big deal. Everyone makes mistakes nor is it empathetic to lecture them about how lame they are.

Brad (07:20):
Hey, another parenting insight right there. Huh? Certainly when a kid makes a mistake, they don’t need to be told just the specific, uh, damage of the mistake they made. Usually the consequences are very evident. So Berne Brown. Continuing. Also, we can not feel empathy for others beyond the love and compassion that we have for ourselves. When people have really screwed up their lives rather than passing judgment or making light of it, the most empathetic response is to say, you can do this. You can take this on. You will climb into the hole with them, but make sure that you don’t get trapped in the hole. Be sure that you can get out. So you’re giving out your energy, love, kindness, and support, but you don’t want to be dragged down into other people’s issues. Otherwise back to Berne Brown, quoting you’re overidentifying, codependent or whatever else you want to call it. So sympathy is I feel bad for you. Not, I feel with you.

Brad (08:24):
Now, some comments on vulnerability. Vulnerability is asking for help, saying “I don’t know,” facing up with difficult situations and decisions, getting promoted and not sure you’re up for it., getting fired, initiating sex with your partner. It is uncertainty risk and emotional exposure. It’s loving someone and knowing that you can not control whether they love you back. It is our most accurate measure of courage. It is not weakness. That’s the biggest myth that being vulnerable is being weak. Vulnerability is being powerful in the face of contention, don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Just stand your sacred ground, be wholehearted empathetic. And this is the goal for evolving to your highest self. Wow, that’s pretty cool. Think about that in the face of contention conflict, whenever you want to call it, don’t shrink and don’t puff up.

Brad (09:20):
Just stand your sacred ground. Love that. Uh, she’s referencing studies of wholehearted people and how they act. They cultivate rest. They cultivate playtime. Quote. They piddle around and waste time alot. Around one quarter of wholehearted empathetic people are raised that way with optimal parenting for the rest empathy and wholeheartedness is a skill that they have cultivated. Modern, messed up cultural dynamics. We kind of think exhaustion to be a status. Symbol productivity is a measurement of self-worth. Oh my gosh. I’m thinking of the triathlete culture. The workaholics that we all know or identify with in some way, we have the harried supermom as a prominent cultural dynamic, trying to be all things to all people and be right in there, helicoptering your kids all the way to adulthood. Uh, so Berne Brown’s helping us to rethink some of these things reprioritize and being wholehearted, entailing, uh, taking good care of yourself. I love that insight, right? And some people are naturally wholehearted and empathetic. Raised that way with optimal parenting, uh, for others, time to work hard and bring these things into the forefront rather than just working yourself to exhaustion.

Brad (10:42):
Accountability is three things: Authenticity, action, and amends. For example, a quote, this is what I did. This is how I’m going to fix it. That’s accountability.

Brad (10:55):
Now we go onto the topic of shame. We always judge in areas where we are most vulnerable to shame. We always pick people who are doing worse than we are doing. We’re looking for validation that we’re at least better than those whom we judge. Shame is destructive because it’s about your character. It’s strongly correlated with depression and addiction. Guilt, on the other hand, according to Berne, can be productive and adapted because it’s about the behavior. The shame triggers are your prerequisites for worthiness.

Brad (11:28):
And these are typically handed down from our upbringing. Listen to my show about Bruce Lipton, Biology of Belief and his contention validated by science. That we’re pretty much walking around as a result of our childhood programming from ages zero to seven. A lot of it negative because those are the stored emotional memories that really cause the most harm and come back and rear their ugly heads again and again. So we develop this lack of self worth, uh, associations with shame and things like that. And then we carry with them. The rest of our lives there’s triggers that happen every day, one way or another, an offhanded comment by somebody. And boy, it’s so difficult to be vulnerable and work through that. So the shame triggers are your prerequisites for worthiness. These are typically handed down from our upbringing. Blame has one purpose only: to discharge pain. t serves no other use.

Brad (12:26):
Hey, Berne also has a Netflix special called Call to Courage. So check it out more good stuff. She’s a great live presenter. You’re going to love her Ted talk to a article in the USA today by Erin Jensen offers five summary takeaways from the comments about vulnerability she made in the Netflix special. So let’s get to those and then you’ll have your marching orders to go dig into the more great work from Berne Brown. So insights about vulnerability, uh, from Call to Courage, the presentation. Number one, it’s not a sign of weakness. Quote, vulnerability is our most accurate way to measure courage. And we literally do that as researchers end quote vulnerability allows them to assess fearlessness, allows researchers to assess fearlessness. We can measure how brave you are by how vulnerable you’re willing to be.

Brad (13:23):
Number two, there are many benefits to opening up. Brown asserts that vulnerability is the birth place of things like love and joy. Highlighting the risks of love. Brown polled, the audience quote, are you a hundred percent sure that a person will always love you back? Never leave, never get sick. How many of you have ever buried someone you love? How many of you have lost someone you love? To love is to be vulnerable, to give someone your heart and say, I know this could hurt so bad, but I’m willing to do it. I’m willing to be vulnerable and love you. She added, and when we lose our capacity for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding. It becomes scary to let ourselves feel it. Great connections there. Huh? If you’re incapable of being vulnerable, you’re also closing you’re off. Closing yourself off from the potential for joy. Okay.

Brad (14:17):
Number three, being vulnerable at work has advantages as well. Vulnerability was Brown’s recommendation for a company with a huge creativity and innovation problem that wanted to hire her to speak. Quote, no vulnerability, no creativity, no tolerance for failure, no innovation. It’s that simple. She said, if you’re not willing to fail, you can’t innovate. And if you’re not willing to build a vulnerable culture, you can’t create. Are you listening, corporate leaders? All right. Probably a lot of places could use a little bit of freedom and flexibility to fail, to be vulnerable, to be more creative as a consequence.

Brad (15:00):
Okay. Number four, vulnerability is inescapable. Brown said even those who think they’re avoiding being vulnerable are in fact experiencing the emotion. You do, vulnerability knowingly or vulnerability does you. She said, and she explained the importance of openness. Quote. It’s so much easier to cause pain than to feel pain. And people are taking their pain and working it out on other people. And when you don’t acknowledge your vulnerability, you work your shit out on other people. Stop working your shit out on other people., People.

Brad (15:40):
Number five, the choice to embrace exposure is easier in the end. Quote, vulnerability is hard. It’s scary. It feels dangerous, but it’s not as hard, scary or dangerous as getting to the end of our lives and having to ask ourselves what if I would have shown up? What if I would have said, I love you. Show up. Be seen. Answer the call to courage because you’re worth it. You’re worth being brave and quote, great stuff.

Brad (16:12):
Thank you for listening to the show. We would love your feedback at getoveryourselfpodcast@gmail.com. And we would also love if you could leave a rating and a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcast, I know it’s a hassle. You have to go to desktop iTunes, click on the tab that says ratings and reviews, and then click to rate the show anywhere from five to five stars. And it really helps spread the word so more people can find the show and get over themselves because they need to thanks for doing it.

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