We humans are hard wired for connection. Babies are born into this world to first connect with their caregivers, and then the circle expands to other family members, friends, teachers, coaches and other important people in their lives. Connection brings purpose and meaning to our lives. Without it we wither and become invisible. What stops us from making connection is shame. Shame is the fear of disconnection caused by the feeling that one isn’t good enough or worthy enough.

According to Brene Brown who has been involved in research over the last decade on topics ranging from vulnerability, courage, and authenticity, to empathy and shame, what underpins shame is excruciating vulnerability. Vulnerability is the core of shame, fear and unworthiness. But it’s also the birthplace of joy, creativity, love and belonging. Brown’s qualitative and quantitative study reveals that people with a sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy. What these folks have in common is wholeheartedness. They exhibit the courage to be imperfect. By letting go of who they thought they should be, they are freed to tell their story of who they are with courage. They also have the compassion to be kind to themselves first before they learn to be kind to others. Most importantly they fully embrace vulnerability because they believe what makes them vulnerable also makes them beautiful. Because of that these vulnerable people are able to make strong connections as a result of authenticity. Vulnerability is at work when you allow yourself to lean on someone when grief and hurt drive you to push everyone away. It is when you invest in relationships that may or may not work out. It is when you say ‘sorry’ to your children when you do or say something that hurt their feelings.

Most of us dislike vulnerability because it’s messy and unpredictable. We numb vulnerability by turning to food, alcohol, drug or anything else that may take our mind away from it. Brown points out that the problem is when we selectively numb the hard emotions, we also numb the feelings of joy, gratitude and happiness and then we become depressed and lost.

I grew up in a chaotic environment where I constantly felt out of control. So in my adulthood, I strived for order and stability until 5 years ago when my life was spinning out of control right in front of my eyes. I remember standing at the crossroad of life, lost, lonely, wounded and desperately in need of a new sense of direction and belonging. I decided to tell my story by writing a book. After finishing a few episodes, I read them to myself and felt uncomfortably detached. It was as if I were portraying myself to be whom others I should be rather than who I really was. So I deleted everything and started all over again. It was time to take the mask off and be real. Throughout the year of writing, I resisted vulnerability but eventually surrendered to its power. I lost the battle but won my life back. It has changed how I love, work, live and parent.

The fear of rejection and disconnection can be so powerful that it stops us from revealing our authentic selves to others. Like me, you are most likely forced to the state of vulnerability by external factors rather than by choice. But vulnerability is so much easier when you love and accept yourself, not just the attractive and shiny aspects, but also the ugly and shameful parts that you want to hide from others. Vulnerability opens doors for true and powerful connections with those who also accept the whole you. It sets you free to embrace the whole spectrum of human emotions. So take the risk to be seen, deeply and vulnerably.