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"Daring Greatly" - Chapter 4 "The Vulnerability Armory"


Charlottesville, Virginia

March 29, 2020


I found this chapter to be very useful (in spite of the fact that I cringe whenever I write or hear "very" which I find to be an abused word). Brown talks about how we all wear armor and that to become our true selves, we need to take it off and reveal the real us. She walks us through the different kinds of armor we might wear and how to counteract each one.


One area she discusses is joy. I found this discussion of primary importance to me.


This summary is lengthy. I decided not to break it into two separate posts because I was concerned I might break the rhythm of the chapter.


This is the last chapter of the book that I summarized. The remaining chapters of the book go more in depth in some of the topics and I did not find them as helpful as the first four chapters. You are welcome.


😃😃😃😃😃


As children we found ways to protect ourselves from vulnerability, from being hurt, diminished, and disappointed. We put on armor; we used our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as weapons; and we learned how to make ourselves scarce, even to disappear. Now as adults we realize that to live with courage, purpose, and connection -- to be the person whom we long to be -- we must again be vulnerable. We must take off the armor, put down the weapons, show up, and let ourselves be seen.


The word persona is the Greek term for “stage mask.” Masks and armor are perfect metaphors for how we protect ourselves from the discomfort of vulnerability. Masks make us feel safer even when they become suffocating. Armor makes us feel stronger even when we grow weary from dragging the extra weight around.


The irony is that when we’re standing across from someone who is hidden or shielded by masks and armor, we feel frustrated and disconnected. That’s the paradox here: Vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me, but the first thing I look for in you.


Once we’ve worn our armor long enough, we feel naked without it. Masks are the same way. I’ve interviewed hundreds of participants who have conveyed the same fear: “I can’t take the mask off now—no one knows what I really look like. Not my partner, not my kids, not my friends. They’ve never met the real me. I’m not even sure who I am under here.”


Our protection mechanisms may be more sophisticated now that we’re adults, but most of us learned about armor during our raw and impressionable years, and most of us can be brought back to that place in a heartbeat.


Whether we’re fourteen or (sixty or more), our armor and our masks are as individualized and unique as the personal vulnerability, discomfort, and pain we’re trying to minimize.


Our first instinct is to label behavior and cast the people around us as stereotypes: It’s human nature to want to categorize and oversimplify. (Daniel Kahneman would agree.)


A peek inside the armory will help us to look inside ourselves. How do we protect ourselves? When and how did we start using these defense mechanisms? What would it take to make us put the armor away?


The Enough Mandate


In Chapter 1, I talked about “enough” as the opposite of scarcity, and the properties of scarcity as shame, comparison, and disengagement.


Believing that we’re “enough” is the way out of the armor -- it gives us permission to take off the mask. With that sense of “enough” comes an embrace of worthiness, boundaries, and engagement.


This lay at the core of every strategy illuminated by my research participants for freeing themselves from their armor:

- I am enough (worthiness versus shame).

- I’ve had enough (boundaries versus one-uping and comparison).

- Showing up, taking risks, and letting myself be seen is enough (engagement versus disengagement).


Every single person I interviewed spoke about struggling with vulnerability. It’s not as if there are lucky people among us who can openly embrace vulnerability without reservation, hesitation, or fear. When it comes to uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure, what I heard over and over were descriptions of people trying on some kind of armor before finally letting it go:

- “My first instinct is to ____________, but that never worked, so now I _______________, and that’s changed my life.”

- “I spent years ___________________ until one day I tried ________________, and it made my marriage stronger.”


The three forms of shielding that I am about to introduce are what I refer to as the “common vulnerability arsenal” because I have found that we all incorporate them into our personal armor in some way. These include:

1. foreboding joy, or the paradoxical dread that clamps down on momentary joyfulness;

2. perfectionism, or believing that doing everything perfectly means you’ll never feel shame; and

3. numbing, the embrace of whatever deadens the pain of discomfort and pain.

The Common Vulnerability Shields


The Shield – Foreboding Joy


Joy is probably the most difficult emotion to really feel.


In our culture of deep scarcity -- of never feeling safe, certain, and sure enough -- joy can feel like a setup. We wake up in the morning and think, Work is going well. Everyone in the family is healthy. No major crises are happening. The house is still standing. I’m working out and feeling good. Oh, shit. This is bad. This is really bad. Disaster must be lurking right around the corner.


We’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop.


People say they were at their most vulnerable when they are experiencing joy:

- Standing over my children while they’re sleeping

- Acknowledging how much I love my husband/wife

- Knowing how good I’ve got it

- Loving my job

- Spending time with my parents

- Watching my parents with my children

- Thinking about my relationship with my boyfriend

- Getting engaged

- Going into remission

- Having a baby

- Getting promoted

- Being happy

- Falling in love


An example - Ms. X used to take every good thing and imagine the worst possible disaster. Unfortunately, she thinks she passed that way of thinking down to my daughter. She’s increasingly afraid to try new things, especially when her life is going well. She says she doesn’t want to ‘tempt fate.’


A man in his early sixties told me, “I used to think the best way to go through life was to expect the worst. That way, if it happened, you were prepared, and if it didn’t happen, you were pleasantly surprised. Then I was in a car accident and my wife was killed. Needless to say, expecting the worst didn’t prepare me at all. And worse, I still grieve for all of those wonderful moments we shared and that I didn’t fully enjoy. My commitment to her is to fully enjoy every moment now. I just wish she was here, now that I know how to do that.”


Perpetually disappointment people think it feels more vulnerable to dip in and out of disappointment than to just set up camp there. “You sacrifice joy, but you suffer less pain.”


What are we doing? Once we make the connection between vulnerability and joy, the answer is pretty straightforward: We’re trying to beat vulnerability to the punch. We don’t want to be blindsided by hurt. We don’t want to be caught off-guard, so we literally practice being devastated or never move from self-elected disappointment. When we spend our lives (knowingly or unknowingly) pushing away vulnerability, we can’t hold space open for the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure of joy.


How Do We Counteract Foreboding Joy? – Practicing Gratitude


The shudder of vulnerability that accompanies joy is an invitation to practice gratitude, to acknowledge how truly grateful we are for the person, the beauty, the connection, or simply the moment before us.


Every participant who spoke about the ability to stay open to joy also talked about the importance of practicing gratitude.


Participants consistently described both joyfulness and gratitude as spiritual practices that were bound to a belief in human connectedness and a power greater than us.


There is a clear distinction between happiness and joy. Happiness as an emotion that’s connected to circumstances, and joy as a spiritual way of engaging with the world that’s connected to practicing gratitude.


While I was initially taken aback by the relationship between joy and vulnerability, it now makes perfect sense to me, and I can see why gratitude would be the antidote to foreboding joy.


Scarcity and fear drive foreboding joy. We’re afraid that the feeling of joy won’t last, or that there won’t be enough, or that the transition to disappointment (or whatever is in store for us next) will be too difficult. We’ve learned that giving in to joy is, at best, setting ourselves up for disappointment and, at worst, inviting disaster. And we struggle with the worthiness issue. Do we deserve our joy, given our inadequacies and imperfections? What about the starving children and the war-ravaged world? Who are we to be joyful?


The opposite of scarcity is enough, then practicing gratitude is how we acknowledge that there’s enough and that we’re enough.

Three lessons about joy:

1. Joy comes to us in moments—ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.

2. Be grateful for what you have.

3. Don’t squander joy.


A picture memory is a picture I take in my mind when I’m really, really happy. I close my eyes and take a picture, so when I’m feeling sad or scared or lonely, I can look at my picture memories.


Many of us practice catastrophizing and controlling. Stop it!


Before I put this research on countering foreboding joy into practice, I never knew how to get past that immediate vulnerability shudder. I didn’t have the information to get from what I feared, to how I actually felt, and to what I really craved: gratitude-fueled joy.


The Shield - Perfectionism


I’ve never heard one person attribute their joy, success, or Wholeheartedness to being perfect.


The most valuable and important things in my life came to me when I cultivated the courage to be vulnerable, imperfect, and self-compassionate.


Perfectionism is not the path that leads us to our gifts and to our sense of purpose; it’s the hazardous detour.


Perfectionism is a defensive move. It’s the belief that if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen.


Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval.


Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: “I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect.” Healthy striving is self-focused –- how can I improve? Perfectionism is other focused –- what will they think?


Perfectionism is not the key to success. Perfectionism hampers achievement. Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities. The fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, and being criticized keeps us outside of the arena where healthy competition and striving unfolds.


Perfectionism is not a way to avoid shame. Perfectionism is a form of shame. Where we struggle with perfectionism, we struggle with shame.


Perfectionism is…

- a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.

- self-destructive simply because perfection doesn’t exist. It’s an unattainable goal.

- more about perception than internal motivation, and there is no way to control perception, no matter how much time and energy we spend trying.

- addictive, because when we invariably do experience shame, judgment, and blame, we often believe it’s because we weren’t perfect enough. Rather than questioning the faulty logic of perfectionism, we become even more entrenched in our quest to look and do everything just right.

How Do We Counteract Perfectionism? Appreciating The Beauty In The Cracks

Most of us fall somewhere on a perfectionism continuum. In other words, when it comes to hiding our flaws, managing perception, and wanting to win over folks, we all hustle a little.


If we want freedom from perfectionism, we have to make the long journey from “What will people think?” to “I am enough.” That journey begins with shame resilience, self-compassion, and owning our stories. To claim the truths about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, and the very imperfect nature of our lives, we have to be willing to give ourselves a break and appreciate the beauty of our cracks or imperfections. To be kinder and gentler with ourselves and each other. To talk to ourselves the same way we would talk with a good friend.


Self-compassion has three elements:

1. self-kindness - Being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.


2. common humanity - Common humanity recognizes that suffering and feelings of personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience—something we all go through rather than something that happens to “me” alone.


3. mindfulness - Taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Mindfulness requires that we not overidentify with thoughts and feelings, so that we caught up and swept away by negativity.


Our worthiness, that core belief that we are enough, comes only when we live inside our story.


Perfectionism is exhausting because hustling is exhausting. It’s a never-ending performance.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” (Cribbed from Voltaire.) A twenty-minute walk that I do is better than the four-mile run that I don’t do. The imperfect book that gets published is better than the perfect book that never leaves my computer. The dinner party of take-out Chinese food is better than the elegant dinner that I never host.


As a kid, I equated being perfect with being loved…and I think I still confuse the two. I often find myself doing what Brené calls “the hustle for worthiness.” That dance we do so that people don’t see how incredibly flawed and human we are. Sometimes I have my self-worth wrapped up in what I do and how good I look doing it, but mostly I am learning to let go. Parenthood has taught me a lot about that. It’s messy and humbling, and I am learning to show my mess. To manage my perfectionism I give myself tons of permission to do things that are good enough. I do things quickly (having two small children will teach you how to do most tasks at lightning speed), and if it’s good enough, it gets my stamp of approval. I have a few mantras that help: Quick and dirty wins the race. Perfection is the enemy of done. Good enough is really effin’ good.


“There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”


The Shield - Numbing

One of the most universal numbing strategies is what I call crazy-busy.


Numbing vulnerability is especially debilitating because it doesn’t just deaden the pain of our difficult experiences; numbing vulnerability also dulls our experiences of love, joy, belonging, creativity, and empathy. We can’t selectively numb emotion. Numb the dark and you numb the light.


The primary driver of numbing would be our struggles with worthiness and shame: We numb the pain that comes from feeling inadequate and “less than.” But that was only part of the puzzle. Anxiety and disconnection also emerged as drivers of numbing in addition to shame.


The most powerful need for numbing seems to come from combinations of all three -- shame, anxiety, and disconnection.


Anxiety is fueled by uncertainty, overwhelming and competing demands on our time, and (one of the big surprises) social discomfort.


Disconnection encompasses depression but also included loneliness, isolation, disengagement, and emptiness.


The most accurate answers to the question about what drives numbing sound more like the answers to “What’s your sign?” Anxiety with shame rising. Disconnection with shame rising. Anxiety and disconnection with shame rising.


Shame enters for those of us who experience anxiety because not only are we feeling fearful, out of control, and incapable of managing our increasingly demanding lives, but eventually our anxiety is compounded and made unbearable by our belief that if we were just smarter, stronger, or better, we’d be able to handle everything. Numbing here becomes a way to take the edge off of both instability and inadequacy.


Feeling disconnected can be a normal part of life and relationships, but when coupled with the shame of believing that we’re disconnected because we’re not worthy of connection, it creates a pain that we want to numb.


The most terrifying and destructive feeling that a person can experience is psychological isolation. This is not the same as being alone. It is a feeling that one is locked out of the possibility of human connection and of being powerless to change the situation. In the extreme, psychological isolation can lead to a sense of hopelessness and desperation. People will do almost anything to escape this combination of condemned isolation and powerlessness.


Shame often leads to desperation. And reactions to this desperate need to escape from isolation and fear can run the gamut from numbing to addiction, depression, self-injury, eating disorders, bullying, violence, and suicide.


For me, trying to minimize my vulnerability led to anxiety, which led to shame, which led to disconnection, which led to Bud Light.


Many of us were not raised with the skills and emotional practice needed to “lean into discomfort,” so over time we basically become a take-the-edge-off-aholic.


For me, it wasn’t just the dance halls, cold beer, and Marlboro Lights of my youth that got out of hand -- it was banana bread, chips and queso, e-mail, work, staying busy, incessant worrying, planning, perfectionism, and anything else that could dull those agonizing and anxiety-fueled feelings of vulnerability.

How Do We Counteract Numbing – Setting Boundaries, Finding True Comfort and Cultivating Spirit


People who are Wholehearted focus on three things:

1. Learning how to actually feel their feelings.

2. Staying mindful about numbing behaviors (they struggle, too).

3. Learning how to lean into the discomfort of hard emotions.


How do Wholehearted men and women made to reduce anxiety? They explained that reducing anxiety meant paying attention to how much they could do and how much was too much, and learning how to say, “Enough.” They got very clear on what was important to them and when they could let something go.


When it comes to anxiety, we all struggle. Yes, there are different types of anxiety and certainly different intensities. Some anxiety is hardwired and best addressed with a combination of medication and therapy, and some of it is environmental -- we’re overextended and overstressed. What was interesting to me was how the participants could be divided into two camps: Group A defined the challenge of anxiety as finding ways to manage and soothe the anxiety, while Group B clearly defined the problem as changing the behaviors that led to anxiety.


The participants who struggled the most with numbing, Group A, explained that reducing anxiety meant finding ways to numb it, not changing the thinking, behaviors, or emotions that created anxiety.


When we asked Group B about the process of setting boundaries and limits to lower the anxiety in their lives, they didn’t hesitate to connect worthiness with boundaries. We have to believe we are enough in order to say, “Enough!” For women, setting boundaries is difficult because the shame gremlins are quick to weigh in: “Careful saying no. You’ll really disappoint these folks. Don’t let them down. Be a good girl. Make everyone happy.” For men, the gremlins whisper, “Man up. A real guy could take this on and then some. Is the little mamma’s boy just too tired?”


Daring greatly means engaging with our vulnerability, which can’t happen when shame has the upper hand, and the same is true for dealing with anxiety-fueled disconnection.


If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.


Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment.


Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.


Living a connected life ultimately is about setting boundaries, spending less time and energy hustling and winning over people who don’t matter, and seeing the value of working on cultivating connection with family and close friends.


What has changed for me is that instead of saying “How do I make these feelings go away?” I ask with curiosity “What are these feelings and where did they come from?”


The Care And Feeding Of Our Spirits


When we’re anxious, disconnected, vulnerable, alone, and feeling helpless, the booze and food and work and endless hours online feel like comfort, but in reality they’re only casting their long shadows over our lives.


You can cram an entire chocolate bar into your mouth without even tasting it in a frantic attempt to soothe yourself -- a shadow comfort.


There aren’t any checklists or norms to help you identify shadow comforts or other destructive numbing behavior. This requires self-examination and reflection.


Here are the questions that transcend what we know and how we feel – they are about our spirit:

- Are my choices comforting and nourishing my spirit, or are they temporary reprieves from vulnerability and difficult emotions ultimately diminishing my spirit?

- Are my choices leading to my Wholeheartedness, or do they leave me feeling empty and searching?


Spirituality is a fundamental guidepost in Wholeheartedness. Not religiosity but the deeply held belief that we are inextricably connected to one another by a force greater than ourselves -- a force grounded in love and compassion. For some of us that’s God, for others it’s nature, art, or even human soulfulness. I believe that owning our worthiness is the act of acknowledging that we are sacred. Perhaps embracing vulnerability and overcoming numbing is ultimately about the care and feeding of our spirits.

The Less Frequented Shelves In The Armory

We’ve cracked open the armory doors to throw some light on the common arsenal that pretty much everyone uses to keep themselves safe from vulnerability. Foreboding joy, perfectionism, and numbing have emerged as the three most universal methods of protection -- what we call major categories of defense.


There are some other pieces of armor:

1A. The Shield – Viking Or Victim

I recognized this piece of armor when a significant group of research participants indicated they had very little use for the concept of vulnerability. Their responses to the idea that vulnerability might have value ranged from dismissive and defensive to hostile. What emerged from these interviews and interactions was a lens on the world that essentially saw people divided into two groups that I call Vikings or Victims.


These people believe either you’re a Victim in life—a sucker or a loser who’s always being taken advantage of and can’t hold your own—or you’re a Viking—someone who sees the threat of being victimized as a constant, so you stay in control, you dominate, you exert power over things, and you never show vulnerability. “The world is divided into assholes and suckers. It’s that simple.”


The source of their Viking-or-Victim worldview was not completely clear, but most attributed it to the values they had been taught growing up, the experience of surviving hardships, or their professional training. The majority of the participants who fell into the group holding this view were men, but there were also women. It makes sense that this is a somewhat gendered issue as many men, even men who don’t rely on this armor, talked about the win-lose-zero-sum-power dynamic being taught and modeled as they grew up. And, don’t forget, winning, dominance, and power over women were part of the list of masculine norms.

People spoke about the struggles in their personal lives -- dealing with high-risk behaviors, divorces, disconnection, loneliness, addiction, anger, exhaustion. But rather than seeing these behaviors and negative outcomes as consequences of their Viking-or-Victim worldview, they perceived them as evidence of the harsh win-or-lose nature of life.


1B. How Do We Counteract Viking Or Victim

The question that best challenges the logic behind Viking or Victim for both groups is this: How are you defining success?


Love and belonging are irreducible needs of men, women, and children, and love and belonging are impossible to experience without vulnerability. Living without connection—without knowing love and belonging—is not victory.


The men and women who made the shift from this paradigm to Wholeheartedness all talked about cultivating trust and connection in relationships as a prerequisite for trying on a less-combative way of engaging with the world.


2A. The Shield – Letting It All Hang Out


I see two forms of oversharing in our culture. The first is what I call floodlighting, and the other is the smash and grab. As we discussed in the chapter on vulnerability myths, oversharing is not vulnerability. In fact, it often results in disconnection, distrust, and disengagement.


2A(1) The Shield - Floodlighting


Ordinarily, when we reach out and share ourselves -- our fears, hopes, struggles, and joy -- we create small sparks of connection. Our shared vulnerability creates light in normally dark places.


When it comes to vulnerability, connectivity means sharing our stories with people who have earned the right to hear them—people with whom we’ve cultivated relationships that can bear the weight of our story. Is there trust? Is there mutual empathy? Is there reciprocal sharing? Can we ask for what we need? These are the crucial connection questions.


It’s rare that we’re able to stay attuned when someone’s oversharing has stretched us past our connectivity with them.


2B(1) Counteracting Floodlighting – Clarifying Intentions, Setting Boundaries and Cultivating Connection


The most powerful moments of our lives happen when we string together the small flickers of light created by courage, compassion, and connection and see them shine in the darkness of our struggles.


That darkness is lost when we use vulnerability to floodlight our listener, and the response is disconnection. We then use this disconnection as verification that we’ll never find comfort, that we’re not worthy, that the relationship is no good, or, in the case of oversharing to hot-wire a connection, that we’ll never have the intimacy that we crave.


Whether we’re on the purging end or the receiving end of this experience, self-compassion is critical. We have to give ourselves a break when we share too much too soon, and we have to practice self-kindness when we feel like we weren’t able to hold space for someone who hit us with the floodlight. Judgment exacerbates disconnection.


I don’t tell stories or share vulnerabilities with the public until I’ve worked through them with the people I love.


First, I only share stories or experiences that I’ve worked through and feel that I can share from solid ground. I don’t share what I define as “intimate” stories, nor do I share stories that are fresh wounds.


Second, sharing yourself to teach or move a process forward can be healthy and effective, but disclosing information as a way to work through your personal stuff is inappropriate and unethical.


Third, I only share when I have no unmet needs that I’m trying to fill. I firmly believe that being vulnerable with a larger audience is only a good idea if the healing is tied to the sharing, not to the expectations I might have for the response I get.

If you recognize yourself in this shield, this checklist might help:

- Why am I sharing this?

- What outcome am I hoping for?

- What emotions am I experiencing?

- Do my intentions align with my values?

- Is there an outcome, response, or lack of a response that will hurt my feelings?

- Is this sharing in the service of connection?

- Am I genuinely asking the people in my life for what I need?


2C(1). The Shield – The Smash And Grab

The smash and grab used as vulnerability armor is about smashing through people’s social boundaries with intimate information, then grabbing whatever attention and energy you can get your hands on. We see this most often in celebrity culture, where sensationalism thrives.


2C(2). How Do We Counteract The Smash And Grab

If we find ourselves engaging in a smash and grab, I think the reality-check questions are the same as the ones in the section on floodlighting. I think it’s also important to ask, “What need is driving this behavior?” and “Am I trying to reach, hurt, or connect with someone specifically, and is this the right way to do it?”


3A. The Shield – Serpentining


Serpentining is the perfect metaphor for how we spend enormous energy trying to dodge vulnerability when it would take far less effort to face it straight on. The image also conveys how fruitless it is to think of zigzagging in the face of something as expansive and all-consuming as vulnerability.


An example of how to avoid serpentining


“Serpentining” means trying to control a situation, backing out of it, pretending it’s not happening, or maybe even pretending that you don’t care. We use it to dodge conflict, discomfort, possible confrontation, the potential for shame or hurt, and/or criticism (self- or other-inflicted). Serpentining can lead to hiding out, pretending, avoidance, procrastination, rationalizing, blaming, and lying.


3B. How To Counteract Serpentining


We don’t need to serpentine; we just need to be present, pay attention, and move forward.


4A. The Shield – Cynicism, Criticism, Cool and Cruelty


Because cynicism, criticism, cruelty, and cool are even better than armor -- they can be fashioned into weapons that not only keep vulnerability at a distance but also can inflict injury on the people who are being vulnerable and making us uncomfortable.


As adults, we can also protect ourselves from vulnerability with cool. We worry about being perceived as laughing too loud, buying in, caring too much, being too eager. We don’t wear hoodies as often, but we can use our titles, education, background, and positions as handles on the shields of criticism, cynicism, cool, and cruelty: I can talk to you this way or blow you off because of who I am or what I do for a living. And, make no mistake, when it comes to this shield, handles are also fashioned out of nonconformity and rejection of traditional status markers: I dismiss you because you’ve sold out and you spend your life in a cubicle or I’m more relevant and interesting because I rejected the trappings of higher education, traditional employment, etc.


4B. How To Counteract Cynicism, Criticism, Cool and Cruelty


When we stop caring about what people think, we lose our capacity for connection. When we become defined by what people think, we lose our willingness to be vulnerable. If we dismiss all the criticism, we lose out on important feedback, but if we subject ourselves to the hatefulness, our spirits get crushed.


It’s a tightrope, shame resilience is the balance bar, and the safety net below is the one or two people in our lives who can help us reality-check the criticism and cynicism.


Criticizing is a way to be heard.


The fear of being vulnerable can unleash cruelty, criticism, and cynicism in all of us. Making sure we take responsibility for what we say is one way that we can check our intentions.


In addition to walking the tightrope, practicing shame resilience, and cultivating a safety-net community that supports me when I’m feeling attacked or hurt, I’ve implemented two additional strategies.


The first is simple: I only accept and pay attention to feedback from people who are also in the arena.

Second, I only accept feedback of people whose opinions of me matter. To be on that list, you have to love me for my strengths and struggles. You have to know that I’m trying to be Wholehearted, but I still cuss too much, flip people off under the steering wheel, and have both Lawrence Welk and Metallica on my iPod. You have to know and respect that I’m totally uncool.


There’s a great quote from the movie Almost Famous that says, “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.”

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