Walking the Tightrope

Thoughts on vulnerability and hurt

By Brené Brown, PhD

On April 15, CNN ran an op/ed that I wrote on authenticity and risk-taking. In a collaboration with TED, they also posted my 2012 TED talk on shame

Ironically, the essay is about the how difficult but important it is to show up and let ourselves be seen and the TED talk focuses on how gender norms are used as shame tools. 

I knew there would be discussion and disagreement—especially because I talk about the word authenticity—a loaded term now that it’s been coopted and overused. I knew some people would hate it and other people would find fault with my writing or my argument. These are all risks that I’m willing to take because I believe in my work. 

But I’ll be honest with you, I’ll never get used to the cruelty and personal attacks. 

I’m never prepared for being called stupid, ugly, and pathetic. I’m ready for a good debate on the topic, but I’m not ready for things like this:

When I read this along with some of the others (which are apparently being removed), I burst into tears.  

I wanted to hide.

I wanted to scream, “Screw you, kinderlove! Where’s your frickin’ essay?”

I wanted to defend myself. “I know I look terrible. They spray painted my face for the High-Def TED talk and it makes me look like I’m melting.” 

I wanted to keep the people I love from reading the comments so they wouldn’t feel sorry for me. 

But mostly I just cried and questioned if the work is worth the vulnerability. 

I’m writing this because I’m always asked how I became so strong and immune to the criticism. The answer is that I am strong, but I’m not immune. It hurts. Like hell. Even though I know that “it’s not about me” or “some people are projecting”—it still hurts. I’m human.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. When we stop caring what other people think we lose our capacity for connection. When we are defined by what people think we lose our willingness to be vulnerable.

2. When we close ourselves off to feedback we stop growing. When we open ourselves up to ongoing cruelty, we shut down to self-protect. 

Showing up in our lives—our families, our marriages, our careers—is a tightrope walk. My balance bar is the shame resilience I’ve cultivated over the past several years, my family, and my faith.

There are places like TED.com and NPR.org where the comments are tough, but fair and focused on the work. Users sign in and take responsibly for their feedback. I’ll continue to share my work there and read those comments. 

There are places that represent the worst in all of us. Where people are careless with their criticism and take pleasure in hurting people—even other commenters. kinderlove got attacked for attacking me and that’s not helpful.

I’m going to stop reading those comments, but more importantly, I’m also going to stop contributing to those venues.

So, to all of you who want to help … take a stand. Embrace difference. Be respectful. Let’s take responsibility for our comments. 

And to all of you who are sharing your work, your ideas, and yourself with the world—thank you. I know it’s not easy and I know being strong doesn’t stop it from hurting. 

I’m still standing. I’m not done. And, as Brandi Carlile sings in The Story:

“All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am.”

This post is republished with permission from Brené Brown’s OrdinaryCourage.com. For more on this topic, check out her TED talk on vulnerability.

Category: Psych

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