The Strength of Vulnerability

By Maddy Pribanova, CEI Intern

Vulnerability – the odds are that a discussion of vulnerability is not a part of your school curriculum. The odds are that your teachers are not encouraged to help children to be vulnerable. However, Dr. Brene Brown, a research professor in Social Work at the University of Houston, and author of several books on vulnerability, suggests that learning to live with our own vulnerability can be an important tool to furthering our sense of identity, self-esteem, and resiliency. In Daring Greatly, Brown (2012) states, “a sense of worthiness inspires us to be vulnerable, share openly and persevere.” (p. 64).

Brene Brown’s TED talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” describes vulnerability as the birthplace of true intimacy and belonging. Connecting with others begins the moment we are born. As we grow, we learn how to form bonds from the people around us. Teaching children to be vulnerable helps empower them for later life and nurtures the sense of belonging that is so vital to our human existence.

We are neurobiologically wired to live in “our tribe,” which enables us to develop a sense of belonging (Brown, 2010). Despite this, many of us feel alone and loneliness is a growing issue in our world today (Killeen, 1998). Loneliness has been linked to a number of mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. In contrast, forming relationships and connections give us a sense of purpose and without them we suffer. Moreover, growing evidence shows that when we struggle to form relationships, our wiring is disrupted and we fall apart both mentally and physically. To prevent us from becoming adrift in a space of loneliness, we need to know how to connect with others successfully. Fortunately, there are many opportunities to further a sense of self-worthiness and connectedness in the team activities that occur in classrooms day in and day out across a child’s many years in school.

Nurturing a Sense of Self-Worthiness

Educators can further connections and a sense of well-being and self-esteem to help children thrive. Connections are deeply tied to a sense of worthiness. As Brown (2010) says: “the one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we’re not worthy of connection.” To form positive and healthy relationships, we must first learn to feel positive about ourselves. Believing that we are deserving of love and belonging opens us up to accepting this treatment from others.

Furthering a child’s sense of worthiness is fundamental to developing the skills to build meaningful and healthy connections. According to Malhotra (2017), this development can be encouraged through:

  1. Making sure that children know that they belong to their home or school community. This can be done by expressing appreciation, which lets children know that they are valued.
  2. Removing shame. Avoiding statements like “you are bad,” helps to ensure that children don’t identify with their negative behavior, and prevents a child being labelled as a “bad child.”
  3. Encouraging a vision of their individual success shows children that they will belong for who they truly are. It also allows each child to feel secure with his/her own identity and prevents children from being afraid to show the world their true, authentic selves.

Modeling the Wholehearted Approach

From the thousands of interviews that Brown has conducted in her research, she noticed that the people who were successful at being vulnerable and connecting with others all shared three important traits. They were wholehearted, authentic and resilient individuals who were: courageous, compassionate, and connected. She says that when raising children, we must model these types of behaviors ourselves. However, to raise children who are successful at connecting, we must first be successful at connecting ourselves. To raise our children as wholehearted, we must first be authentic, resilient, and wholehearted ourselves. Teachers can support children’s sense of well-being, by modeling courage, teaching about compassion, and paying attention to connectedness:

  • Modeling courage means that we must first acknowledge our own imperfections. This enables us to “tell the story of who you are with your whole heart” (Brown, 2010). Such authenticity strengthens bonds with others and ourselves.
  • Compassion is not just something we must show to others but also to ourselves. Being able to show and understand our own and others’ emotions is vital to being able to communicate. Empathy in difficult situations helps us connect and prevents others from feeling alone.
  • Connectedness, according to Brown (2010), is directly related to taking time to engage with one’s authentic self, which leads to self-acceptance. This enables us to develop a form of self-esteem that embraces vulnerability and a willingness to invest in relationships, whether they are successful or not.

Letting Go of Perfection

“We perfect our children. They’re hardwired for struggle when they get here. When you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say, “Look at her, she’s perfect. My job is just to keep her perfect, to make sure she makes the tennis team by fifth grade and Yale by seventh grade.” That’s not our job. Our job is to look and say you know what, you’re imperfect and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging. That’s our job. Show me a generation of kids raised like that and I think we’ll end the problems we see today.’ ‘” Brene Brown

As Tolstoy wrote: “if you look for perfection, you’ll never be content”. We all want to see our children to have the best life possible but instilling the value of achieving a “perfect life” is both unrealistic and damaging (Taylor, 2009). The concept of “being perfect” prevents children, and parents as well as teachers from cultivating acceptance and belonging. Rather, it instills an attitude that nothing is ever good enough. As parents and educators, we need to replace the discourse of perfection with being “good enough” (Taylor, 2009)

Acceptance. Encouraging children to embrace their strengths and weaknesses rather than try and achieve the unachievable, empowers them. Teaching them to accept their own imperfections and vulnerabilities as well as the imperfections of the world, nurtures a far more deeper and sincere sense of belonging. As adults we need to let go of our vision of what the child should be, and rather be open, listen and accept each child for who he or she is.

References

Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Avery Publishers.

Brown, B. (2010) The Power of Vulnerability

Killeen, C. (1998). Loneliness: An epidemic in modern society. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 28, 762–770

Malhotra, S (2017, March). Three ways to instill a deep sense of worth and belonging in your children. Huffington Post.

Taylor, J. (2009, November). Parenting: Raise excellent – not perfect – children, Psychology Today.

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