One of the things I love most about Brene Brown’s work is the way she defines and redefines complex emotions.
She clearly shows what it is and even more importantly, what it isn’t. These formal definitions are very essential in curbing a terrifying sense of an out-of-control train. It breaks down a huge bundle of muddles into manageable packets. What a relief that is! One more thing to be grateful to her for!
Even in The Gifts Of Imperfections, she constantly defined terms she was using. In addition to breaking down stuff, this also cuts away ambiguity. There is no question of the reader misinterpreting her ideas because her understanding of a word is different from my understanding of it. She provides a concise and clear context when she presents her content. Maybe it is her training as a researcher that makes her do that. Be that as it may, I find it absolutely marvelous.
She defines Vulnerability as risk, uncertainly and emotional exposure. Is that perfect or what?
In the second chapter of Daring Greatly, she talks of certain myths connected with vulnerability. We refuse to admit we are vulnerable by declaring (rather pompously) that we don’t do vulnerability. As she wisely observes, even if we don’t do vulnerability, is surely does us! It catches us unawares, sneaking in insidiously because we never thought of locking that particular door. Actually, we didn’t even know there was a door there!
She then writes of something I would call counterfeit vulnerability. She calls it Letting it all hang out. With it she is referring to the new trend of oversharing- specially on social media. The purpose of confessing your vulnerability is to connect deeper with those with whom you share your fears. An indiscriminate sharing of your darkest secrets can only be for the purpose of attention-seeking; an undignified false bravado which nobody can connect with in a positive way.
But, of course, putting yourself out there takes vulnerability. Vulnerability is hard, and we, as a rule, tend to go for what’s easy; by that logic, closing ourselves off is the easiest thing in the world. We quote the words of others to do our talking for us, send each other links to articles and stories in lieu of actual conversation, post pretty pictures to adequately convey our current state of mind, all to avoid having to proffer a single identifiable human emotion. We keep in touch with relatives by emailing them mawkishly inspirational chain letters once in a while. We regurgitate memes to approximate the feeling of being in the loop.
~ Phil Roland
The thing that made me stop short and blink, however, was when she spoke of betrayal- and of disengagement.
Vulnerability can be confessed and shared with people who love you unconditionally. You know they will not judge you for your fears. You know they will support you and watch your back. They will cheer for you lustily even where there is no one else taking any notice of you. We all need someone to witness our lives, don’t we? We can fight the world but we need a few- may be even one- to show us that our life matters to them; that our presence is important to them.
When you share your vulnerability with someone who betrays your confidence, you feel violated and devastated. Betrayal is very painful to deal with. It has very long range consequences because it can make you shut down and not trust anyone again.
When you love someone, truly love them, you lay your heart open to them. You give them a part of yourself that you give to no one else, and you let them inside a part of you that only they can hurt-you literally hand them the razor with a map of where to cut deepest and most painfully on your heart and soul. And when they do strike, it’s crippling-like having your heart carved out.
~ Sherrilyn Kenyon
Of all the betrayals she talks about- lying, cheating or misusing a confidence- the biggest betrayal is one that leaves no evidence behind. It is the betrayal of disengagement from a loved one.
When a loved one, or someone we have a deep connection with, stops caring, paying attention or investing… in other words they just let go of the relationship while you are trying to keep it afloat with all your might… you feel deeply and terribly betrayed.
According to Ms Brown, this kind of betrayal is the most dangerous because there is no event to make it visible. What’s worse is that it is entirely deniable. The person who betrays you in this manner can tell you that you are imagining things. Or that they are very busy and you should try to understand and be supportive. And that you are being unreasonable and demanding.
The truth is, they stopped caring and did not have the courage to tell you so. And that hurts, terribly.
You can understand if- for some insurmountable reason- they don’t care for you as much as they did once. One cannot help that at times. But that doesn’t mean they don’t owe you a clean cut, a closure. On the other hand, if the relationship were truly important to them, they would surely try to resolve the insurmountable reason instead of just shutting you out- or themselves in. But they didn’t do either of the two- and that wounds.
It revives all of your fears; makes you feel raw and vulnerable. You begin to mistrust your own shadow.
Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows.
~ Brené Brown
When disengagement is experienced by a child, the emotional damage is even more intense. A child has no way of understanding or naming what they are being made to go through. They conclude that you have turned away from them because they are unworthy and unlovable. They carry those emotional scars well into their adulthood. It affects all their relationships from that point on. They shut down and have mammoth trust issues in every area of their lives.
Could anything be sadder?
Note: This would be a series. I will be recording the most arresting thoughts that the book provokes in me. If you have read the book, please do share your impressions too. If you haven’t, why not read it with me? I would be so much fun, wouldn’t it?
The first part can be read here.