Stepping Past Shame into Vulnerability

The Wondrous Land of Vulnerability

“The original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language, was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” – Brené Brown.

During a recent realisation about how I make my way through the world, this quote, from renowned researcher and speaker Brené Brown, crossed my unsettled path.

The words stopped me in my stride. I had never thought of courage, or indeed vulnerability, in that light before. My mind began to expand with possibilities and my heart dropped the heavy weight that I had not even been aware it was carrying.

As Brené teaches, many of us view vulnerability within ourselves as a weakness, but see it in others as a strength. Ignoring the original definition of courage, and buying into the myth of vulnerability being a fault in ourselves, is profoundly dangerous. Afterall, without the feeling of vulnerability, our world would come to a stand still. Take a moment to really consider how our daily lives are impacted by the elements of vulnerability: emotional risk, exposure and uncertainty. Without vulnerability, no one would put forward new ideas, your soulmate would walk past – both of you too scared to make a move, and close friendships would cease to exist.

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” – Brené Brown.

So what drives our fear of being vulnerable? Most of the time it is our inner judge or critic who is laughing maliciously at what we see as weaknesses in ourselves. This inner bully jumps to conclusions around how others will view us, that shames us into hiding our true feelings. This is usually the ego’s or the personality’s way of keeping us safe.

Yet, it is vital that we overcome this overly-critical inner demon, to push the shame away, to stand tall in our truth.

“Connection is why we are here, it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives,” Brené explains. “Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, means I won’t be worthy of connection?”

Ironically, it is the fear of disconnection that is preventing us from connecting, opening up and being vulnerable. As Brené says, “In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.”

She continues, “If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgment. If you put the same amount in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.”

I learnt this first hand. For me, the past five months have been difficult. It has felt like my life has been spirling rapidly down a rabbit hole of despondency. Occasionally the spiralling has slowed almost to a stop and I grab hold of the edge, but just as I begin to pull myself up, another boulder collides into me, knocking me down again.

Alt text hereThe two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too. Image: Mihai Surdu.

During my adult life, in order to guard myself against the perception of being a young, blonde, emotional woman who needs saving, I have learnt to hide feelings that would be seen as ‘weak’ from those around me. I have tried to only be seen as positive and happy with my life — Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the time this is the truth, but I do have some dark moments as well.

At the start of my spiral, I tried to keep a mask on. ‘I can handle this’, I thought. ‘I’m a strong, independent woman. I don’t need help’. I didn’t want to let others see the depth of my struggle, I was ashamed of what I had allowed to happen to me, and I didn’t want to play into the idea of a damsel in distress. So I tried to find the door back to normality by myself – but no key seemed to fit.

Then one day the mask cracked. While meeting some friends at the local market, surrounded by people I knew, I broke down. I let it all out. Tears flooded the serene environment. On the wave of tears was shame. I felt I would suffocate in this emotion. Yet, a subtle shift began murmuring inside, a shift that I did not initially recognise.

I tried to put the mask back in place, but after that day, it just kept slipping off. It no longer fit. I had outgrown it. And that felt good, sometimes scary, but also always good. So I stopped trying to put it on, I took a deep breath and threw it away. And this is when that subtle change began to transform into an internal growth spurt. I stopped feeling weak. Bits of light began to appear in the darkness.

Instead of feeling pitied, my courage grew from those around me who stuck by me, and to my surprise, it was also true vice versa. Once I had vocalised how I felt, it seemed like a wall had been knocked down. Friends I had known for years began to tell how they felt the same, how they had been in a similar situation. And as they told their stories, they too removed their masks. And as each mask came off, we seemed to collectively exhale – and to see one another anew.

Alt text hereFriends I had known for years began to tell how they felt the same. Image: Thiago Barletta.

“If we are going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path.” – Brené Brown.

My opinion of these friends did not drop with their falling masks, in fact I saw the act as brave and open and honest – to me admirable traits. I realised I also was not the damsel in distress. Through showing my vulnerability, I felt more courageous and connected than ever before.

Since beginning to show more vulnerability, the changes within myself and those around me have been tangible. I now follow Brené’s advice to change my thought patterns from catastrophizing what might happen, to saying to myself, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.”

Brené ended one of her famous Ted Talks with a quote that seems to fit the end of this article:

“If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path. And I know it’s seductive to stand outside the arena (because I think I did it my whole life) and think… ‘I’m going to go in there and kick some ass when I’m bulletproof and when I’m perfect.’ And that is seductive. But the truth is, that never happens. And even if you got as perfect as you could and as bulletproof as you could possibly muster, when you got in there, that’s not what we want to see. We want you to go in. We want to be with you and across from you. And we just want, for ourselves and the people we care about and the people we work with, to dare greatly.”


What are your experiences with vulnerability? What has happened when you, or those around you, have opened up? We would love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments below.

With love, courage and vulnerability,


BY Ashleigh Wilson



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Virginia McCorkle
4 years ago

When I am ‘connected’ to the highest & best within me, & am willing to follow that guidance~~ that Light within that never dies, that is unconditional love at Its highest, most incandescent form, Luminous, welcoming ALL in Its embrace~~I am able to be more of ‘who I am’ be.coming. Each of us is awakening at this instance of time, yet the form & content of this ‘awakening’ depends on whether we cleave to Love or something else, usually, fear.
Vulnerability is my reaching out in love, wondering if who I am is being accepted, wondering if I can belong to [__]. There is nowhere Love is not present, & nowhere Light does not prevail~may all who experience the joys of opening your hearts, letting Light enter every crevice of vulnerability, to invite joining with all of humanity in a compassionate enfolding that grows in beauty & splendor in all directions & dimensions of space & time.

4 years ago

Thx at 61 Ive just started on the journey of vulnerability. Beginning to allow my adult children to see my fears and where my vulnerability lies . They have shown patience and respect as they listen and seek to acknowledge and understand. I’d never thought until now, that I needed to show my vulnerablity to be loved and understood by family. Growing up , orphaned from young, without family or decent role models around I simply thought/ hoped it would naturally happen.

4 years ago

You are right, everyone is special, your post helps me a lot, thanks for the post.

Valerie Angell
4 years ago

I’ve worn some kind of a mask all of my life…just did not believe that “I” was worthy of things like respect and love.Instead,I did everything I could do to hide what lived inside of my hard candy coating.It was too traumatized and humiliated and broken for other people to see.(I KNEW that if anyone had any idea of the awfulness I had survived,that they would turn away from me,scornful and superior,because I believed that the things that had been done to me were my fault,I was that stupid and flawed.)
Of course living this way was extremely stressful and exhausting…the lies,both overt and covert,were such a hard thing to keep track of.It was herding cats!And my extreme discomfort with myself by myself led me into behaviors,such as substance abuse,all kinds of substances,I was looking for relief,and willing to give everything a whirl,and forming relationships with people who somehow magically knew that I was substandard,and who treated me accordingly.I had hideous panic attacks and debilitating depressions that lasted longer and longer the older I became…I was so full of fear,hatred and anger eventually something had to give.I attempted suicide…failed to die.Tried it again a few years later…no go,I woke up two days after an intentional overdose of sedatives and alcohol,very surprised to be alive and dying of thirst!(The carton of cold milk in my fridge was to this day the most delicious thing I’ve ever drank!)
Where am I today?Im a little bit healthier than I’’d been most of my life.I am also 65 years old,and time itself did what therapies and medications could not sustain.I simply don’t have the time or energy to indulge in my self hatred any longer,I finally saw it for the lie that it was,and began to consciously reject my old self defeating belief systems.Its work,but it’s not hard work,because I’m seeing results,and this gives me the impetus to keep on going.I accept myself,all of myself,and I share myself with others.Im learning the power of gratitude,and in this way I am finding peace.

Amanda Scanlon
4 years ago

That’s really special. Thank you.

David Moxon
4 years ago

I have started to re-evaluate my self is it serving my true purpose self reflection awareness and consciousness belief in self to a higher meaning and fulfillness a feeling of not being fully represented finding more absorbent Clarity to build a stronger interior very true mind body and soul some times we have understand the energy is it not expanding our need and reality I belief it is within our self being to rise above it and heal change starts with self recovery

4 years ago

This is about stepping into vulnerability and using it for our highest growth. My history and failures with substances like alcohol and coffee will fuel my growth, my journey in self awareness and will help me continue to become the person I am meant to be.

4 years ago

I have become increasingly vulnerable in past 2 years. It happened due to problems with one of my children, some serious financial problems, some health issues and other serious problems with other family members… Basically I went into complete overload. Somehow I had been able to keep it together my whole life… But It had just became too much.

I think that is when vulnerability really started showing itself in myself, and I have become even more vulnerable since. There is a comfort to it, a deep stability. It was the only way out of a difficult time.

I now feel that regardless of what is happening I still have that deep connection within myself and stability while being able to be vulnerable with anyone.

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