Tag Archives: vulnerability research

30 Days of Brené Brown — Day 5: #relationships #energy #strength #community #blame


Welcome to Day 5. Here’s today’s quote:

I define ‘connection’ as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
― Brené Brown

I’m changing things up now to allow for the quote to show up in the clip if you’re getting this on email. This is Day 5 of my “30 Days of Brené Brown” series in which I take the top 30 quotes as ranked by Goodreads. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston, author of several books on emotional health and authenticity and all-around boss when it comes to shame and vulnerability research. But more importantly, she is my “if you could have dinner / evening out with anyone you don’t know who would it be…” -person. Go here to learn more about her. In each post I will try to limit myself to 1,200 words.

This quote is rudimentary to me, but that might be because I’ve been Working on creating connections with people and looking at any patterns of whom I’ve let into my life, and why, and how it all turns out (which depends on the people) and what I learn (lots) and how I behave (which is not always good) and what I can do to make it better (go with my intuition).

A friend was visiting her parents, who live in the metro area, from across the glaxy for the holiday. This friend is interested in connections, the way Brené states it and she works hard to be present.

She told me about a social experience she’d just had a couple days prior and she wanted to fix it. I told her, “just ask for a do-over; y’know, a Mulligan like in golf.” She looked at me quizzically, as if she didn’t believe it were possible.

I canted my head in return and told her there are numerous opportunities for do overs. We just have to be willing, aware and sensitive to be ready to see and feel if/when we’re out of sync with the greater energy flowing around us:  ashen faces, slacked jaws, grasped chests, for example, and THEN be willing to shed our egos and ask for the opportunity, tactfully, to start over again.

I offered examples:

Here’s tactfully?: “Um, I blew it. When you ordered ‘macaroni and cheese,’ I went in my head to my grandmother’s recipe and thought about whether you’d like it and how it would taste at our first married Thanksgiving and if your mother would approve. Would I overdo it on the nutmeg? It is because I have three eyes and on my planet that’s OK? I determined your mom would not like me  at all and gave the mac and cheese to the dog, who was ailing to begin with (but she hated him) and then he died when he ate it … and everyone blamed me and … uh… can you just forget I said any of this?”

Here’s tactlessly: “YOU! You never liked anything I did! I can’t help it if your dog ate my mac and cheese and died! Don’t blame me! It was your mother! You are always pitting me against her! I can’t be Doris Day on Xenatha from the Klaygon galaxy’s hormones all the time like she can! I don’t ever … Good GRAVY! What?! What…? What does it take to get a second date with you??!?”

Or, you could just say, “Hi, My name is Bipsy. I’m a Rixathan-32 princess and I love walks in the mountains. I have a pet julyinga. Can I have a do over? I’m a little nervous tonight; it’s my first time on earth.”

It all depends on how willing we are to seeing that other person and getting out of our own way.

My friend made the error, before speaking with me of course, of asking someone else’s opinion. This someone else is going through an extremely rough patch herself, so all she processes is through that filter at the moment. The advice from the friend was,

“You idiot. Now you’ll never see him again.”

There were no connections going on there, in any of it. None of what Brené would call the energy that exists between people when they feel seen and heard. Perhaps my friend didn’t take her friend’s situation into account when she asked her opinion… who knows?

I’ve had that happen in my own life, that feeling of invisibility, we all have.

Recently, with my mom’s death, loved ones have had trouble getting out of their own way (trying to fix my pain) to just coexist with me. I’m not looking for anyone to take away my pain, and I’m not looking for anyone to touch me and tell me it’s OK — what I’m looking for (and I feel like I have to wear a sandwich board that announces it because people are –understandably– in their own heads) is: someone to say, “sit here with me and just be. cry if you want. laugh if you want. talk to yourself, but know i’m listening.”

I guess that’s God because I don’t know of anyone, who can totally detach and unplug 100% of themselves enough to hear and not fight the urge to fix my ‘stuff’ without making a subconscious comparison to their own … or maybe there is, but I’m just not programmed for it. (Living with narcissists will do that to you.) I’ve had a couple people offer though.

So it takes a big part of me — a lot of trust in me — to even allow that facet of connection with others.


look in the mirror’s mirror’s mirror.

Yikes. Look who’s the jerk now. Moi. I hate it when I come to the conclusion of my own flaws (fear of judgement) are the reason I’m the way I am when I write about it publicly. But this is what happens when we allow ourselves some openness and vulnerability.

The other instance with my friend was the same night of the “do over” discussion. From the moment her plane landed here, she’d had a situation which required some of her attention at her home, some 100 light years away, so she did what she could via cross-time/space continuum communicator.

When she was visiting with me, we took off and left our phones out of pocket. She felt she’d tied everything off at her home (the far away one). Despite this, her parents were seeking her, rabidly: four phone calls and three voice mails (in one hour) on MY phone looking for her; her mother even said, “We don’t know your address, Molly,” which sent chills down my spine that these aliens would come to my house from their planet to undress their daughter (just wait… you’ll hear about it).

When we returned, she played the first voicemail. The very first words out of the speaker, maybe it was on speaker; who know, it was loud, from a 65-year-old Fractorn queen to her 42-year-old princess were, “We are very disappointed in you, Hilda*….” she turned off the phone then and I picked up my lower jaw and that of my husband’s off the floor.

All three of her eyes welled up, and almost as quickly, she gained her resolve and said, “No. This is them, not me.” Her voice was trembling and her chins set: there would be no attention paid to the people who were so very disappointed in her … in clearly so many more ways than they were able to articulate in that singular phone message.

Her parents, or her mother at least, was so attached to her and projected any self-loathing on to her daughter based on her own lifelong discomfort and the situation (which was important, but not worthy of her mother’s emotional investment) with the people 100 light years away.

Hearing that message cut right through me. There was no connection from that mother toward her daughter. Not one ounce of compassion, allowance, detachment, independence or of truly seeing her. I looked at my friend and said nothing, I just let her be. Our eyes met (well, my two eyes did the best they could with her three eyes); we held them there a bit. I think we connected. It might not have been what she needed, but I was plugged in.

Did she gain anything from that moment from me? Doesn’t matter. Did I help? Doesn’t matter. I know I didn’t hurt it any. What mattered in that moment is that She mattered. That was ‘relationship.’

What also mattered is that I did my best, as we both did, to hear her mother without judgement, but Wooooh bouy that was hard. We’d just returned from some moments of revelry, a flight around Vega, nice chats and friendship. Without saying a word though, we were both determined to not let that voicemail message and its invective shatter the interstellar peace and connection we’d made. Instead, we knew the source of the message and its intention were not mutual. I think because we were both in a place where we were feeling whole, that we were able to extend that non-judgment to her mother.

That’s the trick: we need to be in that place before we dare take on anyone else. We need to be whole ourselves, be ready to be vulnerable and be ready to be real to truly accept someone else’s shit as theirs, not ours. I don’t believe   that Wholeness is a lifetime’s work away, it’s just a few minutes of doing our best In The Moment to connect and not judge or compare.

Thank you.

*not her real name; her foes on Rixathan-32 would never let her hear the end of it if they knew this story was about her.

30 Days of Brené Brown — Day 2: #trust #respect #love #spirit #kindness


Welcome to Day 2 of my new series, “30 Days of Brené Brown” wherein I will take the top 30 quotes as determined by Goodreads. Who is Brené Brown you ask? She is a research professor at the University of Houston, author of several books on emotional health and authenticity and all-around bad-ass when it comes to shame and vulnerability research. But more importantly, she is my “if you could have dinner / evening out with anyone you don’t know who would it be…” -person. Go here to learn more about her. In each post I will try to limit myself to 1,200 words.

Today’s quote… ahh, if it were that simple. Somehow, today’s quote is three excerpts. I will share them as they are and write briefly (God willing) about each one.

Here we go. Inhale:

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.

Trust. Huge.

I can say yes to this. I know that when I let my guard down and when I release my deepest fears either on the internet in this blog or in person to a … person, that I feel better even though I’m wincing for a lashback. (Is that a word?) ahh, backlash. Anyway… Brené actually had a wonderful image on her facebook page about the recoil she would feel from oversharing. I’ll go look for it. Hang on… Here it is:

"I found the perfect image for "the vulnerability hangover" - you know that feeling when you share too much and the next hour/day/week you feel like you're wearing the emotional lampshade? I hate that feeling." -BB

“I found the perfect image for “the vulnerability hangover” – you know that feeling when you share too much and the next hour/day/week you feel like you’re wearing the emotional lampshade? I hate that feeling.” -BB

Isn’t it great? I get that feeling, I know that feeling and I often exist in that feeling: walking jell-o. Just this past weekend, Thanksgiving, I’m pretty sure I walked around and into things with that lampshade on my head. I have a member of my family who is very much in touch with who s/he is and another member who I believe literally Can’t Stand It when other people are. I know this is all about that person and its attendant vulnerability fears.

When my mom died (recently, for those who are new here — just on Labor Day — and I’ve written plenty about it, just enter “grief:” in the search field to the right), I knew who would rise to the occasion and who wouldn’t. It was not a contest, but I knew that all the work I’d done for the last decade about looking inward, learning who I was, being ok with who I wasn’t and trying desperately EVERY DAY to be as authentic as possible would enable me to be real with the reality: Mom was dead and she wasn’t coming back and arrangements had to be made. Being that open with myself helped me be with others who were able to help me. It’s that simple.

I also have to be careful: I feel myself dialing back from people a bit these days. I learned at a young age to not rely on my mom so much. If when you’re a kid you determine you can’t rely on your mom, you basically end up trusting no one… I see that’s how I’ve become recently. I’m kind to others but don’t get too close these days. I think it’s a reaction from her death. I feel myself pulling back from things and people… calcifying a bit. Hmm. I suspect I’m not honoring the spiritual connection that grows from offering my trust. I know it’s trust. I think it will come back in a bit; I’m just feeling a bit tender and protective is all.


Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.

You can’t give what you don’t have.

“You can’t get candy from a hardware store.” My cousin told me this about six years ago when we were talking about family and our similarities and shared chaoseses…es. Turns out she’s wrong though — I was just at an ACE-True Value hardware store and they had those awesome bags of Olde Tyme Hard Candies in a barrel by the register and I had to buy the lemon drops and the cherry drops. Then my kids found them and they were gone.

I digress.

The point is that yes … and no. I was pontificating in our hot tub to one of my boys last month and we were talking about love, the love I have for my mother and father (as irrational as it is) and the love I have for them and the love I have for their father and the love I have for my brothers, friends, and BILs and SILs and cousins and other extended and vital people in my life.

I explained that TO ME, love is not a choice. Like is a choice. Love is a chemical thing that happens to you that while it should be absent of fear, there (for me anyway) is a fear component in that I love that person so much I am afraid to lose them. It doesn’t mean I won’t go on, it’s not some sort of wacky codependence; it’s just that my love is super strong and that I adore those people. But it is not just given. Yes, it is something that grows from a place of our own love inside. You can’t grow / give / share what you don’t have already, otherwise it is an unknown and you’re all, “what the hell is this emotion? it makes me all soupy and kind and want to shout from the rooftops with joy and whatnot. eww.” You have to have it to feel it and then give it.

I don’t know what was in my mother; I want to say it was love, but I think it was mostly fear and attachment, that is why –no matter WHAT anyone says– I can’t ever truly say, as if my life depended on it, if she actually loved me. I think she tried. I know that I had an attachment / survivalist relationship with her, but I don’t know (still in these early months of grief, so cut me some slack) what the true relationship was. I tried hard though.

Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”
― Brené BrownThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Yikes. Yes. I just wrote about withholding love and connection in another post about the Ultimate Withholding: the Silent Treatment. This post is not just about the Silent Treatment, it’s about a few other things too, but the bottom line is this: When you withhold, it’s awful for everyone. Withholding creates these little pockets of borderline personality disorder (BPD) … I know, that sounds so simplistic, yet here’s why: when people with BPD are in their BPD zone, it goes like this: “I will do all I can to make everyone as miserable as I am.” Pat Conroy put it brilliantly in South of Broad (which you really must read — he’s such a fantastic writer) when a psychiatrist character explains BPD to his protagonist:

… a shrink in Miami once diagnosed [her] with borderline personality disorder. When I asked what that meant, the doctor told me, “It means you’re fucked. She’s fucked. I’ll load her up with drugs, that that’s about all I can do. The borderlines are mean, egomaniacal, relentless. Their job is to make everybody around them miserable. In my experience they perform their jobs very well.”

And that’s how it is for people who are around people who withhold their love, their relationships, their attention, their courtesy, their awareness that you even exist… why? Because you have Somehow Not Met Their Standards and that means you are bad. Bad person and everyone who is savvy must agree or they get the treatment too. And who loses in this game of all games? Everyone. But most of all the withholder. Eventually, the other person wises up and walks away. That’s when you can’t get candy from that hardware store…. and by the time that happens, you don’t want candy anymore, salt will do.

I grew up with all sorts of blame, shame, disrespect, tacit responsibility, deflection, denial and subterfuge. It’s not right. It’s a horrible way to raise a family. Anyway, back to Brené. If one acknowledges the pain inflicted then the love can grow and a relationship can be had. Saying, “I’m sorry for whatever it is you say I did or didn’t do for you” doesn’t quite cut it. Trust me on that. I also wrote about those fun kinds of atonements in a post about Perfect Apologies.

I hope I did these three quote justice.

Thank you.

30 Days of Brené Brown – Day 1: #vulnerability #courage #love #shame #belonging #holes #worthiness


Welcome to Day 1 of my new series, “30 Days of Brené Brown” wherein I will take the top 30 quotes as determined by Goodreads. Who is Brené Brown you ask? She is a research professor at the University of Houston, author of several books on emotional health and authenticity and all-around bad-ass when it comes to shame and vulnerability research. But more importantly, she is my “if you could have dinner / evening out with anyone you don’t know who would it be…” -person. Go here to learn more about her. In each post I will try to limit myself to 1,200 words.

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
― Brené Brown

Hmm. Agh. Gah. Shit.

I have some really worn out track shoes that I’d spent a so-called adult lifetime in running, nay, sprinting from my story. Years ago I had a friend who was a career marathoner and triathlete who was also an attorney and a brash Texan. We were doing a charity walk for his wife’s chronic illness and I asked him why he didn’t run the event instead of walk it. He said that he wanted to spend the time with his sons and show them that “just walking for Mommy was helping her.” He then followed up with a side remark, “I’ve spent my life running as a marathoner. Since I was 14. I have recently come to the personal conclusion that in doing all those marathons I was either running to something or running from something.”

He had my interest. In my usual eloquence, I said, “More. More.” as I waved my hand impatiently for more information.

He resumed, “I don’t know which yet. I’d like to say I’m running to something, but that means that something isn’t right; if I say that I’m running from something, then I don’t rightly know where I’m going. I’m figuring it out. But my sense is, it’s my past… that I’m running … from.”

Owning my story. This flies in the face of my reminding myself that I am not my story. Embracing vulnerability is something I’ve spent a lot of time doing. Back when I first began therapy, in 1923, I remember Freud saying to me before he went back to Vienna for his vacation, “I wonder what it would be like for you to be soft and vulnerable.”

I nearly defibbed right there. Like Carol Burnett portraying Greta Garbo dying on a flight of stairs, I felt air get sucked from my body and I clenched my chest. Y’see, I’d spent a good part of my then-65 years as a hard-ass. My father used to call me a scrappy, barren city playground nickname that makes my blood boil. I won’t share it because it’s one that I lived up to and as far as I’m concerned, stripped me of most of my softer ways. He was proud when he said that nickname, and as an obedient, or more likely, survival-driven child, I would do my utmost to retain and build on it; so much so that it became almost like my ‘rep.’

So when Siggy asked me to consider it, being soft and vulnerable, I balked. I looked over my shoulders, around the room and suggested that clearly he must be talking to someone else. Surely it wasn’t me, at 65, who was causing my own problems, my own anxieties and my own patterns. No.

No. I had no problems. I was seeing Freud because it was my children who were the problems. For me to have allowed that I was in a weak position because of something that happened to me as a child meant that I would have to admit I was emotionally leaking which only came from weakness. And weakness meant that I needed help and that even the mere suggestion of my being needy and asking for help was not in the least shameful. No.

“Define soft and vulnerable,” I said as my eyelids quivered to stay closed and my jaw consciously loosened. I slowly let out the rest of my breath.

“You know: ask for help, be kinder to yourself. Say ‘no’ to someone’s request for assistance. Say ‘yes’ to someone’s offer of assistance. Better still: Allow things to happen without interfering and maybe be OK with not having all the answers. Let someone hug you for more than a couple seconds; say if you’re afraid of something. You know: be a human.”

I had a hard time with that. I said so, “It’s hard to be soft.” I wanted to kick him in his shins, shave his famous beard, stomp on his glasses. He gave me a month to try it. No therapy. I was just getting a handle on what my feelings were — I had only known of two until then: rage and confusion.

So yeah — owning my story is easier than running from it. My story is no better and no worse than anyone else’s. I have always been a candid person and I’ve always had an easy time relating to people and wanting them to feel safe telling me their stories. Some people are OK with it, others aren’t. I will also admit that there are some stories I just can’t hear anymore and I’m tired of telling my story — or at least the sad parts of it, but I am giving myself some slack right now because I’m still fairly unused to my mother being gone and so naturally lots of stuff is swimming around in me. I go from “I’m tired of telling my story.” to “I want the world to know my story!!!!” in the same breath. Sometimes I can’t believe where I’ve come from and then I hear someone else’s story and I feel pathetic — as though my story doesn’t count compared to another.

Then there’s the ‘running-from’ aspect: when the feelings of our stories, our hurts, disappointments, fears, regrets, shame, woe, confusion — true vulnerability — comes in play. It’s too hard to hold. That’s like the Prince of Tides moments for me — not so much that I endured and withstood and survived the things I did … that’s hard as it is; but the allowing that someone else could perpetrate the actions which led to those feelings of abandonment, woe, regret, ugliness, disposability, shame, fear, and hurt on me. What’s worse: allowing that it wasn’t personal. We want, even in those darkest moments for it to have been personal, at least just a smidge, so that the person who was hurting us was even aware that we were present, that we were being hurt; that it wasn’t just some case of blind rage or random fuck-up’edness that made that action possible.

That’s where another level of the ‘running from’ comes in for me: that I didn’t even matter then, during all that rage and sadness and narcissism. It’s hard to admit that pain; the double-edge of it (that a: it happened and b: you didn’t matter enough to make it stop), so I ran from it.

As a people, signs are omnipresent that we bury it deep inside us: Target stores everywhere, the abundance of stuff, Black Friday, today “Cyber Monday” (WTF?!) and all the shit in our homes, our lives… all the stuff! none of it matters!  we use it to build walls and hide ourselves with our perfect nails and fancy hair and super-white teeth all so we won’t at all let on that we’re insecure, that we’re scared inside, that we’re afraid of being judged. Or there’s the “everything’sjustfineitis!it’sgreat!sogreat!totally!” which also is a wall we build to hide our vulnerability and pain.

But in order to bury it, we have to use the hole that the pain created for it to fit. But it doesn’t always fit there, so we spew it at others in passive-aggressive ways or in straight-out aggressive-aggressive ways. We project our self-loathing on to others by withholding love or by judging them. I did that. For a long time. And now my mother, the one I withheld against for so long (simply as a matter to protect myself) is dead. I’m not saying I regret it — I absolutely had to draw boundaries (and I think that’s where Brené and I might disagree at times), I just wish it weren’t so.

So then we try to fill the hole of that pain with alcohol and shopping and food and drugs and running and work and facebook and gambling and porn and rage and shame and ____ and _____ and _____ which of course creates more pain (a bigger hole) for us to fill up with more shit which creates more pain for more shit.

When we own our stories, we confront them. We neutralize them — the stories don’t evaporate, but they are manageable. We can learn from them instead of filling them with shit. This life, the moment you’re living right now isn’t a dress rehearsal, we don’t really get a second chance. When our lives are over, they’re over. When it comes to “near-death” experiences, I’m not sure I buy it… we die when we are meant to die. So if it’s a year or 60 that we have left to live, it’s probably best to stop running so you can shake hands with your story, own your fears and rage and joys and grace. Sit down and enjoy life. Make lemonade, then drink it.

Thank you.

ps – My other 30 Days series was on Carl Jung. Click on this link for that index.