What if I am not good enough?
I guess we all face this question some time or the other in our life. It is indeed scary to feel inadequate, or vulnerable. At times it is so scary that instead of being vulnerable, we prefer being indifferent, or as Pink Floyd would say, we are ‘comfortably numb’. Being numb is often easier than being authentic and vulnerable, but I am not really sure if that works best in our favour.
Brené Brown is someone who understands what it means to be vulnerable and authentic. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston. She has spent the past sixteen years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is the author of four bestselling books. Brown’s TED talk featured here, The Power of Vulnerability – is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world with over 30 million views. And yes, she also explains what happens when we are comfortably numb – when we numb our emotions and she explores the question this article started with.
During her early research on shame, this is what she figured out about people who felt disconnected with their surroundings –
Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?
The things I can tell you about it (shame): It’s universal; we all have it. The only people who don’t experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection. No one wants to talk about it, and the less you talk about it, the more you have it. What underpinned this shame, this “I’m not good enough,” — which, we all know that feeling: “I’m not blank enough. I’m not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, promoted enough.” The thing that underpinned this was excruciating vulnerability. This idea of, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.
If you’re curious about her work on shame, you can watch her another talk dedicated to this topic, Listening to shame. Brown further delves into vulnerability based on her further research. She found that people who were able to connect with other people at deeper level were not afraid of being vulnerable, they had sense of love and belonging. Brown narrates what she discovered during her decade of research on vulnerability –
And so here’s what I found. What they had in common was a sense of courage. And I want to separate courage and bravery for you for a minute. Courage, the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language — it’s from the Latin word “cor,” meaning “heart” — and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. And the last was they had connection, and — this was the hard part — as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which you have to absolutely do that for connection.
The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating — as I had heard it earlier in the shame interviewing. They just talked about it being necessary.
It is interesting to note that Brené Brown is a researcher after all, and in her own words, the definition of research is to control and predict, to study phenomena for the explicit reason to control and predict. When she figured out that the answer for such deep connections and authenticity was to live with vulnerability and to stop controlling and predicting, she almost had a breakdown and sought a therapist for help.
It is wonderful to listen to her own experience of coming to terms with her understanding of vulnerability over the years in her own words with her unmistakable subtle sense of humour. No wonder it is one of the most popular TED talks of all time.
Personally, I am not comfortable discussing my own anxieties, weaknesses with others, yet I realize that whenever I shared my own insecurities and allowed myself to be vulnerable, I have made some deep connections and good friends. Watching her talk, you might also realize that the answer to the original question is: We are enough! 🙂
About the featured image:
The featured image for this article is a free wallpaper from QuoteFancy and it features Brené Brown’s quote that captures essence of this article and her talk quite well with the photo credited to Rula Sibai. I am using this image here with gratitude.