Late last year (2015) I found out that Brene Brown had started a new work, called COURAGEworks and there was an on-line training based on Daring Greatly and Rising Strong called “The Living Brave Semester.” I love Brene Brown and was aware of how shame afflicts me (I would say now that I was a LITTLE aware.) So I signed up.
The class started in January and I was watching the videos with my wife, Maria. Then I would do the exercises and talk with her about them. I did the exercises … well half hearted. They were hard—things like identifying your values and choosing an arena.
Then one Friday night in February I took a look at the forum. WOW! I spent about 8 hours that night on the forum. People were sharing deeply—really tough stuff. They were being vulnerable and present and it was so refreshing. I was intoxicated. I started responding to others posts. An early comment I posted looked like:
I like it. Great idea. Thanks.
When I share something personal and vulnerable, and I really feel understood, it feels:
Powerful. Like Freedom. The darkness recedes and I feel like I can conquer the world (“To infinity and beyond 🙂
When I share something personal and vulnerable, I like the person listening to (Ideal empathetic response):
Verify what they heard (What I am hearing you say is ….)
Ask good questions
Withhold any and all judgment correction etc etc
Ideally share that they have been in a like situation before (implying that I am not alone)
When someone shares something painful and personal with me, I:
Want to run away
Want to correct
Want to judge them
Shrink from the brave gift they are offering
Tell a joke
Give advice …
Anything to avoid the pain of admitting that it could be me in their situation.
The one new thing I can try is to practice critical awareness and know what I am feeling as I interact with others – and at the right times risking sharing my feelings with others.
So I reached a point where I started asking “Is this real?” and “Can I be comfortable with this?”.
So I reached out the support at COURAGEworks and asked how long this forum would available for and they responded for ‘the indefinite future’. WOW. I was incredulous. If they had said ‘for $5/month this will be available indefinitely that I could believe (the forum was monitored).
So I gathered some courage and made my own post. It was about the dynamics of the forum:
So I really want to be vulnerable and share with people I have met/meet in the forums. However I recall Brene saying that one needs to be careful to share:
1) with the right person
2) at the right time
3) for the right issue
4) with someone who has earned the right to hear my story
And I don’t know about 1-3 but I have yet to earn the right to hear someone on the forums story. I really want connection and empathy – am I being too negative or legalistic?
There was a lively discussion and soon I commented:
I am also grateful – and I just started using this forum.
I have in the past imagined an “Empathy Hotline” where the operator has earned the right to hear my story – I know this does not and almost cannot exist – but I pine for it.
Hear you about giving advice and long to be able to sit in the tension of the unknown while practicing empathy.
Gratitude is great – and I am thankful for this forum.
If shame gets spoken it loses so much power. Silence might not be as golden as we were taught as children.
I went on to become very active in the forum – I would spend hours – literally hours each day on the forum – mostly responding to posts and practicing empathy (I called it empathy with training wheels) and posting when I had questions or went into shame. And every time I became aware that I was in shame – I went to the forum. Either someone posted something or I posted and someone responded – yet I felt empathy – shame melting empathy – and the darkness receded. After about two months with shame episodes diminished and recovery happening fairly quickly – hours instead of weeks – I felt like a new man.
And I continued to post, heavily. I even started a file of blurbs that I would put at the end of my posts/comments things like:
This little inner child has become scarred by shame – yet with self compassion and care perhaps he can emerge carefree and whole inside my person.
When I know what I am feeling, and I verbalize it, my gremlins are limited in their ambushes.
And I was getting to know people on the forum deeply – and the connections were bringing light and melting shame. We were all growing, asking questions sharing stories, practicing vulnerability and empathy in this safe environment.
And now – here is how this is relevant here – these people I was connecting with, they were like 95% ladies. I had connection with maybe 10 guys and hundreds of ladies. I do not think this is a coincidence – I call it social pressure. Men are not encouraged to be vulnerable and share in our society. And I yearn to be vulnerable with men—I need it. I still have deep connection with many of the ladies I met and I desire to continue that. And I have connection with a few men from the forum.
Yet I desire more connection with vulnerable men.
Photo: Getty Images