“As children, we learn to armor ourselves against being vulnerable…in adulthood, we have to show up and let ourselves be seen. To do so, we have to take our armor off and put our weapons down.” Dr. Brene’ Brown, The Power of Vulnerability
Is This You?
You look in on your sleeping baby one night, and you are filled with bliss beyond imagination as you watch his or her tiny chest rise and fall with each tender breath.
You cannot believe how blessed you are to have such a beautiful gift in your life, and you profusely thank God.
Then suddenly, a thought of doubt interrupts your reverie. You wonder if you are up to the task of raising this baby, followed immediately by a memory of something someone told you about crib death.
In a panic, you check again to see if your baby’s chest is actually rising and falling as you thought. You watch for moments, even doubting what you are seeing, checking again and again until you’re sure everything is ok. Then you check again.
Is this you? Was this you? It sure was me. But why?
Why did I progress in thought from what Dr. Brene’ Brown refers to as ‘unapologetic bliss’ to doom and gloom? Why did my brain derail such powerful positive feelings? Is it normal?
It is not surprising, explains Dr. Brown, but it is not normal. It is the result of a lifetime of cultivating a defense against feeling vulnerable. We assemble a figurative set of armor to protect us from our feelings.1
“We develop a sense of ‘foreboding joy’. Dr. Brene’ Brown, The Power of Vulnerability
Dr. Brown says we develop a sense of ‘foreboding joy’ over the course of our lives. Sometimes events in life turn out great, sometimes there is great pain.
If the frequency and the intensity of the times of pain is high, or even moderately high, we slowly lose our tolerance for the pain that might well come with those instances of being emotionally vulnerable, and we start steeling ourselves against the possibility of future pain, even finding ways to eliminate emotionally reacting to such experiences altogether.
And when we do this, we also, unfortunately, eliminate the joy we might also experience if things happen to turn out positively.
“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15:11
But It Does Not Have to Be This Way. We Can Have the Joy God Wants for Us
To put it another way, just because we have unwittingly learned to live in the shadow of a subconscious fear that it is only a matter of time before the “other shoe drops” after great joy enters our lives, does not mean we can not break out of that vicious and unfortunate cycle.
We no longer must work to beat the pain of vulnerability ‘to the punch’. We can instead work to be open up to the prospects of whatever God has for us in mind. We can have the joy He intended to the full.
“Count it all joy…” James 1:2
We must learn to be great ‘joy feelers’, instead of pushing away all the joy we want along with all the pain we don’t want. We need to learn to count it all joy. The other shoe is going to drop, bad things are going to happen, but we do not have to go there. We need to ‘lean into joy’.
“We need to learn to lean into joy.” Dr. Brene’ Brown, The Power of Vulnerability
We have little difficulty being grateful for the “big joys” when they come along in our lives. But those happen far and few between. It is more the ordinary things that come along every moment of each day,
that we most often overlook.
Those are the times in our lives that can help us most, Dr. Brown contends when we learn to more fully embrace vulnerability.
Instead of ‘throwing out the baby with the bathwater,’ thereby avoiding the prospect of pain along with missing out on the possible joy, such events that require vulnerability can instead be a reminder to express gratitude for the ordinary around us.
Dr. Brown warns that perfectionism is our greatest enemy. It is a seductress that sets us up for failure and then stands over us to cause us to feel shame. It always lets us down because we can never attain it.
Comedian Steven Wright said his teachers always encouraged him with the old adage ‘practice makes perfect,’ but when he failed, they told him another old adage, ‘no one is perfect’. He said he stopped practicing altogether.
Perfectionism is a recipe for inaction, Dr. Brown concludes.
We have become accustomed to a myriad of ways to numb ourselves to avoid feeling at all, says Dr. Brown. The results of such addictions are many…we are obese, indebted, addicted, distracted, and medicated to the max.
We don’t seem to get enough food, drugs, alcohol, smoke, news, social media, porn, work, relationships, sex, video games, cell phone use, gossip, you name it. We do it all, and then some.
“We are like turtles without shells in a briar patch. We spend all our time trying on every manner of the shell to protect us from the briars when all we really need to do is get out of the briar patch.” Dr. Brene’ Brown, The Power of Vulnerability
- Stop filling your minds with all that is horrific going on in the world.
- Journal daily about your blessings, both times of reward and lesson learning.
- Tell others out loud what you are thankful for…even the ordinary and little things.
- Practice gratitude. Give thanks and praise to God throughout each day.
- Strive to do your best, but accept when it’s over that you did your best, and then move on.
- Acknowledge when you are numbing your feelings, and instead of trading one numbing agent for another, consider removing yourself from close proximity to anything that is a ‘briar’ in your life.
To read Jason's first article on the Power of Vulnerability, click here.
See Dr. Brown's book on Amazon: The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection, and Courage
1 “The Power of Vulnerability,” Dr. Brene’ Brown, Audio Learning Course, 2020.