Google+ Followers

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Understanding the Nature of Guilt, Shame, and Vulnerability - Brene Brown - Part 3


Vulnerability is at the core of shame, of fear, of guilt, and of self-hatred; and the struggle for love and belonging.  However, as Brene Brown points out, it is also the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, and love.  If vulnerability is the birthplace of all those emotions that we truly cherish, then it is so vitally important to be tender and kind to ourselves, and to those around us.  Love begets more love, fear begets more fear.  It can be no other way.  When we give ourselves permission to be vulnerable, we give ourselves a chance to experience life from a place of wholeness, because we are not afraid of letting ourselves be seen.  This takes true courage, and the reward for living from this place, is you live from a place of true authenticity.  You are authentically you.

Why is it so difficult for us to be vulnerable?  For one thing, we numb vulnerability.  We don’t allow ourselves to live in vulnerability, which is about being in touch with who you are and with your feelings and emotions.  Human beings are unique in the animal kingdom because we think and we feel.  Feelings can make us feel very vulnerable and at the same time, make life so worth living.  Can you imagine what life would be like without feelings?  All the color and majesty of life would be stripped away; we wouldn't know what the sun on our skin felt like, the taste of an apple, the smell of a rose, or the tenderness of a kiss.  We wouldn't feel pain, but we also wouldn't feel joy either.  We live in a world of opposites.  This is how mankind learns – in contrasts, and it’s no different with feelings.  But we reject our negative feelings because we fear them, and what we fear, controls and dominates our lives. 

So what is it that we are so afraid of?  We are afraid of rejection.  We live in a very vulnerable world.  One moment you have a job, and the next, you've just been laid off.  Bills are piling up that you don’t know how you are going to pay.  A relationship turns sour and you don’t know if you will ever be able to love again.  Because there are so many areas of our lives where we feel threatened, or have experienced tragedy, we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable and feel those negative emotions.  It’s the only way, we believe, we can protect ourselves and our livelihood from the cold, cruel world.  What ends up happening is, instead of giving ourselves the permission to experience the negative emotions associated with a traumatic event, we numb it.  But you can’t selectively numb your emotions.  

So, this is what you do.  You think to yourself, ‘I’m not going to feel these negative emotions, it’s just too painful’.  Well, at this point, your mind employs unconscious coping strategies to drown out these toxic feelings.  For example: you go out and medicate yourself and/or engage in addictive or self-destructive behaviors; you sleep too much; you use tv, reading, or hobbies to distract you and numb out; you work compulsively at unrewarding jobs; you binge on any of the above activities when things get tough; you take out your anger and frustration by getting into fights with your loved ones; or you keep repeating painful experiences over and over again.  These are just a few ways people who have experienced trauma deal with the trauma in their lives.  Why do we do this?  

These deep seated emotions of guilt and shame are like poisons to our soul, and our soul wants to get rid of it.  It wants to be purged of all that is toxic to its well-being.  But when we numb our emotions, it’s like we put a plug on the wound hoping this will solve the problem.  It does temporarily, but like water in a plugged up pipe in your house, if you don’t clear it up, it will burst, and the mess you have to clean up later is much worse than if you just cleaned it up when you first noticed the problem.

By numbing your negative emotions, you also numb your capacity to feel love, your capacity to feel joy, and your capacity to feel good.  Life is seen through lenses that are fogged up, because your emotions are clogged up and your mind is stuck in the painful experiences of the past.  Behind all these negative feelings and emotions, are all the good feelings and emotions we want to experience: gratitude, joy, love, happiness, and authentic connection.  What ends up happening is when we don’t feel good, when we don’t feel happy, we feel miserable, and then, we’re not finding the meaning and purpose in our lives we desire, we feel despair, we feel hopeless, we feel like our lives are going nowhere, and so what do we do, we repeat the same cycle all over again.  We start drinking, we do drugs, we medicate ourselves all over again, and this becomes a dangerous cycle.  If we could just go back to the original trauma, the original place where the error occurred, and atoned for that error and heal it within ourselves, we can unravel all that we've done to ourselves to bury the pain of the experience.  We make it worse and compound the problem by employing all these other ways in which we try to cope.

Part 4, the last in this series, tomorrow.


Charlie Pacello is a PTSD, Depression, and Healing Trauma Recovery Expert and Life Coach, a former US Air Force Lieutenant, and creator of the program, 'Lt. Pacello's Life Training Program.'  He can be reached by visiting his website at