My Vulnerability and Shame

I am often touched with most things that I read or watch whether it be in a negative or positive way. However, it is not very often that I am left feeling somewhat vulnerable and needing to retreat to my metaphorical cave which recently has been physicalizing by way of my bed or my ‘bat-cave’. I have used the metaphor of a cave for a number of years and have found it a great place to escape to even though for many years it was a place in my mind and not actually a physical space that I could quite literally go to.

So, what touched me so deeply that made me feel so incredibly vulnerable? Well, it was two TED talks. Both of the talks are by Brené Brown. The first is ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ and the second is ‘Listening to Shame.’

In ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ Brené discusses her findings of human interaction, relationships, vulnerability, courage and shame which she has discovered through her research in a funny and engaging way. Her talk is a powerful account of how people are affected, deal with and indeed live with the aforementioned emotions and the importance of embracing vulnerability as a fundamental aspect of courage.

The second talk of ‘Listening to Shame’ is about shame’s deep penetration within people’s mindset and how this if often the reason of broken behaviour. Brené talks about how shame and indeed vulnerability is the root and base line of ‘innovation, creativity and change’. That one line is so profoundly important as it is the most brilliant way of dealing with shame and actually finding a way of  utilising it in such a way that our individual shame can be used for greatness in the world.

The two quotes which sum up this talk beautifully are:

‘Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.’

‘Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous.’

Now is the time that I ought to go from merely offering a critique of the talks to explaining why I was so affected by them. Before I stumbled across these talks during my often wanderings on www.ted.com I found a new friendship with someone and it was somewhat bizarre at how we opened up to each other from the outset. It was more from my end in the beginning as my friend had just died and I didn’t want to burden my best friend with my lack of ability to deal with it as she was already going through her own stuff. Anyway, this friend, I leant her on like a crutch especially during my friend’s funeral. Often we find it easier to talk to those who don’t know us well and I think that’s because we comfort ourselves in knowing that because they don’t know you they can’t really judge you and so you don’t feel scared exposing and opening yourself up to that level of vulnerability. It was one talk in particular that I’m thinking of where I opened up in a way that I hadn’t done in a long while. I was cold, sweaty and beginning to shake with both nervousness and indeed vulnerability. I talked about why my friend’s death had affected me so much and why I was so scared of moving back home after university. Even whilst writing this I can feel myself wanting to close up but at the same time I feel a sense of freedom in being able to share my experiences in the hope that other people will not feel so scared and alone and actually realise that it really is okay to feel vulnerable and that there are things you can do to take control of the situation and to empower yourself.

My friend’s death, more specifically suicide was a tragic event to say the least. He was an amazing young man who had such a big heart and would always listen and help you no matter what time of the day or night you sought his help.  When a friend informed me of his death it took me back in such a way that I was metaphorically knocked off my feet. Why? Because the previous year I had considered doing the same.  I have struggled with my sexuality, religion and culture for as long as I can remember and I reached a point in my life where I thought it would be better to end my own life rather than to continue living in that misery. When I was younger it was so hard to not think about my somewhat bleak situation and inability to cope with what I was going through and how on earth I would manage to reconcile not only my sexuality with my religion and culture but indeed my liberal views, pro-choice and feminist ideology. It wasn’t until years later that a friend pointed out that it sounded like I was going through depression. In hindsight, I think she was right and it scared me to admit that. I can’t help but feel some shame attached to that vulnerability, especially considering that suicide is against Islam.  The thing that upset me the most about my friend’s suicide was the fact that he has helped me so much, actually that’s a massive understatement, he was one of the people who saved my life. He wholeheartedly believed that coming out to my mum would be okay and that she would still love me. Friends had tried to comfort me with similar words before but I knew that deep down they didn’t really believe it. When Peter said it, it was genuine and honest and I took great comfort in this and ultimately he was right.

My guilt lies in the fact that Peter was one of the people who saved my life and yet I was unable to save his. If only I had told him how much of a profound impact he had on my life than perhaps he would have reconsidered his decision? I know that rationally this argument doesn’t make much sense and that it is a waste of time and energy in thinking ‘what ifs’ and ‘if only’ but I just can’t help it. This is something that hopefully I will come to terms with. In any case, it has allowed me realise even more so just how much our actions or even inaction affects other people. Simple and indeed random acts of kindness are sometimes more than enough to make anyone’s day and quite literally change their lives.

[Note to self: Take a deep breath and carry on. You’ve done most the blog entry now…] I find that talking to myself often helps in boosting my mentality in difficult situations. This entry is proving to be one of those situations.

The second of my vulnerability scares was of moving back home after university. I hated the idea of knowing that I would have to go back in the closet to some extent. Living in an environment where I could be open and free to be who I am to then going back to the place of where I tried so desperately to escape from in the first place proved to be more draining than I felt comfortable in letting on. The shame in this I felt was because every time someone would praise the work I do or who I am, inside, I felt like a cheat because even now I still struggle in being open with who I am. I understand the great importance and need of being a visible person who is Black, queer, religious and a woman because having someone that looks like you or has similar beliefs is a massive lifeline when you feel so lost and alone in the journey of self-discovery. That visibility saves lives. That visibility is often incredibly hard and draining to fill for many people especially if they face multiple levels of discrimination. Hopefully, one day, I will get there fully and not even to satisfy my own desire of belonging but rather to be that light for someone at the end of the dark tunnel of self-discovery. To let them know, that they are not alone and that there is always hope and indeed light and warmth waiting for them.

In reality though, the move wasn’t all that bad and actually I am putting to use my years at university especially in conflict and difficult situation resolution. I am increasingly understanding the importance of dealing with different situations in the most diplomatic and most sustainable way rather than going in all-guns-blazing as I often do.

In both instances I felt vulnerable and shame too. I felt vulnerable in telling someone how I really felt and I had shame in the fact that as a queer Black feminist Muslim I still, even now, find it difficult to be who I am in my culture and religion even though I have reconciled them. The biggest comfort when talking about vulnerability and shame was when my friend replied ‘me too’. Brené is right… Knowing that other people are going through a similar situation is incredibly comforting because when they listen and offer you advice you know they are truly able to understand and empathise with how you feel. The vulnerability that I felt when talking to my friend about these two issues was difficult to say the least but I knew that it was important to carry on even through the sweating (attractive, I know (!)), the shaking and feeling of exposure when talking about things close to my heart, my deepest fears, regret, guilt and shame.

Before I forget, here are the links to the talks:

‘The Power of Vulnerability’: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

‘Listening to Shame’: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/brene_brown_listening_to_shame.html

So after some (much, here’s the shame again…) crying, pausing and distraction I have finally finished this entry on vulnerability and shame. I hope and pray that you find comfort and indeed solace in realising that vulnerability and shame are natural and indeed imperative in being able to grow as individuals. Vulnerability and shame may be somewhat scary but they shouldn’t be stigmatised and deemed as negative emotions to hide away from. I hope that I, or rather Brené Brown has given you some food for thought. Whilst you ponder over those thoughts I shall be recovering from my ‘vulnerability hangover’.

[Note to self: You can exhale now…]

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3 thoughts on “My Vulnerability and Shame

  1. Beautiful post! Thank you for sharing! I watched Brene Brown at WDS – a conference in Portland and then watched the Ted talks at home. They had such a profound effect on me too….

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to not only read it but actually comment too! I really appreciate it. 🙂 I’m curious… What is WDS? I really do love TED!

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