SHAME, VULNERABILITY, AND LOVE
by Carmen Anderson
After reading books by Brene Brown, I have become quite a fan. Her books and TED Talks have certainly become widely read and watched. She is a research professor and social worker whose findings in her human nature studies have led her to see how the idea of vulnerability and the issue of shame can shape our lives. She uses these statements to explain the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt = I did something bad. Shame = I am bad. You can see the difference. In fact, I bet you can “feel’ the difference. Of course, when we do wrong, we rightly feel guilt, which can be helpful by directing us toward positive actions, but feeling shame puts us in a negative spiral that robs our lives of joy, purpose and connection.
Showing Courage in Vulnerability
In her book Daring Greatly Brown focuses on the need for us to learn to be vulnerable because in doing so we can then truly become our authentic selves. This certainly flies in the face of how we normally view vulnerability, which is as a weakness to be avoided. Brown amusingly mentions numerous occasions of traveling on planes and having a seat mate ask what line of work she’s in. Upon telling them that she studies shame and vulnerability, the seat mate would suddenly became disinterested in any further conversation!
She posits that only in allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, to be seen for who we are, by removing the masks we have been wearing, are we able to believe in our worthiness to be loved by and connected with others and thus banish the lie of shame. Brown goes a step further to say that she believes that being vulnerable is one of the most courageous acts that we can perform.
As a Christian, I feel that one reason for Brown’s popularity is because she has tapped into some of the issues that are at the heart of our need for God. Shame shuts down our ability to live the lives for which God created us. It causes us to withdraw and cuts off our interactions with others, isolating us. We then feel useless and bereft of spirit. Shame can also allow fear to permeate our being. We know that fear leads to anger and other negative behaviors furthering our disconnection with those around us.
Replacing Shame with Love
I believe that Jesus came to demonstrate to us our worthiness to be loved, to belong and to show us why we shouldn’t feel shame. He came to show us how to live authentic lives of love, truth and service to our fellow men by giving us example after example of forging loving connections with others, telling us to love others as we love ourselves.
When we can acknowledge our worth in God’s eyes, when we understand that we are beloved by God, then we are capable of loving ourselves. This must happen before we can love others. Knowing that we belong to God prevents us from fearing to be authentic.
It is at this point that we can choose to be vulnerable because through the grace of God’s love, we no longer fear being who He has intended us to be. The philosopher Albert Camus said it this way, “ Man is the only species who refuses to be what he really is.”
Being vulnerable with each other reminds us that we all feel the same emotions, the same fears, hopes and dreams and that we can give and derive comfort from that knowledge. It deepens our connections and strengthens our desire to love and to serve. When we are willing to show up in life, unafraid of sharing who we are and able to express our gratitude to God, who gives our lives such worth, we then can become pathways to others who need to know God’s love and grace.
“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant and their faces shall never be ashamed.” ~ Psalm 34: 4-5 ESV