by Kyle Beard on Wednesday, January 6th, 2016
Brené Brown has become a well known name in the counseling realm and beyond with her work around shame and wholehearted living. Many people love her concepts because it touches all of us at our hearts: we are imperfect, we need help, and that’s okay. Today, I’m sitting here reading her book The Gift Of Imperfection. She continues to amaze me in the simplicity and honesty from her own brokenness. The general concept of the book is accepting we are imperfect and understanding that the antithesis to the shame we all carry is vulnerability. While reading this book, I am struck by the idea that our shame hinders us from true connection with others and ourselves.
Acknowledging that we need help goes against the grain of our western culture. Individuals who are self-sustaining, self-reliant, and able to do it alone receive praise from employees, friends, family members, and the like. Brené presents a different perspective: we need each other to combat shame! This concept breaks the mold in which Western culture functions. The irony of the Western perspective is that we can’t do it on our own, and when the realities of our inadequacies hit us, we can easily turn to addiction to fill the void of connection with others. Shame breads in these circumstances.
I have recently begun encouraging my clients to say, “I’m broken, and it’s okay.” When we deny the simple fact that we are imperfect and need help, true connection with others and ourselves becomes hindered. During the first few years of my career, I attempted to be the most knowledgable therapist. I wanted to know all of the right answers for my clients’ struggles. To my amazement, when I shared part of my personal recovery story with my clients, it was often more helpful than sharing my knowledge about addiction. A powerful connection happened for me – my clients connected to my brokenness more than my strength and knowledge. Many opened up more about their struggles for they felt I better understood their feelings of inadequacy, shame, and helplessness because I dealt with these feelings in my own life. For years I tried to hide these feelings deep within myself, but it was a lie. On the outside, I may look like I have it all together, but I still have those feelings of inadequacy regularly.
When we open ourselves to others, we allow them not only to see our brokenness, they see our true selves. An amazing thing can happen when others see our shame and accept us: we begin to learn how to accept ourselves. Through my own journey as a therapist, I’ve learned sharing my personal story helps clients more than the newest or best techniques for they feel understood often for the first time in their lives. When we are able to share our true selves in groups, twelve step meetings, or with our friends and family, we open the door for real connection to who we truly are, not the facade we show others. Our facades have prevented true, deep connection for far too long.
These concepts are not brand new information. Yet Brené articulates a new view on the battle that everyone has with shame and vulnerability. She does not present herself as having all the answers or a step by step guide to break through our shame. What she does offer is an affirmation that we are not alone in this battle with shame. If you have struggled with any of these concepts in this blog, I’d encourage you to seek out her research. A simple introduction can be found in her wonderful TED talks. You can watch her talks on Vulnerability and Shame through these links. You can search her name online to find the multiple books she has written. My hope for anyone reading this, whether you are in recovery in some way or not, is to realize you are not alone in your fears and longings. Connection is possible for anyone willing to invest time and energy through vulnerability.