By Anna Elena Berlin
Certified Professional Coach, Experience of Life Researcher
“I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.” -Brené Brown, Ph.D, LMSW. Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She’s spent the last twelve years studying and writing about vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Her “The Power of Vulnerability”, is one of the top ten most viewed TED talks on TED.com, with approximately 6 million viewers.
What is the difference between courage and bravery? People use them interchangeably all the time, but they are not the same. Bravery is an inherent quality some people have that enables them to face risk without thinking about it, and bravery needs no cause. People displaying courage know fear is present and face it anyway for a worthy cause. In other words, it’s far more meaningful to face risk with courage than with bravery.
The point is that you choose courage while bravery chooses you, if you are one of the lucky ones. We are vulnerable creatures living in an environment that has the potential to do us harm by simply crossing the street, slipping in the bath, or falling in love. So why is it virtually all of us can be okay with the first two risks and not okay with progressing toward the third and our intimacy goals? Is it because emotional risk is an innate part of the deal?
As with everything in life we do the best we can, until we learn better and then we do better. Learning better can be tough when the subjects of vulnerability and emotional risk are rarely part of any dialog. I can think of nothing that is less talked about yet has more influence over how we experience life. This is problematic when you think about how much they affect the outcome of our most important choices. Not the least of which is our relationship with our own intimacy. And, because this is the case too many of us don’t move forward to fully enjoy the riches that this most essential human gift provides.
So why is emotional risk so daunting? Why are some of us better at dealing with it while the rest of us just don’t know what to do with it, wanting to shut down when it is involved? According to Dr. Brown the crux of the struggle is: “Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me. We love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we’re afraid to let them see us. We’re afraid that our truth isn’t enough—that what we have to offer isn’t enough without the bells and whistles, without editing, and impressing.”
Vulnerability is defined by Dr. Brown as- uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. To love someone is to be emotionally exposed, vulnerable, and yes, at risk. There’s a lot of fear attached to each of these because we have all experienced pain as a result of them, feeling exposed and in “the torture chamber that we call uncertainty.” However, the truth is that our life experience quality plummets without loving or being loved because humans are built for connection and intimacy.
In Dr. Brown’s book, Daring Greatly and from her extensive research she concludes, “If we want to reclaim the essential emotional part of our lives and reignite our passion and purpose, we have to learn how to own and engage with our vulnerability and how to feel the emotions that come with it. Even if we choose to stay out of relationships and opt for disconnection as a form of protection we’re still alive and that means vulnerability happens. Experiencing vulnerability isn’t a choice, the only choice we have is how we’re going to respond when we are confronted with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”
It’s important to remember that we are all at emotional risk, and that people actually love others for their vulnerabilities and not despite them. There are many books and resources available to help people learn emotional intelligence and maturity. The learning these give can be the bridge from where you are to where you want to be in your emotional life and your intimacy. To enjoy the best possible experience of life it is extremely valuable to come to terms with emotional risk and vulnerability. The lack of this, I believe, is the reason there are so many children among us walking around in 60+ year old bodies.
As always, it is valuable to remember that you don’t have to be perfect to have the life that is perfect for you… embracing courage is the key.