Vulnerability with Boundaries
Tuesdays are my husband Joel’s “long day” when he starts work at 9:00 am and leaves class at 10:00 pm and doesn’t come home in between. Which means I’m on my own for dinner, since Joel is the family cook. Last night I had popcorn for dinner and watched the Bréne Brown special on Netflix.
If you are one of the three people in the universe who still doesn’t know who Bréne Brown is, her field is social work and she does research about shame, courage, and vulnerability. She gave a Ted Talk almost a decade ago about vulnerability that went unexpectedly, cosmically viral and is one of the most-viewed Ted Talks of all time. I saw the Ted Talk when it first came out and loved it, but then I sort of forgot about her—and entirely missed the phenomenon that she has become—until a couple of months ago when I went down another YouTube rabbit hole and watched just about every interview she’s given in the past 10 years.
It’s kind of weird to see what a brand she’s become. It’s especially weird because we are exactly the same age. Whatever ;-) But I have to hand it to her: she has stayed true to her message and still tells her audiences true, hard things about vulnerability and courage (tl;dr: they are the same thing, not opposites; you can’t have one without the other). And she’s funny as hell. I think the Netflix special is definitely worth your time.
Anyway, when I first watched the Bréne Brown Ted Talk years ago, I liked to think that being willing to be vulnerable was one of the things I was really good at. I felt a little smug and was sure Bréne would want to be my best friend if we ever met.
I was so wrong.
Not about being friends with Bréne —I still think we’d probably get a long pretty well. But it turns out that I sucked at being vulnerable.
It only took me ten years, a divorce, and tens of thousands of dollars of psychiatric care, but I finally figured out what I was doing wrong.
It turns out that being vulnerable isn’t about trying to get people to love you.
It’s about showing up. It’s about being your own Self, and then daring to open yourself up to other people.
For years I ripped my heart out of my chest and offered it up as a gift of love, and then inevitably retreated into shame, licking my wounds, wondering why no one ever loved me back as much as I loved them. For years, for decades, I thought if someone would only love me as much as I loved them, I could be a whole person. But in fact the opposite was true: chasing after love, I ended up losing my Self.
The story we tell our Selves is everything. But we can’t have a Self to tell a story too without boundaries. In order to have my own story, much less reframe it and rid it of shame, there has to be some place where you end and I begin.
Vulnerability isn’t really vulnerability without boundaries.