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brené brown on vulnerability

October 4, 2012

Gosh, i’m a little overexcited right now. I’ve just returned from an incredibly inspirational talk with brené brown and am buzzing. Breathe tina, breathe! Some people might not know what you’re talking about!

Ok, let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

In the summer of 2010 i was sent a ted talk given by brené brown entitled: the power of vulnerability, which became a viral hit (to date it’s been watched over 6 million times). Having been a ted talk fan for 5 years, i heard many inspirational talks but this one really hit the spot for me. I was smitten and regularly listen to it as a reminder to stay vulnerable and aware! Brené brown is a research professor at the university of houston graduate college of social work. She has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Her ted talk has become one of my top 3 favourites and for those who haven’t heard it, i urge you to spend 20 minutes absorbing some real gems. Make a cuppa, put up the volume and be amazed. You won’t be disappointed. Here goes:

So, you might understand my excitement when i read that brené brown was coming to london to give a talk via the school of life (SOL). As someone, who doesn’t really book tickets ahead but relies on somehow getting in:) i made the wise decision to book immediately. Well, tonight we were told that all tickets had gone within 48 hours, a first for the SOL. We were also told that brené hasn’t been to the uk since 1983. Here to talk about her recently published book: daring greatly, brené, the acclaimed expert in human emotions was in conversation with empathy campaigner roman krznaric. Not trying to confuse, but i’m a huge fan of roman too, have interviewed him over the summer and will post it here in a week or two so stay tuned:)

The talk was held at conway hall, a beautiful space that hosts a wide variety of lectures, classes, performances, community and social events. It is renowned as a hub for free speech and independent thought.

While waiting for the talk to start, we all queued up either to buy a book, have a coffee or stand in line in order to get a good seat.

Then eventually the doors opened and we could enter.

And then the moment finally arrived and you could hear the crowd go mad! Meet brené and roman.

Now i’m not a journalist and found it quite difficult to take pictures, listen and make notes so i can bring this to you hot off the press. I will try and relay some of the crucial points that were made but all in all i can tell you that brené is an incredible storyteller. She’s funny and had us in fits quite a few times. (Her opening line was that she decided not to use ‘awesome’ or ‘dude’ for we are fancy people!) She is personable, charming, slightly neurotic (by her own admission), highly intelligent and a wonderful vulnerable woman and role model. I could have listened to her all night!

Vulnerability and shame were the main topics.

Vulnerability equals risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure. To be brave is to be vulnerable. To be alive equals uncertainty. To be alive is to take risks.
Vulnerability is trust, intimacy and connection.
The 3 myths of vulnerability: that it’s considered a weakness, that we can opt out of it, that you need to let it all hang out.

How do you practice the art of vulnerability?

Wake up and set intentions. Look at your value systems and get clear on them.
When we armour ourself against vulnerability we try and protect ourselves from hurt, grief and shame. We, therefore, deprive ourselves of love and joy and trust. When we do experience joy, we can’t cope and find ways to scare or hurt ourselves.
Wholesome people, who are joyful, practice gratitude, instead of scaring or hurting themselves. You can’t get to joy without experiencing shame.
It’s not an option not ‘to do’ vulnerability. If you’re not doing vulnerability, it’s doing you!

Limits to vulnerability in the workplace

Share only with those that can bear our stories.
If vulnerability is not present in the workplace, we can forget about innovation, creativity and engagement. Vulnerability is the birth place of innovation, creativity, and change.
The biggest obstacle to being vulnerable at work is the fear of being laughed at or belittled when coming up with new ideas.

Deep-seated inability of being vulnerable due to survival of childhood trauma or military trauma will need long-term professional help.
In the US army there are more suicides than soldiers killed in afghanistan and iraq combined.


Shame is an unspoken epidemic, the secret behind many forms of broken behaviour.
3 facts about shame: we all know it (primal human experience), the only people that don’t feel it are pathologically incapable of connecting or empathising, if you don’t care about it, you have it in bounds and leaps.

Difference between shame and guilt. Shame = i am bad, i am a mistake! Guilt = i did something bad, i made a mistake! There is a huge difference and knowing and understanding this difference is crucial!
Shame can lead to addiction, depression, eating disorder, violence, agression, bullying, and suicide.
The fastest demographic in eating disorders are amongst men and adolescence boys.
Narcissism is the most shame bound personality disorder.

Roman’s dream is to open various empathy museums. He asked brené, if budget would not be an obstacle, what would she do or put into the ‘daring greatly’ museum?

It took all of a split of a second before brené re-named it the epic failure museum, where there would be stories of triumphs and stories of failure. A place where you’re not alone, where you’ll be amongst like-minded people. You get to the light by walking through the dark.

I think you get the picture, for everything else, do listen to the ted talks and read the book. I’ve included another ted talk brené gave earlier on this year on shame here below.

Maybe now you can understand my excitement of (by now) last night. It was an honour to be in brené’s presence and i hope you get to see her talk one day!

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  • Reply petra October 4, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    great post. I love Brene. i read her book on imperfection. multiple times. I had no idea that there is a new book out. thanks for the introduction.

    • Reply tina October 5, 2012 at 12:57 pm

      Hi Petra. Thank you for stopping by.
      I know, she is truly amazing.

      I hope you enjoy her new book but have a feeling you will!!

  • Reply Shona October 4, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    I thought it was a great evening too and so glad I secured a ticket early. Great to listen to such a down to earth researcher with a brilliant sense of humour.

    • Reply tina October 5, 2012 at 1:00 pm

      Such a shame we didn’t get to meet up, fellow 30DC:)

      Wasn’t it just amazing? The powerful thing is that she is a researcher and therefore people take note and listen.
      I’ve been doing this stuff for years and years in therapy, but people think therapy isn’t scientifically proven so am ecstatic
      that Brené is winning over the critics. 6M hits on her Ted Talk, say no more.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • Reply parisbreakfast October 5, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Thanks Tina,
    I never heard of Brown before…
    Terrific stuff
    Big Merci Carolg

    • Reply tina October 5, 2012 at 1:01 pm

      Carol, really pleased you came across this and like it:)

      You know, most of my readers come here for design inspiration, but to me this stuff is hugely inspirational.
      Have a good weekend x

  • Reply Nicola October 5, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Thanks for the enlightenment, yet again, Tina!

    I love the Ted talks and am looking forward to the possibilities of Ted Ed – it could remake our education system.

    I shall sit down and listen to Brené this weekend, am looking forward to it. I love her ideas on the museum.

    Interesting that narcissism is considered the most shame bound personality disorder. I just read this last night, ” most people think of a narcissist as someone who loves herself….However, in psychological parlance, a narcissist , far from being in love with herself, in fact hates and despise herself”

    • Reply tina October 5, 2012 at 1:14 pm

      Hey N,

      I know, Ted Ed could make such a change… something has to.
      I didn’t want to write too much stuff in the post but here’s what Brené had to say about the state we are in as humans.

      We got worse since 9/11. Scarcity and more fear makes people have more walls and protect themselves even further. Now, if we could change that when kids grow up, this would be amazing!

      I love Roman and no doubt you will like my post on him:) he has this dream of empathy museums and I loved that he asked her that question.

      I have been fascinated by narcissism ever since I realised (many many years ago) that my father was one. It’s been a real roller coaster for me but yes, you’re right, deep down they hate themselves and so throw fire at everyone in their vicinity in order not to feel the pain. The worst affected are the ones closest to them. Enough said!
      I’ve watched many documentaries on the subject and read many books. The problem is that exactly this personality disorder never seeks help or therapy.

      Thanks love xx

  • Reply sue October 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    never heard of either of these players… you do get about don’t you gal!?! i’m going to hit play now & absorb their wisdom with a cup of coffee in hand! many thanks chick!

    • Reply tina October 6, 2012 at 7:56 am

      You know me, like to be out and about;))
      Well? And? I’m waiting to hear what you think x

  • Reply Theresa October 5, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    I love Brene Brown, and I think I’m as excited as you that you got the opportunity to hear her speak, in real life. It must be very different than listening to a video. I have listened to Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability, but I’m going to listen to it again as soon as I’m done writing; Great way to start the day. Tina, thank you for sharing this recap and your experience with us. As you know, Brown’s points strike a cord with me. I’ll be adding her books to my reading list, as well. Have a wonderful weekend, T!

    • Reply tina October 6, 2012 at 8:05 am

      T, this post was written with you in mind! I know that whenever I’ve gone to listen to inspirational talks ie Sir Paul Smith or Rosita Missoni, you often expressed the wish for me to blog on it.

      I know you are a fan of BB. You know, I listen to her TED Talk on Vulnerability at least once or twice a month. I often listen to TED Talks for pure inspiration but whenever I feel I need to connect to myself more than usual, I reach out to her talk!

      I have no doubt you will enjoy her new book. x

  • Reply geraldine October 6, 2012 at 12:20 am

    Just watched the videos – very interesting – She is a very inspirational speaker. It’s interesting to hear her analysis. It’s amazing that she has spent such a long time doing this research. It reminds me of the’ Johari window’ – the identification of one’s ‘blind spot’, which once identified can lead to positive change but equally there is that ‘unknown’ part which self or others are unaware of, I guess this may represent vulnerability. It gives fruit for thought about oneself and indeed those around us. Hope you have a great weekend 🙂 x

    • Reply tina October 6, 2012 at 8:29 am

      Ha. Geraldine, the scientist! So nice to get your perspective! You know, I have never looked to science or statistics when it comes to human psychology but understand that most people have that need in order for something to be validated.

      I think there are many methods out there which will enlighten people on their personality and behaviour, one of them being the ‘Johari window’ closely linked to the Myers-Briggs program.

      Personally I went down the psychotherapy route but recently have enjoyed learning about Enneagrams, a model of human personality which is principally used as a typology of nine interconnected personality types. For anyone who is familiar with this I am a 4.

      Brené talked a lot about teaching our children that it’s ok to be vulnerable. Take a look at Tim Loft’s review of Brené talk on Wednesday in today’s Guardian:

      Have a good weekend, lovely x

  • Reply leah of sang the bird October 6, 2012 at 1:52 am

    ok! she is amazing! i think i love her!
    thanks for sharing this, i’m so glad you secured a ticket!

    • Reply tina October 6, 2012 at 8:31 am

      Haha. Yes, I love her too! Glad you enjoyed this. I have a feeling Miss S and Tal are encouraged to show their vulnerability….xx

  • Reply Caroline @trend-daily October 6, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    Goodness me Tina-how inspiring and fascinating. You do attend the most enlightening events-what an enriched life you do lead. I on the other hand have been to a meeting on improving primary school loos this week-beat that madam…!!?? Xx

    • Reply tina October 6, 2012 at 11:35 pm

      Haha. That really made me laugh out loud! Well, I hope the meeting on improving primary school loos was at least fruitful:)
      Don’t think I could beat that xx

  • Reply Holly October 7, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I do know of Brene Brown’s TED talks and am so happy that you got to see her live! I totally understand your excitement girl! You may not technically be a journalist, but time and again, you’ve proved you could easily be one 😉 This is a great post, and wonderful, wonderful images.

    The idea of empathy museums is really intriguing. Would love to visit one.


    • Reply tina October 8, 2012 at 9:53 pm

      I thought you might know her talks…. thanks lovely Holly for all your compliments and encouragement.

      I would also like some empathy museums dotted around. xx

  • Reply Catherine Bedson October 8, 2012 at 10:34 am

    Hi Tina, glad you love getting out and about so you can share all your exciting experiences with us. Awesome evening, enjoyed reading about it, cant wait to see what you have for us next. xx

    • Reply tina October 8, 2012 at 9:54 pm

      Ha. I’ve always been someone who gets out and about but now I can document it and share it with you guys:))
      Thank you Catherine xx

  • Reply Kale | Farmhouse Home February 25, 2014 at 6:33 am

    […] blog about The School Of Life – a talk she attended on vulnerability by Brene Brown here and a conversation with Roman Krznaric here the author of the book I’m about to tell you […]

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