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The Price of Invulnerability by Dr. Brené Brown - TEDxKC

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(Applause) So I'm gonna start by walking you into a scene in a movie and then I want y'all to tell me what happens next. OK. Christmas Eve... beautiful night, light snowfall, young family of four in the car on their way to grandma's house for dinner. They're listening to the radio station, the one that starts playing Christmas music like right at Halloween. Jingle bells comes on. The kids in the back seat go crazy. Everyone breaks into song, the camera pans in on the faces of the kids, mom, dad, What happens next? Car crash. 60% of people say "car crash". 60%. Another 10 to 15% have equally fatalistic answers, but more creative. (Laughter) I have the camera cuts to the oncologist, who is looking at the bad news that he's going to share the day after Christmas. I have - they get to grandmother's house, everyone's dead, a serial killer is on the loose. And I had one dude who worked in a "Shark Attack". I did. (Laughter) What's interesting to me about this, and I -- it's an indictment a little bit of the media, which I wouldn't so much care about, except that I'm a vulnerability researcher, and I've spent the last ten years studying vulnerability, and I cannot tell you how many hundreds and hundreds of stories I've collected from people who, that is their response, not just in media, but in their real life. How many parents I've interviewed who will say: "I'm looking at my children, and they're sleeping and and I'm on this - the right verge of bliss and I picture something horrible happening." Do you know this? Yes. I get a promotion and I get to fly up to headquarters, you know, to find out about my new job and what's going to happen. Plane crashes. The fatalistic response is not universal. We're not all like that, but it is a symptom of an issue that is both universal and I believe profoundly dangerous, and that is: we are loosing our tolerance for vulnerability. And in our culture - what do we think is synonymous with vulnerability? Weakness. You're an excellent audience! It's almost as if I trained you. It's perfect. Weakness. And I'm going to talk about how that's not the case, tonight. Vulnerability is absolutely at the core of fear and anxiety and shame and very difficult emotions that we all experience. But vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, of love, of belonging, of creativity, of faith, and so it becomes very problematic when, as a culture, we lose our capacity to be vulnerable. So, this kind of fatalistic car crash is a symptom, I refer to it as "foreboding joy". One of the symptoms that we're loosing our capacity for vulnerability is that joy actually becomes foreboding. Something good happens, or we're looking at someone we love, or we're thinking of something we care about, and then we become compelled to beat vulnerability to the punch. Other symptoms: disappointment as a lifestyle. It is much easier to live disappointed than it is to feel disappointment. And so, this is the person in the after school movie, that: "I don't wanna play your stupid game, 'cause it's dumb and boring, and because really maybe nobody will ask me." We sidestep getting excited about something because we're not sure it's actually going to happen? Low-grade disconnection is another symptom of our vulnerability avoidance. We go through the motions it's like low-grade fever, it may not kill us, but it keeps us pretty miserable. Perfection, is one of the - I call it "the 200 pound shield", "How can anything go wrong if my life looks like an add?" "I'm going to perform and please and make sure everything's perfect." And perfectionism has nothing to do with striving for excellence and healthy - it has nothing to do with healthy striving - People who I interviewed who are absolutely accomplished and people who strive for excellence are the biggest negotiators and compromisers that I've ever interviewed. Perfection is a tool to protect ourselves. Extremism. There's a very simple equation: faith minus vulnerability equals extremism. Faith is the vulnerability that flows between the shores of certainty. Faith without vulnerability. Spirituality is inherently vulnerable. It is believing in things we don't understand or really can't see. And last, I believe that most universal way that we are dealing with the intolerance for vulnerability in our culture is that we numb. And I'll talk about this in a minute. Let's go to a bigger question, and that is: What is driving this intolerance for vulnerability in us? And I believe the answer is scarcity. We live in a culture that tells us that there's never enough. That we are not enough, that we are not good enough, that we are not safe enough, that we can never be certain enough, that we're not perfect enough, and maybe the one that we really don't talk about, that I think is perhaps the most dangerous, is that we are not extraordinary enough. In this world, somehow, an ordinary life has become synonymous with a meaningless life. And so often we are missing what is truly important because we're on the quest for what is extraordinary. Not understanding that in our ordinary lives in the ordinary moments of our lives, is really where we can find the most joy. One of the things that happens, I think, in our culture of scarcity is that we are constantly collecting images and messages and experiences I think it's unconscious, I really don't think that we're aware of how many messages and images of scarcity that we collect every day. And I want to tell a story about something that happened about six months ago that I think really illustrates this. So, I have to catch a flight to go do a talk somewhere. And my daughter is - I have a 5 year old and an 11 year old - and my daughter is really struggling with this school project. I am definitely in the scarcity mode, I shouldn't be going, I'm not a good enough mom, I need to -- this is -- I can't balance all of this. I have to go to my bank, which is inside of a grocery store, which is -- I don't know if that happens here, but in Texas all the banks had moved inside the grocery stores. (Laughter) So I walk inside the grocery store sliding glass, you know, the sliding glass doors, and there's a big Code Adam sticker: which tells - if you don't know what that is, it's an incredibly important program, but it's a program that says: "This store and its employees are trained that when a child is gone missing, or nabbed, everything in the store shuts down." So I look at that and I think: "Oh God. OK, just stay focused Brené. No one's gonna nab your kids while you're away. I go and get my money, I get back in the car, I get on the freeway toward the airport, and I pass the AMBER alert. "Keep driving Brené, keep driving!" About two miles passed the amber alert there's a sign that tells me that 39 people had been killed on that specific stretch of highway. And please, wear my seat belt. Then I get to the airport, and, of course, I'm in line to security getting [...] and I hear: "The threat code has been moved to orange" and then I go to this saying that I might -- "Oh my God! Holy crap, is that a movement? Is it always orange? I was like: I'm gonna start writing on my hand with a Sharpie like: "It's all always orange." "Orange is not like anything going bad." And I said "What is it?" OK, so I'm like "Orange. OK, it's orange." I think it was orange yesterday. Maybe something happened and I was busy reading the AMBER alert, then trying to find license plate, so I get through my day and I sit down and they're like: "Do not leave unattended baggage" you know, and I look down, and there's a bag. And I'm like: "Oh, my God! Wait! It's a dipper bag." And I know that mother. Is like ten feet away chasing her kid and and her -- and I'm like: "But I saw this on "Law and Order". And I'm gonna board that plane, and then the next thing you're gonna hear is: "Ching-ching" that "Law & Order" ching. Doom-doom. And we will blow up! So I get on the plane and I'm really getting ready to start. I'm in kind of what you call, I would say anxiety attack. So I'm having an anxiety attack and and a guy comes in, I'm flying business class, the guy comes in and he's sitting next to me, he turned out to be a supply chain manager consultant. And so he looks over and he's like: "You're OK?" "I'm good, yeah, what's up?" And my phone rings and and my son's face pops-up. Well, he's 5. So that means his school is calling. "Hello!" , "Charlie's got a fever. Can you come get him?" "Mhmmm..." So I'm like: I text my husband and I take care of it, and the guy next to me said: "Really, are you OK?" By this time the cabin doors are closed, and I said: "You know what? I'm good." But I'm having that thing when I can't decide weather my gut is really saying: "Get off the flight. Something's gonna happen or I'm just freaking out." And I'm trying to figure out how to do something crazy enough to get off the flight, but to not end up onto "No Fly" list. So I'm super blastified with. So then he said: "Let me get you a drink." And I said: "You know, I don't drink", and he goes: "Zanax?" And I was like: "No, I don't do Zanax either." Which is a shame. But I don't. But then what I realized is that really makes me think about my work. Because we numb vulnerability. Now, had he said "Chips and queso", that would have been a completely different issue. Evidence of the numbing: We are the most addicted, we are the most medicated, obese, and in debt adult cohort in the human history. We are numbing, and this doesn't even include business. I didn't put the busy slide up. You know, when they start having busy recovery meetings so have busy twelve set meetings so have to rent out football stadiums. Because we just stay so busy that the truth of our lives can't catch-up. But that's the plan. And so, what are the consequences of numbing vulnerability? What are the consequences of trying to beat vulnerability to the punch? Here's the consequence to numbing that I've learned. As a vulnerability researcher I've spent the first six years of my research studying shame, empathy, and courage, and the last four years studying joy, authenticity, love and belonging. And one of the things that I've learned that was very startling for me personally and everyone I've ever met, is that you cannot selectively numb emotion. When we numb the dark emotion, when we numb vulnerability and fear, and shame of not being good enough, we, by default, numb joy. We cannot selectively just numb the dark emotions. We have interesting research around this. We have research that shows us in addiction studies, that an intenslly positive experience is as likely to trigger relapse as an intensely negative experience. Let me tell you, if vulnerability is a sharp edge, there may be nothing sharper than joy. To let yourself soften into loving someone, to carrying about something passionately, that's vulnerable. So the question becomes: How do we embrace vulnerability? And here's what I've learned from the research. We practice gratitude. We stop and be thankful for what we have. I've interviewed a lot of people who had been through many horrific things from genocide to trauma, and when you ask them what they need, they will tell you: "I don't need your pity, I don't need your sympathy, I need when you look at your children, I need to know you're grateful." "I need to know that you know what you have." So to practice gratitude, to honor what's ordinary about our lives, because that is what's truly extraordinary. We can compete with the images from the media from the news, from the scary shows on TV, with our own images of gratitude about what's ordinary in our lives. The people we love, our kids, our family, play, our community and nature. These are things that happen every single day that we're so busy being afraid, we're missing these. So that I think, the biggest thing is to be grateful for what we have, to honor what's ordinary, and last I just want to say that and I'm a parent and I'm a vulnerable person too but, I really believe, you know, we want more guarantees, we want to believe we're not going to get hurt and that bad things are not going to happen. And they are. But there is a guarantee that no one talks about that. And that is that if we don't allow ourselves to experience joy and love, we will definitely miss out on filling our reservoir with what we need when those hard things happen. And so I'll end on the note that I'm grateful for your time tonight and I'm grateful to be here and I hope that this is something that we can do together, because I believe: in vulnerability we'll find what really gives purpose and meaning to our life. Thank you. (Applause)

Video Details

Duration: 15 minutes and 58 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: TEDxKC
Views: 1,114
Posted by: pscrosby on Jul 13, 2011

In our anxious world, we often protect ourselves by closing off parts of our lives that leave us feeling most vulnerable. Yet invulnerability has a price. When we knowingly or unknowingly numb ourselves to what we sense threatens us, we sacrifice an essential tool for navigating uncertain times -- joy. This talk will explore how and why fear and collective scarcity has profoundly dangerous consequences on how we live, love, parent, work and engage in relationships -- and how simple acts can restore our sense of purpose and meaning.

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work where she has spent the past 10 years studying courage, shame and authenticity.

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