Dec 2 2015

The Vulnerability Armory

by Jared Byas, Family Business Advisor

We have encouraged all our members to read Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, a book about feeling worthy and the power of vulnerability. In this blog series we wanted to offer a summary of each chapter with a few items for reflection. Enjoy!

Chapter 4 | The Vulnerability Armory

In order to protect ourselves from shame we all have masks and defense mechanisms. What would it take to put the armor away and find a way to vulnerably show our true selves to the world? The three most common ways to shield ourselves from shame are foreboding joy, perfectionism, and numbing.

Foreboding Joy: Always looking behind the door of anything good that happens so you aren’t caught off guard by hurt, bracing yourself for whatever tragedy might be lurking. “It’s easier to live disappointed than it is to feel disappointed.” If we expect bad things then we don’t have to feel the emotions that come with disappointment. To overcome this, try practicing gratitude and accepting that whatever happens next doesn’t take away the joy from the moment. “If the opposite of scarcity is enough, then practicing gratitude is how we acknowledge that there’s enough and that we’re enough” (124).

Perfectionism: perfectionism isn’t striving for excellence. It’s trying to do everything perfectly in an attempt to avoid shame and judgment. It’s not self-improvement but wanting to improve yourself to earn approval from others. The anecdote for perfectionism is self-compassion in the face of reality. Instead of standing outside our stories, we should own them and accept them, weaknesses and all. Otherwise we get exhausted from pretending and performing.

Numbing: embrace whatever deadens the discomfort and pain of shame. For some of us this might include alcohol, drugs, or sex, but for most of us it is less obvious. Things like busyness, over-eating, over-working, and over-buying are used for numbing just as much as the others. Overcoming these numbing behaviors comes from a commitment to feel our feelings, admit to and be aware of our numbing behaviors, and learning to appreciate and lean into hard emotions as way to be more alive. In addition, have personal boundaries that help reduce negative emotions in your life. “The participants who struggled most with numbing explained that reducing anxiety meant finding ways to numb it, not changing the thinking, behaviors, or emotions that created anxiety” (144).

Other shields include floodlighting, where oversharing is a defense against true vulnerability, sharing intimate details of my life for the shock value and attention rather than for empathy, or serpentining by backing out of a hard situation, pretend I don’t care, or that it’s not happening at all. “Serpentining can lead to hiding out, pretending, avoidance, procrastination, rationalizing, blaming, and lying” (165). The final list of shields are cynicism, criticism, cool, & cruelty. “Among some folks it’s almost as if enthusiasm and engagement have become a sign of gullibility” (167). We have to learn the tightrope walk of caring what people think but not being defined by their responses.

For reflection:

  • What’s a recent example where you showed signs of one of these defense mechanisms?
  • What is one step you can take toward overcoming that defense mechanism to better connect?

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