Theme 3 The Power of Vulnerability

Brene Brown studies human connection – our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity.




Task A: Matching Activities

Match the words on the left with its explanations on the right.

Task B. Comprehension Activities

1. Decide if the following statements are true:

2. Watch the video clip and fill in the missing information with the words below:

3. Choose the best answers to the questions below:


English is a language that contains a lot of foreign words. This is mainly due to the history of development of the language. In Brene Brown's speech, we heard her say “put everything in a bento box”. “Bento box” is borrowed from the Japanese language. It is interesting to know other foreign words in common use in the English language as well. Below are some other examples:


Common usage:
Somebody is a zombie.

A person with no feelings or emotions on their face.

If you don’t sleep tonight, you will become a zombie at the examination tomorrow.

Other Examples English words borrowed from Africa:
Banana, okay.


Kowtow (Chinese)

Common usage :
Somebody kowtows to another person with authority.

The person shows respect or obedience to another person just because that person has power and status.

In a company, it is easy to see some junior staff who kowtow to their boss in order to gain better chance of promotion in their job.

Other Examples English words borrowed from Chinese:
Kungfu, ketchup, mahjong, tycoon, gweilo, yum cha.


Verandah (Indian)

Common usage:
A verandah of a house

A platform along the outside of a house covered with a roof.

Other Examples English words borrowed from Chinese:
thug, shampoo, pyjamas, khaki, jungle, cot, chit, curry, bungalow


Coupon (French)

Common usage:
A company issues some coupons for its customers.

A token of money or discount ticket for shopping in a company.

French words in use in English is just countless and we are using them so naturally in English that we are seldom aware of their French origin, for example, cruel, court, cursory, curtail, custom, jacket, joy, mace, magazine, magic.

Can you think of any English words which are “borrowed” words from other languages?

Video ©


Brené Brown: So I’ll start with this, a couple of years ago, an event planner called me because I was going to do a speaking event. And she called, and she said, “I’m really struggling on how to write about you on a little flier. And I thought, “Well, what‘s the struggle”. And she said, “Well, I saw you speak, and I am going to call you a researcher I think, but if I call you a researcher no one will come because they’ll think you are boring and irrelevant. (Laughter). And ah I was like, “Okay.”, and she said, “So … but the thing I liked about your talk is you know you’re a storyteller, so I think what I’ll do is just call you a storyteller.” And, of course the academic, insecure part of me was like, “You are going to call me a what?” And she said, “I’m going to call you a storyteller.” And I was like, “Oh … Why not magic pixie?” (Laughter) I was like, “I … I … Let me think about this for a second.” And so, I tried to call deep on my courage. And I thought, you know, I am a storyteller. I am a qualitative e researcher; I collect stories; that’s what I do. And maybe stories are just data with a soul, you know. And maybe I’m just storyteller. And so I said, “You know what? Why don’t you just say I’m a researcher-storyteller.” And she went,” Ah ha … There’s no such thing.” (Laughter) S I am a researcher storyteller, and I’m going to talk to you today – we are talking about expanding perception – and so I want to talk to you and tell some stories about a piece of my research that fundamentally expanded my perception… and really actually change the way that I live and love and work and parent. And this is where the story starts. When I was a young researcher, doctoral student, my first year I had a research professor, who said to us, “ Here’s the thing, is you cannot measure it, it does not exist.” And I thought he was just sweet-talking me. And I was like, “Really?” And he was like, “Absolutely.” And so you have to understand that I have a bachelor’s in social work, a master’s in social work and I was getting my PH.D. in social work, so my entire academic career was surrounded by people who kind of believed in the “life’s messy, love it.” You know, and I’m more of the, “life’s messy, clean it up, organize it and put it into a bento box.” (Laughter) Em … and so to think that I had found my way to found a career that takes me to, you know, really, one of the big sayings in social work is, “Lean into the discomfort of the work.” And I’m like, you know, knock discomfort upside the head and move it over and get all A’s. That was my mantra. So I was very excited about this, And s I thought, you know that, this is the career for me, because I am interested in some messy topics. But I want to be able to make them not messy. I want to understand them. I want to hack into these things I know are important, and lay the code out for everyone to see. So where I started was with connection. Because, by the time when you are a social worker for 10 years, what you realize is that connections is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about. It doesn’t whether you talk to people who work in social justice and mental health and abuse and neglect what we know is that connection – the ability to feel connected, is neurobiologically that’s how we’re wired. It’s why we’re here. So I thought, you know what, I’m going to start with connection. Well you know that situation where you get an evaluation from your boss, and she tells you 37 things that you do really awesome and one thing that you kind of you know… “an opportunity for growth”? (Laughter) And all you can think about is that opportunity for growth, right? Well, apparently this is the way my work went as well, because, when you ask people about love, they tell you about heartbreak. When you ask people about belonging, they’ll tell you their most excruciating experiences of being excluded. And when you ask people about connection, the stories they told me were about disconnection. So very quickly - really about six weeks into this research - I ran into this unnamed thing that absolutely unraveled connection in a way that I didn’t understand or had never seen. And so I pulled back out of the research and thought, I need to figure out what this is. And it turned out to be shame. And shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection - Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection? The things that I can tell you about it: it’s universal; we all have it. The only people who don’t experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection. No one wants to talk about it and the less you talk about it the more you have it. What underpinned this shame, this “I’m not good enough,” – which we all know that feeling: I’m not blank enough, I’m not thin enough, rich enough beautiful enough, smart enough, promoted enough.” The thing that underpinned this was excruciating vulnerability, this idea of, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen. And you know how I feel about vulnerability. I hate vulnerability. And so I thought, this is my chance to beat it back with my measuring stick. I’m going in. I’m going to figure this stuff out. I’m going to spend a year. I’m going to totally deconstruct shame. I’m going to understand how vulnerability works, and I’m going to smart it. So I was ready, and I was really excited. As you know, it’s not going to turn out well. (Laughter) You know this. So, I could tell you a lot about shame, but I’d have to borrow everyone else’s time. But here’s what I can tell you that it boils down to – and this may be one of the most important thing that I’ve ever learned in the decade of doing this research. My “one year” turned into six years – thousands of stories, hundreds of long interviews, focus groups. At one point, people were sending me journal pages and sending me their stories – thousands of pieces of data in six years. And I kind of got a handle on it. I kind of understood, this is what shame is, this is how it works. I wrote a book, I published a theory, but something was not okay – um … and what it was is that if I roughly took the people I interviewed and divided them into people who really have a sense of worthiness - that’s what this comes down to, a sense of worthiness, they have a strong sense of love and belonging – and folks who struggle for it, folks who are always wondering if they are good enough. There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy. And to me, the hard part of the one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we’re not worthy of connection, was something that personally and professional, I felt like I needed to understand better. So what I did is I took all of the interviews where I saw worthiness, where I saw people living that way, and just looked at those. What do these people have in common? And I have … I have a slight office supply addiction, but that’s another talk. So I had a manila folder, and I had a Sharpie, and I was like, what am I going to call this research. And the first words that came to my mind were whole-hearted. These are kind of whole-hearted people, living from this deep sense of worthiness. So I wrote at the top of the manila folder, and I started looking at the data. In fact, I did it first in this very four … in a four-day very intensive data analysis, where I went back , pulled these interviews, pulled the stories, pulled the incidents. What’s the theme? What’s the pattern? My husband left town with the kids because I always go into this kind of Jackson Pollock crazy thing, where I’m just like writing and going … and kind of just in my researcher mode. And so here’s what I found – what they had in common was a sense of courage. And I want t separate courage and bravery for you for a minute. Courage, the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language – it’s from the Latin word “cor”, meaning “heart” – and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. And the last was they had connection – and this was the hard part – as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which is you have to absolutely do that for connection. The other thing that they had in common was this – they fully embraced vulnerability. They believe that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability of being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating – as I had heard it in earlier in the shame interviewing. They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say “I love you” first, the willingness to do something that there are no guarantees, the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental. I personally thought it was betrayal. Em … I could not believe I had pledged allegiance to research, where our job – you know, the definition of research is to control and predict, to study phenomena, for explicit reason, to control and predict. And now my very … you know, my mission to control and predict had turned up the answer that the way to live is with vulnerability and to stop controlling and predicting. This led to a little breakdown. (Laughter) - which actually looked more like this. And it did. It led to a … I call it “breakdown”; my therapist calls it a spiritual awakening. A spiritual awakening sounds better than breakdown but I assure you it was a breakdown. And I had to put my data away and go find a therapist. Le me tell you something: you know who you are when you call your friends and say, “I think I need to see somebody. Do you have any recommendations?” Because about five of my friends were like, “Wooo. I wouldn’t want to be your therapist.” (Laughter) I was like, “What does that mean?” And they’re like, “I’m just saying, you know. Don’t bring your measuring stick.” I was like, “Okay.” So I found a therapist. My first meeting with her Diana – I brought in my list of the way the whole-hearted live, and I sat down. And she said, you know, ”How are you?” And I said, “I’m great. I’m okay.” And she said, “What’s going on?” And this is a therapist who sees therapists, because we have t go to those, because their B.S. meters are good. (Laughter) And so I said, “Here’s the thing, I’m struggling.” And she said, “What is the struggle?” And I said, “Well, I have a vulnerability issue. And you know, I know that vulnerability is kind of the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love. And I think I have a problem, and I just … I need some help.” And I said, “But here’s the thing: no family stuff, no childhood shit, I just …” (Laughter) “I just need some strategies.” (Laughter) (Applause) Thank you. Em … so she goes like this. (Laughter) And then I said, “It’s bad, right?” And she said, “It’s neither god nor bad.” (Laughter) “It just is what it is.” And I said,” Oh my God, this is going to suck.” (Laughter) And it did, and it didn’t. And it took about a year. And you know how there are people that, like when they realize that vulnerability and tenderness are important, that they kind of surrender and walk into it. A: that’s not me, and B: I don’t even hang out with people like that. (Laughter) For me, it was a year-long street fight. It was a slugfest. Vulnerability pushed, I pushed back. I lost the fight, but probably won my life back. And so then I went back into the research and spent the next couple of years really trying to understand what they, the whole-hearted, ah … what choices they were making and what … are we doing with vulnerability. Why do we struggle with this so much? Am I alone in struggling with vulnerability? No. So this is what I learned. We numb vulnerability – when we’re waiting for the call … it was funny, I sent something out on Twitter and on Facebook that says, “How would you define vulnerability? What makes you feel vulnerable?” And within an hour and a half, I had 150 responses. Because I wanted to know, you know, what’s out there. Having to ask my husband for help because I’m sick, and we’re newly married; initiating sex with my husband; initiating sex with my wife; being turned down; asking someone out; waiting for the doctor to call back; getting laid off; laying off people – this is the world we live in. We live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability. And I think there’s evidence - and it’s not the only reason this evidence exists, but I think it’s a huge cause – we are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history. The problem is - and I learned this form the research – that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want t feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. (Laughter) I don’t want to feel these. And I know that’s knowing laughter. I hack into your lives for a living. I know that. Ahaha … Oh God. (Laughter) You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes a dangerous cycle. Em … One of the things that I think we need to think about is why and how we numb. And it doesn’t just have to be an addiction. The other thing we do is we make everything that’s uncertain certain. Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. I’m right, you’re wrong. Shut up. That’s it. Just certain. The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are, the more afraid we are. This is what politics looks like today. There’s no discourse anymore. There’s no conversation. There’s just blame. You know how blame is described in the research? A way to discharge pain and discomfort. We perfect. If there’s anyone who wants their life to look like this, it would be me, but it doesn’t work. Because what we do is we take fat from our butts and put it in our cheeks, (Laughter) which just I hope in 100 years people will look back and go, “Wow.” (Laughter) And we perfect, most dangerously, our children. Let me tell you what we think about children. They’re hardwired for struggle when they get here. And 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 and 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 we’ll end the problems I think we see today. We pretend that what we do doesn’t have an effect on people. We do that in our personal lives. We do that corporate – whether it’s a bailout, an oil spill, a recall – we pretend like what we’re doing doesn’t have a huge impact on other people. I would say to companies, this is not our first rodeo, people. We just need you to be authentic and real and say, “We’re sorry. We’ll fix it.” But there’s another way, and I’ll leave you with this. This is what I have found: to let ourselves to be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; To love with our whole hearts even though there’s no guarantee – and that’s really hard, and I can tell you as a parent, that’s excruciatingly difficult – to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” Just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.” And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, that says, “I’m enough.”, then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves. That’s all I have. Thank you. (Applause)

Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability (20:20) -

Extensive Listening:

If you are interested in this clip, you might be interested in the following relevant ones on the research of Brene Brown:
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