Dr Brené Brown’s 2010 TEDx talk, The power of vulnerability, is one of the top 10 most viewed TED talks in the world. She is also the author of The Gifts of Imperfection, I Thought It Was Just Me and Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (which the Fast Company Magazine named as one of the top 10 business books of 2012).
Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, is convinced of the need to embrace our own vulnerability and believes that accepting and affirming our vulnerability is good for the society and individuals. She has spent the past 12 years studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Her ground-breaking research has been featured on various TV shows.
As part of her work she tried first to understand why a handful of people believe in their own worthiness; she calls these people ‘wholehearted’. She says: “In fact, I think our capacity for wholeheartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be broken-hearted. It means engaging with the world from a place of vulnerability and worthiness. It implies our ability to be devastate in betrayals and still reaching out to love the others, realising the implied risks.”
She then lists what wholehearted women have in common. She ended up with two lists: “what they’re working towards and what they’re trying to let go of”. The second list consists of attitudes that are judgmental, perfectionistic, always comparing oneself to other people, ranking everything, very little play, too much work, fear, no vulnerability. The other list had creativity, laughter, joy, play and authenticity. With the help of her therapist, Brown allowed herself to get in touch with her vulnerable side, but it was a slow and painful process, as Helena de Bertodano notes in The Telegraph. “It was like a street fight, it was not a glamorous thing, there were very tough moments. I learnt as much about my life from the research participants as anyone else. I didn’t come in with this wisdom,” she confesses.
Her call to accept our vulnerability and achieve wholeheartedness is applicable to anyone since all of us are deeply vulnerable. “I think if you follow anyone home and you sit at their dinner table and talk to them about their mother who has cancer or their child who is struggling in school and their fears about watching their lives go by, I think we’re all the same.”
Brown notes that “the difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you. In you, it’s courage and daring. In me, it’s weakness.”
This is where shame comes into play. Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think. When we’re fuelled by the fear of what other people think or that gremlin that’s constantly whispering “You’re not good enough” in our ears, it’s tough to show up. We end up hustling for our worthiness rather than standing in it.
When we attach our self-worth to what we produce or earn, being real gets risky and dangerous. The good news is that today people are realising that our titles do not give us success or provide us self-worth. But do we have the courage to accept our vulnerability and realise the power of our powerlessness?

(The writer is professor of science and religion and author of Between Beneath, Before and Beyond)
Kuruvilla Pandikattu