Vulnerability...to a Fault
If you regularly read our newsletters, and/or follow us online, you know that we really appreciate the work of Brené Brown and share her teachings often. Sara might even be considered borderline obsessed at times. And if you know Brené’s work, you know that she teaches a lot about vulnerability and the benefits of being more vulnerable in our lives. But even she says there are attempts at “fake vulnerability” that ultimately annoy people and erode trust. Vulnerability, like anything, can be taken too far.
According to Brené, vulnerability is “the emotion we experience during times of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.” When we are truly vulnerable, we maintain personal boundaries and we have intentions behind what we are sharing and exposing. When vulnerability is fake or disingenuous, we can often feel it. It may come across as a marketing ploy or form of oversharing. Instead of feeling connected, as we usually do with true vulnerability, in the case of fake vulnerability, we feel disconnected.
Can you think of a time you were exposed to such fake vulnerability? In our societal push for people to be vulnerable and authentic, it’s almost become a “one up-manship”, especially online. “You think you’re life is the pits, listen to my story…” Or as Brené talks about being more brave and vulnerable in the workplace in her book Dare to Lead. She calls out spotting fake vulnerability in leaders, where the leader who acts like they are encouraging the people they lead to be more vulnerable without creating the space, especially psychological safety (the belief that you won’t be punished when you make a mistake), to do so.
Sound a little - make that a lot - like medicine? Many people we've spoken to over the years, including ourselves in certain training and workplace environments, would not have had the psychological safety nets in place to be vulnerable. Vulnerable acts in our medical culture don't always feel safe, such as admitting to a medical error without being provoked; telling colleagues you have a substance misuse problem; confronting an attending that you don't agree with their management; sharing a recent exam failure with a colleague. Vulnerability takes courage, starting from the top.
Fake vulnerability on the other hand, isn’t courageous. Brené talks about people misrepresenting her work on vulnerability by trying to correlate it to “disclosure or emotional purging”. It comes back to “what is the intention?” - encourage connection or push a personal agenda. We’ve seen this on Twitter where someone purges all of their emotions to the point others who see the tweet report it for fear that it’s a cry for help with suicidal risk. The intention and boundaries aren't clear and the connection with others is lost.
Brené sums this up perfectly: “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.”