Sometimes we fall into thinking that vulnerability is about sharing our pain, our problems, our tears, our fears, our self-doubts. That is only part of the story.
As Brene Brown has so beautifully woken us up to, vulnerability is sharing what’s true for me even when I fear you will like me less after you know x about me. It’s trusting I can show up as who I really am and that doing so will bring connection, not abandonment, acceptance, not rejection.
Since reading Brene Brown’s work, I’ve put my attention on doing more of what feels vulnerable — expressing my love for someone when it feels risky, making a request when I feel vulnerable to being perceived as selfish or demanding, collaborating with others in ways that feel, for me, very vulnerable, tender, messy. But I’ve noticed that my edge right now – when it comes to vulnerability – is the edge of joy. How much joy am I willing to share? And how much success? And in particular, how much I am comfortable talking about that stuff with the other women in my life?
For women, in particular, because we’ve been trained to not brag, to tone down our light, being vulnerable comes from sharing our happiness – not just from sharing our pain. It’s vulnerable for many reasons. One is because as women we’ve certainly seen again and again that the strongest, the most beautiful, the most empowered women – well, they don’t exactly draw universal love. And it’s vulnerable because, as my friend Lianne Raymond said in a discussion about this, many times we believe our connection to the people in our lives is based on sameness, on what we have in common. So we fear: “If I’m feeling so jazzed about area x of my life and right now area x is your struggle, if I share my happiness will you stay? Will you love me as much? And if I share my happiness am I being rude, or hurtful, or unsympathetic?”
I got thinking about this when I was hearing about a women’s group that a few people I know are a part of. They share about their lives, and there is, I get the sense, a lot of brave sharing about the struggle. They all support each other in speaking up about the hard stuff, and it made me wonder, would they celebrate and feel as close to the woman who shared her joy? Who shared about the areas of her life that are working?
It is vulnerable to share it when your marriage is falling apart, yes, but in a circle of women I think it’s also vulnerable to share the bliss of feeling beloved by an amazing partner. It’s vulnerable to share dark family secrets, but in our culture I’d argue it’s damn vulnerable to also share – truly share – the ways you got solid, reliable love and care from your parents. It’s vulnerable to share it if you are struggling with an eating disorder and it’s vulnerable to share you’ve just always loved your body as it is.
I want to open up this conversation here, to hear your thoughts – about the vulnerability of sharing our joys and successes, about how women do and don’t support each other in that, and about what I see as a major edge for women in our time, personally and collectively: basking in the light. Yes, I’m talking basking ladies. I have the distinct sense that our basking will have revolutionary effects. But we must allow it in each other for it to occur.
Tell me your thoughts in the comments.
Two more notes:
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2. My Playing Big program for women who want to *stop* playing small is opening up for registration in March. Want to get the details and get access to early bird discounts? Sign up for the advance notification list HERE.
Join the discussion 30 Comments
Very interesting topic, Tara. I have thought about this subject a lot recently. I would love to say that the majority of women in my life are sincerely glad when I’m happy but get the impression that the number is less than a handful. If I am excelling at something someone else wants to improve on in their life, it’s always because of something that was ‘handed’ to me. Some responses I get to my face, or through other parties, is ‘Yea, I could do that too if I was a stay at home mom.’ Or, ‘I could lose all that weight if I was vegan.’
But, I think it really depends on the person and relationship. Since improving my life over the past year I have learned the importance of spending time with genuine and kind folks.
The friends we find who are as happy for us as we are them are a beautiful gift. My efforts are spent growing those friendships.
I realised that although I had some good times with a group of friends in my twenties, a lot of the relationships were kind of reliant on me (and them) having struggles in our lives. I noticed when I became much happier and things started going well for me, the dynamics changed big time. I can understand that fear of change and letting go of how things have been, but as you eloquently put in your post, we need friends we can celebrate with too and that we’re not afraid of sharing our good stuff with. Jen x
What a different perspective.
I have seen this sort of dynamic in action – one person belittling or even denying her successes in order to maintain her place in a group of people who are struggling – afraid to say, “I did it!” for fear of either hurting feelings or being ostracized because she is no longer moving through the same space as her friends.
It’s not an easy thing to do to stand up and celebrate if you’re afraid that you might lose something.
But, it’s a tragedy that we haven’t learned to do a better job of this. We forget that by pulling ourselves up, we become empowered to help pull others up. By embracing our success, we help others embrace their success. What a loss to have the catalyst for forward movement hold herself back when what she should be doing is hacking through the jungle, making a path so others can join her.
Really, REALLY liked this. Sharing with my own mastermind group and a few others besides. 🙂
I actually made a video in which explored the TED Talk that Brene Brown gave about the courage it takes to be vulnerable. I remember crying a lot after seeing that video back in 2011. It really…really….hit home.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise to me that I still just grasp onto your words like they are the words I have known all along, and that’s because we’re in these similar circles, continuing past each other, reading the same things and so on.
I appreciate your posts, but this is the first I’ve felt deeply compelled to comment on. I have found myself wondering why I am so reluctant to feel and express joy, especially in the presence of others. I must admit, I often feel a genuine sense of resistance to happiness – which seems, quite frankly, counterproductive. What I notice is that being joyful with others is a kind of gift – a giving freely of myself – and that perhaps somewhere inside I am afraid I will give it all away – or that someone will take it from me. Of course, logically I understand that joy is not some terrain I own, or some resource I must selfishly guard. I can see a notion of scarcity only limits this economy. But I do think it comes from “over-giving” as a woman, and feeling a real necessity to look out for oneself. I love Brene Brown’s work, and appreciate the idea that revealing – sharing, being generous with – my joy could be an incredibly vulnerable (and therefore rewarding) place. Thanks for reminding me of this necessary perspective and nudging me toward joy!
This was very insightful. Awhile ago I found myself downplaying and even making fun of my very happy relationship with my husband to my friends. Part of this is scarcity thinking, and the evil eye: don’t point out happiness to the gods, or they will take it away, right? But I think if we (I) could embrace abundance, we’d realize that our friends’ joy is something lovely to behold, as is our own. Maybe we could see that we’ll all take turns on the Wheel of Fortune, and that we’re all moving through joy and hardship, ease and sadness, all the time.
I have Brene books love to read them saw her on TED.
My experience at 60.
Drop off the toxic people from your life
Do not live in fear of what and who is going to think of you.
Live your life with confidence. we do not get all that we wnat we live and learn to be happy with what we have.
Wow. Really really wow. This brought tears to my eyes. I am guilty of downplaying my joys, my successes because I DO worry that it will seem like bragging or that it may make my friends or my sister feel bad about where they are.
Am I afraid that they will not celebrate with me? OR (this just popped into my head) What is this saying about ME and how I must be judging areas in their lives to be ‘less than’ in comparison to mine?!?! Geez. Something to consider.
Thank you for a well-timed interesting article!
Wow, this is a good post! I’m at the end of the process of divorce. It’s been very difficult as you all know. But I’m beginning to feel pretty happy about the future, yet I feel compelled to show my “sad face” since I think it is what people expect. One “should” after all, grieve the loss of a marriage. So, my point is, I guess, I need to share my joy more so that it is obvious this is the right choice for me, in spite of what anyone else may think or believe. I think, generally, we hold back our joy because we don’t want to make anyone else feel bad. If they are not currently experiencing joy, we believe sharing our own will offend them. But perhaps, sharing joy, spreads joy.
Thanks, Tara. I know I have raised this in Playing Big before, but I think there are also cultural barriers to women’s ability to ‘shine’. As a Canadian living in the UK, after 8 years I am still struck by the resistance to optimism and celebration of achievement. Just this week I had a Facebook conversation about how British people don’t hang their degree certificates on the wall, indeed, it would ‘never occur to them’ because it’s seen as ‘American’ or ‘self-promotion’. Similarly, there is a tendency to share misery and complain, although often with much humour. But sometimes the humour is forgotten and we find ourselves simply…complaining. I know with my girlfriends, too, the tendency is to focus on what’s bad in our relationships, jobs, and other friendships. We are there to support each other, but I think we need to remember to take a moment and concentrate on what’s going well. We’ve gone so far as to name it and make a decision to move away from ‘complaining’ to more joy and fun when we get together. Yes, I am lucky to have such wise, open, and supportive friends. A timely reminder for girls’ night on Saturday…
We are vulnerable in any way that we feel “different” than others. So even, to some extent, sharing only our sorrows is not entirely being IN our vulnerability.
I would love it if we could find a way to be less judging, of others and also so, so, harshly of ourselves, to be able to be open to ALL things that make us unique, different, and therefore, vulnerable.
Thank you for an amazing insight.
Great, Great topic. As one who ranks very high on the vulnerability/ authenticity scale, I know it isn’t without it’s challenges. For sure, it makes it clear who is supporting us or not, who has your back and who would rather you played the game of looking a certain way, so they could be more comfortable.
It is surprising when we are shunned for success, curious and now nudges me to look for higher ground and more confident people who can support another and not turn our success into a personal competition.
We can have compassion for those that don’t cheer us on as they don’t cheer themselves on at a heart level either.They may one day be the ones that come to you for the way our of all that pain. I am thrilled more women are moving into this truthful space. It is the way for us to be united in the power of all we are. I want to hear about your joys and your regrets and your hopes.
The thrill of being vulnerable is attracting women that want that too! I was ecstatic when my vulnerability attracted women to a group I run who could share both joys and pain and the whole kit and caboodle. Some admitted they feared being in a space that was so “emotionally”. Ladies our emotions are our guidance systems and we need not fear emotions! When expressed they clear space and free up creativity and even connect us! It prevents a lot of illness!
Vulnerability is a healing force. Tara, great conversation!
Thank you, Tara, and all you others for participating in this. I appreciate your perspectives. In response to considering this, I want to practice sharing intentionally and more often with those I love, what is working and what is feeling good. I believe that will be very empowering and magnify the good and the happiness.
AND, as I consider the process, because I want the sharing to spur continued interaction hopefully surrounding shared joy or struggle/indifference … I want to be sure my outreach includes a nuance of shared humanity, of acknowledgement of the past and future, that right now is wonderful, and why, and maybe a reflection on what vulnerability (or action, event … ) made that possible or supported that wonderful feeling / relationship / time. Sometimes we reach those moments and relationships after learning to allow beauty and happiness, and sometimes the ugliness and sadness are part of that.
I am not suggesting diminishing the wonder and happiness; yet I feel it’s respectful to pay close attention to avoiding smugness, feeling of difference, or superiority. Always, my heart knows the value of maintaining awe and appreciation. The wonderful moment is a point in time, and the relationship shines as a slice of our world. Our joy shines onto our darker places, without which it would be less amazing.
Such an important conversation – one I’ve been having with our mutual friend Delilah about recently too. Some random thoughts:
– this plays out to different degrees in different cultures, in New Zealand it’s much less culturally acceptable to celebrate your own successes and joys than it is in the US, for men and for women – although I suspect it is even more so for women even here.
– there have been times when dear friends have shared their greatest joys with me that have felt easily as intimate and profound (if not more so) than when friends have shared their struggles, so in my experience there is a great deal of vulnerability and trust in sharing our brilliance and joy
– there are times when empathy and sensitivity lead me to not celebrate certain wonderful things with certain people, or at least not ask or expect them to be able to join me in my joy right away. For example, a friend struggling with infertility might not be able to join in celebrating the joy of a new pregnancy, or at least she might need some time to process her own feelings before she can join.
– when I feel anything other than joy for another person’s triumphs and joys (and it does happen), it’s a sure sign there is some need being unmet in me, and I’m getting (slowly) better at not berating myself for my lack of generosity but instead tending to what needs tending in me, and then being able to return to my friend and join in her joy.
I have a dear friend, who would be there for me no matter what. Except, as I told her, I feared I would lose her if my life was going well. She denied it, but in fact when things are going well, I see her less.
Very cool thoughts Tara. I recently had this experience when away on a ladies weekend. I told a story about the last time I was in the area where we were visiting. It was a story about how my incredible husband surprised me with roses and a limo and a night out. Sure enough, while at the gate departing for home, one of the women said “Now if we do this again, you aren’t going to be able to tell all those stories about your wonderful husband because you are making us all jealous!” Something about it was painfully true and I realized I have a special husband and not everyone’s does those kinds of things for them. I also decided that I would hold back on sharing in my happiness in the future because I don’t want to appear to be bragging. There is something that isn’t right about that isn’t there? We should be able to share our joys comfortably with one another without jealousy getting in the way. If people really love us, they will be happy for our happiness, not jealous of it.
Terrific and provocative. This feels important!We’ve all felt that edgy moment when a joyful share suddenly feels like bragging, and we pull back. I have distinct childhood memories of being ostracized by a few when good things happened. I can also see where this pattern went into early adulthood, though I had learned to deeply curtail the sharing of good news. I am grateful for the 2 girlfriends in my life with whom I can now feel free to do so, and I have learned to celebrate loudly the success of my women acquaintances –often to their surprise. I’m being the change…
One of the good things about sharing joy is that it allows us to learn from each other about happiness. We can reflect on how did we get to this point? the choices and chances taken, the practices and sacrifices. If we’re close to someone we can see the path that has led to the moment and learn from that.
I remember reading once ‘Enjoy being clever and organised.’ and being truly astonished, and thinking ‘You mean you are allowed to ENJOY it?’ I grew up thinking you had to keep quiet about it. As one of your commenters put it there are ‘cultural barriers to women’s ability to shine’ – nowhere truer perhaps than Scotland! So hard to overcome. We have a long way to go. Thank you for this thoughtful piece
I would argue that “the strongest, the most beautiful, the most empowered women,” are the ones who *actually* inspire other women. I think the kinds of women who do not inspire love or admiration, but instead inspire what you’re hinting at, which is envy, are easy to find—unfortunately, they are held up as role models all the time. In response, I would argue that people who are *actually* strong, beautiful, and ‘most empowered’ do not inspire envy, they just simply *inspire*. *Real* beauty, *real* empowerment, and *real* strength don’t breed envy, they breed trust. Ask yourself if the women who make people jealous, the ones who “everyone” wants to be, are the people we should aspire to emulate? Empowered women empower other women, they don’t seek to inspire jealousy. Strong women show other women how to be strong. Beauty lies in teamwork and collaboration, not competition and elitism. Until we have a significant amount of role models who live the difference between faux and real power, you’ll continue to see the problem of women who can’t inspire, they can only breed jealousy and divisiveness.
I have definitely downplayed my marriage for fear of hurting women who don’t have a husband like mine. I don’t share my fun and joy with one sister because I get jabbed back. It seems her style is to connect over complaining, usually about men. I have gotten closer to women who can take in all of me – struggles and joys, victories and failures and help me grow from all of it. I do some really fun things that most women don’t do and, with the exception of a few, I always invite them to come along and play.
For me, this is a revolutionary and so poignant post right now. I do feel it is harder to be vulnerable about my true joy, because it so often awakens envy in other people. To be vulnerable about my pain creates connection and recognition in others, so that is safer, at this point in my journey.
I will think about how I can open up even more to others sharing their deep joys and basking.
There is so much to bask about in life right now, so much fun, exuberance and riveting action to talk about! Marriage, children, creativity, art, poetry. Yay!
Thank you, deeply, for writing this post and taking vulnerability one step wider.
I just wanted to say how I recognize this, downplaying my marriage, because so many how troubles with their mates. How wonderful that you have gotten closer to those women who see and embrace all of you 🙂 Working on that here as well.
Let’s start! My experience is that we women, perhaps a little more than not, are envious or jealous of the expressed joy in other women. We don’t want to be! We even know in our hearts we shouldn’t be, should instead rejoice with them, be happy for them, genuinely, and be happy for ourselves as well. We have some work to do in this I think. So, thank you, Tara, for this. Let’s start right now to embrace this vulnerability and become whole!
Very well said. I never really thought about vulnerability that way (as anything that makes us feel different) but it’s so true.
I share your wish. How lovely it would be if acceptance were doled out as freely as criticism and judgment.
Great points. I especially like the last two — just as choosing who to be vulnerable with about the tough things requires discretion, so too does choosing who to be vulnerable with about the joys.
And as much as I hate to admit it (mostly to myself), I know I sometimes have a difficult time feeling genuinely happy for friend’s good fortunes as well. Usually because it’s an area in which I feel sorely lacking. I like the way you described your way of working through that — kind of like putting the air mask on yourself before your child. I’m slowly learning that it really is true that you can’t fully be there for others until you’re able to compassionately be there for yourself. Good insights.
Interesting perspective on vulnerability and one I had never considered. But now that I’ve thought about it, it rings so true. I always wonder when patterns like this start. At what age do we learn it’s best to keep our successes and joys hidden? I think for me it began when my peers taunted me in elementary school for raising my hand, knowing the answers and making good grades. I quickly learned not to raise my hand and when I got tests back, to quickly shield the A+’s from prying eyes. It seems you can’t win for losing. I constantly feel pressure to ‘perform’ and ‘be perfect,’ yet if I even come close, I feel I have to keep it to myself. Time to get off this messed up merry-go-round.
Fascinating topic and comments that really have me pondering. I see a lot of the extremes of both sides of this online and in the media: the big, braggy, my-life-is-wonderful version and the small, humble, my-life-is tough version. Most of us, I suspect, are somewhere in the middle. But I don’t see much of that, real conversations where the ongoing paradox of life is honored – the joys *and* challenges, the successes *and* failures, the sweet *and* bitter. Maybe we’ve forgotten how to do that, to be with each other and be able to be with all of it, without going to either/or.
I feel lucky to have a few women in my life with whom I can be vulnerable in the sharing of all of it, when things are going well and/or when things are hard (which often happens at the same time). I also notice that in the women’s circles I facilitate, once the women have stepped into that bond of trust with each other, they’re quite willing to talk about the good as well as heartily celebrate and learn from one another’s successes. It’s a very life-affirming, joyful thing.
YES, I am telling the TRUTH about this! Have I always done so… Unfortunately, NO. Have I always allowed my light to shine brilliantly? No. Why not? I didn’t want to be perceived as arrogant, too happy, too successful…”TOO MUCH” for others to accept. I do believe misery loves company, but I also believe “Joy begets JOY.” I believe we have to share our truth, happy or sad, it just seems we are more comfortable with the sad. How SAD is that!
A few years ago I realized that some women I met in my day to day life really didn’t appreciate or even believe my honesty about being happy or feeling great. Once in a line up the cashier asked how I was. My reply was “I’m Awesome!” A co-worker helping pack my items looked up, scowled and said sarcastically, “Well, GOOD FOR YOU!” Laughter insued by the rest of the line up and she looked rather sheepish and later apologized. I told her not to, that she had just spoken her truth and I found it refreshing.
Another time in a hair salon ( now that would be a good test environment Tara ) the owner was trashing her husband. It is a tiny salon and so no one could escape her tirade. As she ranted it was obvious others were as uncomfortable as I was. My thoughts were she should be telling him about her views not all of us. I was hoping to leave before I heard any more unwanted info. As I readied my getaway she attempted to garner my support with “sameness”. “Kim, you and Chris have been together a long time. Don’t you ever get sick of each other?” I replied, “Thirty-Five years and I still get butterflies when he pulls in the driveway.” Her reply, “Oh, you’re full of it!” Now at that moment I knew I had a choice. I could be the “same” and share complaints which would make her happy or I could speak my truth and risk her being offended. It was a no brainer. My husband means everything to me and I was happy and that is what I shared. I was true to myself and my very best friend and I left the salon with my head held high and my integrity intact. I could almost hear the applause from the other women I left behind. Her reaction was to my amazement… thoughtful and once again I was told, “Well, Good for you!” This time without the sarcasm.
This is such a great topic, Tara. I find that I sometimes down play my amazing relationship with my husband because I have some friends who are not in solid, supportive relationships. Somehow I feel “guilty” for having a partner who *sees* me and supports me and cherishes me. I’ve put the work in to this relationship for 24 years — so why can’t I sing it’s praises and celebrate it’s goodness at every turn?!! It does feel vulnerable to share the goodness of it. I don’t want to “rub it in.” I don’t want to “brag” about “my good luck” in finding the right guy. But in all reality, I’ve done the work….I’m doing the work….I’m giving and receiving in an amazing one-on-one relationship that allows me to be my courageous, vulnerable self like no other relationship in my life. I love this guy! He *gets* me like no one else does. He sees me in every way possible…and. he. still. loves. ME. So, I will continue to find ways to share the goodness of it and not feel guilty about that. Thanks for always making me think, Tara. I love how you get to the heart of so many topics.