Vulnerability: or, stories save us, pt. 2

There’s something profound about storytelling. Stories envelop us, they call to us and we are drawn in. As we tell our own stories to one another, even the hard and shameful ones (maybe especially those), we tap into a larger shared story about what it means and looks like and feels like to be human. This is maybe why my must vulnerable post about the scale has the most views on the blog. Or the one about my grandma dying, even though it’s so specific, really resonates with my readers.

Stories save us. Not just the ones published in books, but the ones we falter through in gasping breaths and wonder if we actually really told our story — about who we really are — would people listen and care and welcome us? Or would they shun us because there’s just too much ugliness? And so we hide our shame, our nakedness, and we retreat to our corners and console ourselves in books, or movies, or shopping, or a bag of Oreos; because we wonder if people really knew me and all my darkness, would they care anymore? Would I belong? We wonder, does vulnerability really pay off?

A perfect evening with great food, great people and wine

We all have certain narratives we return to. Mine are: the good girl, the smart girl, the girl who follows the rules; the laid-back mom (because with 4 kids you have to learn to simmer down a bit!); the Christian. And as we meet people or grow in friendship we keep coming back to our personal narratives and inserting them in conversation, like little signposts, to not only show we belong but to show how we fit together. As I’ve been reading some of the work of Brené Brown, I keep returning to her concept of vulnerability as that which frees us from shame and allows for human connection (which she says is the reason we’re all here anyway).

Sharing who we really are — that we are angry, or scared, or just plain tired — rather than parading our accolades like we’re interviewing for a job, is how real community develops. I want to be the friend that can both give and receive solace — to know that I don’t need makeup on or to have my act together to be welcomed home; friends to sit with you in silence as you process, mourn, grieve, rage or exult. Who don’t offer unsolicited advice or need to fill up the space with more words because it makes them uncomfortable. Brené Brown says that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in other people but the last thing I want to show, because it’s scary to show up and be real and really tell your story.

In you, it’s [vulnerability] courage and daring. In me, it’s weakness.

This is where shame comes into play. Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think. When we’re fueled by the fear of what other people think or that gremlin that’s constantly whispering “You’re not good enough” in our ear, it’s tough to show up. We end up hustling for our worthiness rather than standing in it.

When we’ve attached our self-worth to what we produce or earn, being real gets dicey. –– Brene Brown in a Forbes article

So how do we get the courage to show up? To dare greatly just to be real, to be present, to not use vulnerability as a way to make ourselves even feel better but to use it in service to others?

I think we practice it best in the little moments. As we look for beauty in the mundane. As we recognize that the gift of a shoulder to cry on, or a cup of hot tea, or a bouquet or a piece of dark chocolate might help make someone comfortable enough to really tell their story. And as we lead with vulnerability and practice saying, “Yeah, me too,” we’ll find walls breaking down and the fresh breath of freedom that fills our lungs with gratitude. To know our shame and darkness are not abnormal stains that make us ill-fitted for community, but that they bind us together, so that we can sit in each other’s presence with a glass of wine, or a cup of tea, and be real and honest and let the walls fall down, because hey, it’s not about me anyway.

flower photo1

This is the eleventh post for the Write 31 days challenge, where I’ll be writing every day through the month of October. I’m excited to see what comes of this daily practice. I’d love for you to comment, pin the above image, share posts and subscribe to receive posts to the right in the sidebar as we work through these things together. Posts in the series are all linked to from the first post.

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10 Comments

  1. “To know our shame and darkness are not abnormal stains that make us ill-fitted for community, but that they bind us together …” – that is so beautiful! Nice to meet you, Ashley through today’s 31 dayer Facebook thread. Love the Brene Brown quotes too. Thank you for what you’ve shared so thoughtfully.
    Blessings,
    Renee

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  2. That part about vulnerability is so true. I wonder if that is part of why making friends in this town is so hard… no one wants to show vulnerability, everyone has it together – or so they want you to think – and therefore nothing real ever emerges.

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  3. Beautiful Ashley, I love Brene Brown and feel like I’m finally learning to just be real and it’s true the people I like the most are the ones who are real and let themselves be vulnerable too.

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