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Shame, Vulnerability and Connection

Shame is a universal emotion. One reason it is so devastating is that it creates a fear of disconnection. This is how shame keeps us silent. We fear others will reject us if they know our secrets and what we are most ashamed of. Shame rarely comes from horrible acts we’ve committed. Rather it comes from how we devalue ourselves. We say things like, “I’m stupid, I’m fat, I’m ugly.” These beliefs make us feel unworthy.

However, in order to connect with others authentically, we need to become vulnerable. It may seem counterintuitive, but opening up to others helps us connect. The fear of rejection causes us to protect ourselves and remain silent. But the bigger risk is that we miss the benefit of finding authentic relationships.

To do anything in life authentically, we must become vulnerable to failure, mistakes, and rejection. Thomas Edison would have never discovered the light bulb if he had not opened himself up to thousands of experiments that failed. He opened himself up to failure, but did not let it stop him.

Edison made thousands of attempts at creating the light bulb, but could not get it to work. Can you imagine trying day after day and continuing to fail? But he didn’t give up. When asked by a reporter, “How did it feel to fail 10,000 times?” Edison simply replied, “I didn't fail 10,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 10,000 steps.”

In Brene Brown’s book, I Thought It Was Just Me (But it isn’t), she talks about our vulnerabilities as the things that trigger shame. She lists twelve shame categories for women. These include appearance and body image, motherhood, family, money, health, sex, aging, religion and surviving trauma. Vulnerability is all about recognizing the things that cause us to feel shame, but still having the courage to open ourselves up to talking about these things and work at making connections with others we can trust. If we don’t try because of shame and a fear of failure, we may never know if we can succeed.

This is true in making a historic discovery like the light bulb, and it is also true about reaching out to make a connection. First, however, we must believe in ourselves. Think of how much Edison must have believed in himself and his ability to try 10,000 experiments. But how do I go about believing in myself, you might ask? There are many ways. but I believe the first steps include loving ourselves, having self-compassion when we don’t get things right and finding gratitude for the good things in our life.

If we practice these three steps, good things will emerge. You might need the help of a trusted friend, counselor, coach, or support group to do this. But we will never overcome our shame if we don’t take the risk and reach out to others. And I guarantee it will not take 10,000 attempts to find a connection.

Understanding shame, vulnerability and worthiness are what Brene Brown’s book, I Thought It Was Just Me (But it isn’t), is about. For the month of February, we will post quotes from Dr. Brown on our Facebook page ( and share blogs about how to overcome shame. Then on February 24, we will host a book club meeting on Zoom to discuss valuable insights from the book. You’ll find the link to the Zoom book club event on our Facebook page and website later in the month, so keep watching!!

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