[Book Review] 'The Power of Vulnerability'

AMI's notes on Brené Brown's "The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connections and Courage"

Genre: Psychology / Self-Help

Format: Audible

Date: August 2020

AMI Rating: 9 / 10

Key Takeaways:

  • Vulnerability: Vulnerability is the fear of feeling shame.

    • Example: Samantha won't try out for the basketball team because of the fear of not making it.

    • We all want to 'fit in', so we act 'cool' and do and say the 'right' things. But in that process, we are suppressing our true selves and as a result, the ties we formed to 'fit in' are not real connections. Real 'belonging' comes when we practice being our authentic selves by acting with courage at the face of vulnerability.

  • Shame Gremlins: We all have different shame triggers.

    • Shame gremlins come from conditions to worthiness, which are handed down to us from family of origin (and also learned in society)

    • Some shame triggers don’t come from specific trauma or events, but family values (i.e. growing up, your parents worked non-stop and didn't take any time for self-care; as an adult, you are vulnerable to the shame trigger of being 'lazy')

    • Examples: 'Are you really going to have that donut?' may trigger the shame of 'being fat' for some... 'Are you really that overwhelmed that you can't accept xyz project too?' may trigger the shame of being 'unproductive and lazy' ... etc.

    • Listen to your negative self-talk: 'I can only wear this after I lose 10 pounds'... 'What makes me think I could be good at xyz?'

    • Listen to your judgmental talk: 'Who does she think she is, wearing that?'

    • We always judge in areas where we ourselves are vulnerable to shame, and we always pick on people who we deem are doing worse than us in that area of insecurity. We are looking for validation that at least we are better than 'them.'

  • Culture of Scarcity: Western culture today is more focused on 'scarcity' rather than 'abundance' -- supply & demand; not enough time; options are mutually exclusive; life is a zero-sum game. When we are conditioned in a culture of scarcity, we are more likely to engage in comparison / judgment / competition -- all of which open the door to shame gremlins. With a scarcity mentality, we are less likely to take a proactive attitude in architecting our lives, and instead choose to stay in the defensive and play within the boundaries of our limiting beliefs.

  • Exhaustion As a Status Symbol: The by-product of a culture of scarcity... Think about how many conversations are started with "So, what do you do?", which is really code for "How important are you to me? ... Where do I rank you in my priority list?" We live in a culture where what we do is who we are. If we accept exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth, we are creating a vacuum in our self identity, which we try to ignore by staying busy so the truth doesn't catch up.

    • Anxiety: Anxiety is a lifestyle. Noteworthy that anxiety is less a function of individuals, but a function of groups, meaning it is a contagious affect. Everyone is either an (a) overfunctioner or (b) underfunctioner in anxiety; (a) is the person who becomes a micromanager and tries to control everything while (b) is the person who becomes paralyzed.

  • Emotional Armory: In order to avoid shame, we put on the armors of (1) foreboding joy (2) perfectionism (3) numbing:

    • Foreboding joy: We try to 'beat vulnerability to the punch' -- a dress-rehearsal for unhappiness. Similar concept to the Upper-Limit Problem described in Gay Hendrick's The Big Leap, where we engage in self-sabotage behaviors because we feel vulnerable being 'too happy' or 'too successful'

    • Perfectionism: The perfect antidote to avoiding vulnerability.

    • Numbing: These are behaviors we engage in efforts to numb the discomfort of vulnerability -- it can range from severe (i.e. substance abuse) to the 'innocuous' (i.e. vegging out on the couch with Netflix and take-out every night). She noted that even drinking as a social lubricant is an act of numbing if we are using it as a way to 'take the edge off' and as a crutch to avoid 'feeling awkward' by being our authentic selves.

  • Whole-hearted Living: Essential skills and practices to living a fully-engaged life. She lists ten, but here I will jot down a few that resonated the most.

    • Negativity Diet: Stop engaging in negative self-talk or judgmental talk for 2 weeks

    • Saying 'No': Fight the people-pleasing instinct to say 'Yes' to everything and think twice before accepting every offer / invitation / task

    • Cultivating Intuition: Practice 'white space' by fighting the urge to use productivity as a measurement of self-worth and actually block out non-negotiable 'white space' time in your calendar.

    • Cultivating Faith & Spirituality: Does not have to be a religion. Spirituality comes from any practice that enhances the awareness that we are a part of something larger than just ourselves. 'Faith vs. Reason' is a dichotomy that comes from the shame of uncertainty: we'd rather be miserable in our certainty than wholehearted in our uncertainty.

    • Cultivating Gratitude: 'Gratitude' is like yoga -- you can wear yoga pants, but you aren't doing yoga until you 'practice' it

    • Cultivating Creativity & Eliminating Comparison: Engaging in creative work makes us practice vulnerability. Example: adult painting classes are helpful in letting the person let go of perfectionism. Comparison is a poison, it not only permeates your headspace, but affects those around you.

    • Engaging in Meaningful Work: The 'slash career' means you can be (a) an accountant but also (b) make jewelry to sell on Etsy. Even though (b) doesn't pay the bills, you still do it because it is meaningful to you. It's not all about productivity and earning potential, but the who-i-am.

    • Cultivating calm & stillness: letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle

    • Engaging in laughter, song, dance: what better way of practicing 'being goofy' and letting your guard down?

AMI Rating: 9 / 10

  • Recommended in audio format

    • Recordings of 6 lectures given by the author to an audience

    • The audio format is ideal because aural story-telling is the best register for transmitting the emotions of shame / vulnerability to the audience, who can then learn from feeling (rather than learn from thinking)

  • Her TedTalks are by definition super abridged (forced to distill decades-worth of research into 18 minutes); this audiobook is the full-bodied, well-structured, well-balanced full-out rendition of it

  • Everyone -- women, men, kids, parents -- would benefit from listening to it

Link: The Power of Vulnerability