By Tahani Al-Salem, Intern Social
Worker

Last year, I went on a Brené Brown
kick, as I like to call it. Her TED talk- “The Power of Vulnerability” was a
viral hit, reaching more than 1 million hits on youtube.  I read several of her books, watched her TED
Talk, and went to see her speak when she came to Seattle. I couldn’t get enough
of what she had to say, it resonated deeply with me. There were so many ways I
was sabotaging myself and preventing myself from being entirely authentic with others
and myself.

I can tell you that even after my “Brené
kick”, it’s still not something I have entirely figured out, but I’m certainly
much closer. Living our lives authentically and embracing the unknown is
difficult for a lot of us, and is something we have to actively be working on,
a daily practice.

We are really good at shaming
ourselves when we do things wrong, but we need to get better about being self compassionate
in those moments– pushing away the shame and embracing  it as a moment of growth.

Her book “The Gifts of
Imperfection”, appears to be a short book, but it’s  so full of huge concepts- things that force us
to look at ourselves, and at times can make the book seem very long. But it’s
worth it. She works to normalize how many of us feel, explores our avoidance of
vulnerability, and shares with us how we could be living quite differently if
we choose to embrace the discomfort instead of pushing it away.

At one point she states:  “Authenticity
is the daily practice of letting go
of who we think we we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”  Read that again- letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be, and embracing who we ARE…

Choosing
authenticity means to

  • Cultivate the courage to be imperfect,
    to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
  • Exercise the compassion that comes from
    knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle.
  • Nurture the connection and sense of
    belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are “enough”.

All of that sounds great, but it
asks us to dig deep, which is not always easy, especially when we are really
good at shaming ourselves. One way she argues that we can bring about
authenticity is by having self -compassion.

According
to her book self-compassion has three elements: self-kindness, common humanity,
and mindfulness.

  • Self kindness: Being warm and
    understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather
    than ignoring our pain or beating ourselves up with self-criticism
  • Common humanity: 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
  • Mindfulness: Taking a balanced approach
    to the 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 “over identify” with thoughts and
    feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negativity.

I am a planner, but in reality, planning out life is an impossible task. We can’t possibly calculate
every situation and control it, so that we maintain control, avoiding vulnerability.  I’ve really
had to work on trying to accept uncertainty and not knowing, and that is so very
tough for me. I want to anticipate painful moments, and guard myself from them,
because vulnerability and feeling shame are scary and out of control feelings.

In avoiding vulnerability and
pain, we often block ourselves from opportunities. We do this out of fear of
how we will feel if it doesn’t work out, if we’re rejected, if we get hurt in the
end. These are barriers to what Brené describes as living an authentic and vulnerable life, but if we learn to push away
that negative self- talk, and be gentle with our imperfect selves, we may just start opening ourselves up.

Her book isn’t about a quick fix,
because this is life work. It’s a good place to start to dig deep and get
really personal with yourself.  There
will be times when you want to shut the book. 
I encourage you to lean into that fear, and push yourself away from that
place of needing to know.

Tahani Al-Salem is an intern
social worker at Mindful Therapy Group. She offers low cost counseling to folks
in need. Schedule an appointment with her today and start your journey to a
more authentic self.