Falling in Love With Vulnerability to Experience a Wholehearted Life

When you make banana bread, it ends up with those little magical black lines in it. They are always spread throughout and organized so precisely. They are how you know it’s real and that it shall be delicious. Maybe moments of challenge, sadness, heartbreak, and anger are like those little lines in an overall happy and healthy life. Maybe remembering this in the moment can help us to jump in bravely at some opportunities for vulnerability, rather than instinctively shying away from them without realizing it.

This post is about connecting Brene Brown’s work on Vulnerability with the Happiness Trap’s version of “happy.” I’ve been enthralled with both of these notions for the past few weeks and they are helping me to feel that lots of little routines are easier to spot and change, so I’d like to share some of these connections with you guys.

The Happiness Trap

Let’s look at the components so that this makes sense. We’ll start with an excerpt from The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris. They start by addressing the fact that we all tend to chase, strive for and crave “happiness”. They mention that the most common definition of it is “feeling a sense of pleasure, gladness, or gratification.” They talk about how feelings of that type of happiness never last, and in fact, “the harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more likely we are to suffer from anxiety and depression.” Then they go on to talk about the other meaning, which is something I try to hold in my head a lot of the time:

“The other far less common meaning of happiness is ‘living a rich, full and meaningful life.’ When we take action on the things that truly matter deep in our hearts, move in directions that we consider valuable and worthy, clarify what we stand for in life and act accordingly, then our lives become rich and full and meaningful, and we experience a powerful sense of vitality. This is not some fleeing feeling- it is a profound sense of a life well lived. And although such a life will undoubtedly give us many pleasurable feelings, it will also give us uncomfortable ones, such as sadness, fear, and anger. This is only to be expected. If we live a full life, we will feel the full range of human emotions.”

Brene Brown’s Work On Vulnerability, Shame, And Wholeheartedness

Now let’s look at Brene Brown’s work. She has several books out, and I’ve been watching her TED talk videos and others that she has on YouTube. There is a link to the first video HERE and you can then find the rest. You would probably enjoy her work if you like this blog.

Basically, she has found through doing work on shame that everyone has shame, but some have less. The people with less shame tend to have more vulnerability, and they tend to be living in ways that are that second meaning of “happy” and wholeheartedness. They have a feeling of being “enough” and being worthy.

The Connection

I see a connection between these two bodies of research. The more that we are willing to be uncomfortable, the more chances we have for happiness of the second variety- the deep, full, meaningful life type. That deep and meaningful life will not always be fun, but it will be rewarding and satisfying. We just have to be vulnerable..but what does that even mean? Are there various types of it, are there different styles? Can we learn it in a book,  and can we master it like a science?

Falling in Love with Vulnerability

I find that for me, it helps to learn a concept by falling in some sort of love with it. Looking at it from all angles, viewing it through a lens of poetry, thinking of it in my spare time, writing poems about it. So that’s what I’ve been doing in some ways with vulnerability- falling in love with it.

Vulnerability is not very comfortable. Sometimes a certain thing, like sharing our feelings publicly or telling someone we love them, is a vulnerable thing to do at first or in a certain context. After that, we get used to that one thing, or we will. But we haven’t mastered vulnerability. There will be something new after that until we cease to change and grow.

That is what I’ve been trying to work on this past week. Embracing my own many flavors of vulnerability and noticing the many areas that it arises for me.

I would like to find and read more of Brene Brown’s work. I’m curious to learn about the types of vulnerability and how they relate with each other. Also, how conditioning comes into play- if you are rewarded for being vulnerable, does it become easier? Can you reward yourself for it if this is the case? And do you get more familiar with the feeling in general or is it always going to be moving to a new place in your life if you overcome it in one area?

Like her, I tend to strive to find a method and a list. It’s harder for me to accept the mystery of the whole thing, an observant blogger Ktismatics artfully pointed out in a comment on last week’s post about priming. I like to pretend that I can gain fully conscious control of my world, but that will never happen; which provides me another chance to openly feel vulnerable and come through the other side with a greater willingness to do it again!

The Results of This Food for Thought

Since thinking about these things, I have noticed changing patterns in my life. I would be more aware of a choice arising in me based on avoiding certain feelings, and often times those feelings were about something bad happening. There were patterns of dog walks that I would take, patterns of places I’d do my work, patterns of plans I’d make for after work. But then I started changing.

I brought the dog to a new trail in the woods that I was previously afraid of. I made plans with people I was shy around, I reached out. I finally cleaned up the piles of mess because I looked at how much a book case actually costs instead of assuming it was too expensive. I noticed some moments when I would feel a sense of pressure based on fear or avoidance, and I would make efforts in such cases to try and step out into those feelings and through them to see what happens. Maybe I get rejected, maybe horrible things happen- or maybe they don’t, and another bar on the cage of routine is seen for the colored mist that it is and evaporated as soon as it comes into contact with my fearless hand. More will arise to take its place, and I will try to fall in love with the feeling of swiping my hand through them just to realize their illusion of solidity, over and over, until the day that I die.

So I invite you guys to watch those videos, learn from that amazing woman, and to read “The Happiness Trap” if such things intrigue you. I know that for me and some of my more stubborn anxieties and avoidant habits, these two bodies of knowledge have been very useful in a rather concrete way leading to action-based change.

How about you?

Have you been aware of Brene Brown’s work in the past? Were you strongly affected by it? Do you recommend her books?

Do you know the places in your life that are a bit caged in by routines, and what would those bars look like if you could see them holding you in place? Would they be made of purple sparkling bars or misty bars or hard steel? A mixture?

Do you feel like you notice when you are moving away from a choice in fear, or is it something that just happens outside of awareness?

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14 thoughts on “Falling in Love With Vulnerability to Experience a Wholehearted Life

  1. This post really resonated strongly with me and struck close to home. I’ve had similar discussions about what it means to be ‘happy’ with a friend, and we reached a conclusion very similar to yours – that there is the fleeting type of happiness which is never fulfilling, and then there is contentment, which can last a lifetime.

    In terms of falling in love with vulnerability, that is something that I actively struggle with. I am generally an anxious person, and I assume the worst from new situations and changes; however, recently I have moved to Turkey to teach English – and like you – I have been trying to find push myself into more uncomfortable situations to fully experience the joys of life.

    It really does work, though. Once that initial sense of dread is overcome, a certain type of fulfillment comes which makes everything so worth while.

    Thanks for the post – you really got me thinking, and feeling good.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it! I get really bad anxiety too; sometimes it’s almost like when a situation is totally new and completely strange, it helps me to jump into it a little..there’s some kind of snowball effect. Once I’m already out of my comfort zone in some areas of life, it’s easier to keep going. In other areas, just the thought of getting within arms reach of the edge of that zone is enough to flip me in the other direction..it’s so strange!

    • I agree; that would be very not helpful. I would really hope that for each person, there is at least one human they can feel safe with, even if its themselves..thinking of the possibility that there are people who feel that sense of overwhelm with every other human breaks my heart. That’s something I hadn’t really considered, and Brene didn’t seem to address that. Thanks for bringing it up.

  2. Another wonderful post – I love this: and another bar on the cage of routine is seen for the colored mist that it is and evaporated as soon as it comes into contact with my fearless hand.
    I think one of the struggles is that we come to believe anxiety is wrong. Actually low-level anxiety is okay – it’s normal. The problem comes when we fight the anxiety, which only feeds it – soon it’s become a giant. Now we’re not fighting the situation (a new job, new hobby, scary task) but the anxiety-monster we’ve made – which only gets bigger the more we fight it.
    That’s why vulnerability is the only way. Accept that fear is a part of life, not a sign of weakness or a fault, be vulnerable, be afraid and be okay with that. Then, in accepting fear, you disarm it and it shrinks to the manageable concern it was at the start.

    • I was thinking of your comment last night when some anxiety was starting to hit me at an amazing Primus concert! I stopped fighting it and flew on it like wings, it was really cool once I stopped fighting it off..it was great 🙂

  3. Another great post. I really enjoyed how your wrote about making the anxieties that we have inside ourselves which continuously work against us our own, and by accepting them and making appropriate choices we can experience that which was originally barred from us due to fear and other such negative emotional ideals.
    Yes, in answer to your final question, I do notice when I am moving away from a choice or fear. Often, before the option to come before this choice occurs, I am envious of it, but when I find myself standing before it, I suddenly find myself ignoring the negative feelings that were emphasising me not to do something. I agree with you, that on occasion things will not work out in a positive fashion, however, I would also argue that these feelings arise from inside ourselves. We know deep down when something is better off avoided; when a situation could inevitably be worth ignoring. True, these feelings could bar us from splendid opportunities, but they can also be trusted. Before something terrible happens, sometimes you have a feeling which warns you what is coming. This is perhaps how our sub-conscious protects us from harming ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually.
    Additionally, in regards to your second question, I do know what parts of my life are ‘caged in’ by routines, however, I might look at these positively and say that such has continuously worked. True, I may limit myself, but, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, right? I’m not emphasising that my decisions to remain ‘constricted’ is in anyway bad, but I would emphasise that I know what to expect when I go about my normal routine, and would rather not suddenly find myself opposed by unforeseen consequences by going outside my comfort zone.
    If I were to articulate these bars moreover that are ‘constricting’ my movements from going outside my comfort zone, I would not be able to successfully give them pictorial imagery, but I would say that they seem to offer safety and security, and do not in any way seem unnecessary. However, they do at times seem selfish and limiting when in regards to that which I may avoid to remain inside said comfort zone, and I know that on occasion I may sacrifice a chance to experience something of significant import.
    Again, a very informative, interesting, thought provoking, well articulated post.

    • I love your description of the bars in your life- it is so interesting to ponder their possible purpose! I always instantly assume they are bad for me, but that may be because I’ve notoriously had too many of them and even my bars seem to grow bars until my cage doesn’t let in light; but it is good to remember that some of them are actually very useful and built on knowledge and past experience. Thank you as always for your thoughtful and thorough comments 🙂 I am glad that you found it informative and interesting!

  4. I love this interesting post. I absolutely understand where this idea of guarding your vulnerability as a type of risk avoidance is coming from. And it seems right on target to link changes in that behavior with a happier life. For me… in recent years, I’ve taken on new responsibilities with nonprofits, volunteer organizations, community committees… all things I never thought myself capable of because I’m shy, introverted and not a “joiner.” But this work has brought so many enriching things into my life… and opened doors I never even imagined. I still feel very scared and vulnerable… and am still working on opening myself to that vulnerability… but am making progress.

    I think I recall reading about Brene Brown in the NYT. Your post was more in depth. 🙂

    Great writing… nice work!

    • I’m so glad you like it! Your work sounds so interesting, isn’t it strange how something we didn’t think of as being “our thing” can suddenly be really amazing and enriching? I forgot to mention in this post that one of the things I did after thinking about Brene’s work was to cut off 5 years worth of hair- most of it dreadlocks! So I went from having one very distinct appearance that was associated with “me” to a very different one…and I can’t believe I forgot to articulate that piece of it! Like your experience, it feels more enriching than I thought before doing it! Maybe next week I’ll go into more detail; I feel so silly for leaving it out!

      • Definitely write about that! What a courageous thing to do… such a total change. I can’t even imagine how it felt to watch all that hair fall to the floor. This would resonate with so many people who have thoughts about… but are afraid to try… doing something that significant.

  5. I just started reading Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. I follow Brene Brown online and respect her work. I am only a couple of chapters into the book but so far, I find myself re-defining what vulnerability IS and IS NOT (I have been way off apparently) and the many ways denying our own vulnerability depletes the quality of our experience. It is, so far, an eye opening read and I have already experienced an array of emotion in the process of identifying my own vulnerability and realizing I have in no way been accepting of it (and this is coming from someone who holds authenticity in high regard). I just thought I had the personal truth and wholehearted living thing down until I dove into this one! Though I am only a couple of chapters in, I see this book as an exceptional tool for self discovery, healing and overall understanding of ourselves and others.

    • I am going to get it soon, my mom actually just had finished it as I heard about Brene Brown from someone else. I’m so excited, coupled with The Happiness Trap I feel that reaching my 30’s with these tools is jut wonderful!

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