walking the tightrope: thoughts on vulnerability and hurt

Warning: I’m breaking my own rule of “No posts when you’re really upset.” 

Earlier this morning CNN ran an op/ed that I wrote on authenticity and risk-taking. In a collaboration with TED, they also posted my 2012 TED talk on shame

Ironically, the essay is about the how difficult but important it is to show up and let ourselves be seen and the TED talk focuses on how gender norms are used as shame tools. 

I knew there would be discussion and disagreement – especially because I talk about the word authenticity – a loaded term now that it’s been coopted and overused. I knew some people would hate it and other people would find fault with my writing or my argument. These are all risks that I’m willing to take because I believe in my work. 

But I’ll be honest with you, I’ll never get used to the cruelty and personal attacks. 

I’m never prepared for being called stupid, ugly, and pathetic. I’m ready for a good debate on the topic, but I’m not ready for things like this:

When I read this along with some of the others (which are apparently being removed), I burst into tears.  

I wanted to hide.

I wanted to scream, “Screw you, kinderlove! Where’s your frickin’ essay?”

I wanted to defend myself. “I know I look terrible. They spray painted my face for the High-Def TED talk and it makes me look like I’m melting.” 

I wanted to keep the people I love from reading the comments so they wouldn’t feel sorry for me. 

But mostly I just cried and questioned if the work is worth the vulnerability. 

I’m writing this because I’m always asked how I became so strong and immune to the criticism. The answer is that I am strong, but I’m not immune. It hurts. Like hell. Even though I know that “it’s not about me” or “some people are projecting” – it still hurts. I’m human.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. When we stop caring what other people think we lose our capacity for connection. When we are defined by what people think we lose our willingness to be vulnerable.

2. When we close ourselves off to feedback we stop growing. When we open ourselves up to ongoing cruelty, we shut down to self-protect. 

Showing up in our lives – our families, our marriages, our careers – is a tightrope walk. My balance bar is the shame resilience I’ve cultivated over the past several years, my family, and my faith.

There are places like TED.com and NPR.org where the comments are tough, but fair and focused on the work. Users sign in and take responsibly for their feedback. I’ll continue to share my work there and read those comments. 

There are places that represent the worst in all of us. Where people are careless with their criticism and take pleasure in hurting people – even other commenters. kinderlove got attacked for attacking me and that’s not helpful.

I’m going to stop reading those comments, but more importantly, I’m also going to stop contributing to those venues.

So, to all of you who want to help . . . take a stand. Embrace difference. Be respectful. Let’s take responsibility for our comments. 

And to all of you who are sharing your work, your ideas, and yourself with the world – thank you. I know it’s not easy and I know being strong doesn’t stop it from hurting. 

I’m still standing. I’m not done. And, as Brandi Carlile sings in The Story:

All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am.”



Leave a Comment

  1. Pingback: 6 Things to Do When Maslow's Hierarchy Becomes a Clusterfuck | SaggyWithNipples

  2. Andrew

    In all seriousness, I just finished watching your videos online…and I think you're beautiful. Don't stop what you are doing. Thank you for bringing hope to millions.

  3. Dee

    A few days ago I came across your first TED Talk about the power of vulnerability and it meant the world to me. I felt like someone finally understood how I had been feeling. And then I noticed your latest TED Talk video and again, for the first time I felt like I wasn't alone! I felt as though someone thought about things and reacted similarly to things the way I would have! I Honestly I think it's already been life changing for me as I have been struggling with dealing with a disability. I normally wouldn't leave a comment but it made me so sad to hear how your feelings were hurt and that you may not use those venues, including TED Talk. You absolutely did not deserve this. Please know that even though some people do the things that they do, if it wasn't on TED Talk I wouldn't have found your message which was the inspiration I so so SO dearly needed!! I can't help to think there are so many more that you have touched that don't comment (if I hadn't seen this blog entry I probably wouldn't have).

    P.S. I thought you looked beautiful on both videos and above all, your heart is extraordinary! Thank you so much!


  4. April

    First of all – you're beautiful! And brave! And bold! And you're giving everyone else the courage to be themselves. Thank you. Your work is worth it. It's made a difference to my life. Thank you for your vulnerability. 🙂

  5. Jane

    Wow, what a great post. Good for you!! Thank you for sharing how you feel – it makes me feel a bit more normal to feel hurt.

    I am going to ponder your words, and, ironically, make my way through the comments here – I think there's some great stuff your readers share!

    I had two experiences that dovetailed this week. First, going to a professional workshop for the first time in ages, and feeling rejected by someone I know. Added to some irritating stuff in the workshop and I was really struggling with a tumult of feelings. I almost didn't go to a talk that night about love, which turned into a talk about shame and vulnerability… you were quoted, Dr Brene!

    I am so glad I didn't let the negative feelings overwhelm me, because the things mentioned in the talk hit the spot. I understand more than I have before why I have avoided these workshops and talks, and generally any meetings for my profession. It also explains why I've withdrawn from many friends and acquaintances. I am sensitive and have been hurt a lot. I withdrew to protect myself – I was sick of these feelings, and the toll they took on me, the days of recovery needed.

    I won't be able to step back into the arena (combat!) immediately, but I'm just a bit more aware of what is happening. Your blog post fits in with this growing awareness. Again – thank you. God moves in mysterious ways.

    PS I think you always look lovely, for what it's worth!

  6. Lou

    Hi, I just wanted to say thank you. Because of your TED talk I found about your work and bought your book "A arte da imperfeição" (I'm from Brazil, I'm afraid I don't know the original name).

    I can't say how much I enjoy your book and how much it is helping me. So: thank you. I'm sorry to read that some one treat you with disrespect, I also feel really hurt when that happens to me. But know this: I think you were very corajosa (courageous)! Thank you!!!

  7. Lindsay

    I was in a very bad way 5 weeks ago and thanks to your talks, I have found value and meaning in my life, and discovered how much I want to live with authenticity and courage, so please, don't stop your work, it is sooooooooooooooooooo valuable.

  8. Troy

    You wouldn't have ever had the passion to change the world that you have right this moment if you were not as intimate with hurting as you are. Own the sensitivity. Own the sappiness. Own every piece of your past that holds on. If it were not for all of that, we would have never met (virtually counts). You have made me a better person without ever demanding anything in return. Untouchable people don't do that. We own that.

  9. Kathy Moran

    Thank you, you inspire me on my journey!

  10. This is my first visit to your blog. I recently discovered your TED talks and as I listened to them my emotions rollercoastered, because I recognised my own responses to my messy life, and my (hopeless) attempts to tidy and organise!

    I am touched by your post though because here in the UK a new TV series about the romans has been launched by Mary Beard and she has been cruelly vilified by the critic AA Gill. Read her response here, I hope it will make you laugh.


  11. this blog is awesome because of your writing , you are magician with your words .

  12. City Mermaid

    You are incredibly beautiful, inside and out. What you are sharing and writing about with such courage and honesty will change so many people's lives. I know it has changed mine already. When you are out there and extending yourself, you will always find some nay sayers. They are hard to ignore, but maybe if you can shift your focus on those of us who have been so inspired by the beauty of your presence, then it might feel a little more worth it being the Angel with the sword of Truth.

  13. Teresa Lin

    I see beauty every time I come here. And I'm not talking about the groundbreaking beautiful work you do and share with the world. I'm talking about the beauty of your face illuminated from the light within. You are so lovely, Brene, inside and out.

    Remember this?

    "Don't try to win over the haters. You're not the jackass whisperer."

    Thank you Brene.

  14. Matthew

    There is no pain you experience that can't be used to comfort others.

  15. Em

    I think you're gorgeous Xx

    ..a book that was given to me lately might alleviate the ummph of having to deal w this crap and could bring a smile to your face – The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.

    Just a thought =)

  16. Tony

    This post is the definition of vulnerability and courage. Thank you for being so brave Brene, its inspiring

  17. Stephanie Esparza


    I'm sorry you were attacked like that, because you don't deserve it. Your ideas and talks mean the world to me. Your words resonate with me, and i share them with everyone i can. You're work is more meaningful than I think you'll ever know. please keep going. <3


  18. Thank you for writing such an honest and difficult post. I think most of us want to hide from criticisms, to shield ourselves, and the people who care about us, from them. Yet sometimes it is best to face them, to lessen their power over us by discussing them with as much common sense as they deserve. I love that you wrote this post. And you need not fear, your vulnerability is what makes you loved, it is what makes all of us loved, and it makes you strong enough to be hurt perhaps, but not de-stabalised, by any negativity.

    Your voice and your thoughts are outstanding and incredibly valuable!

  19. I had a recent anonymous comment like this and it's still killing me (unfortunately, I'm pretty sure I know who said it which makes it worse). And while I don't have your readership, I still wanted to scream and cry (well, I did cry). I think about that comment when I'm driving and have nothing to distract me. I get so many good comments, so why does one rule my life?

    I really needed to read this post today, and see how you feel about things like this — it helped me change some of my thinking. I don't feel as bad now.

  20. Cam

    I've posted both of your videos on my Facebook & I think your talks are absolutely incredible. The moment I came across your first video on vulnerability I was astounded & excited because I felt that I too was constantly running from what I have always viewed as weakness. I found a really incredible guy who told me that "you can't always stand outside the fire" like the song by Garth Brooks. So I didn't & I let myself love him every day being vulnerable knowing that I am young & chances are it won't work out. But between you & him & God I have faith. 🙂 So thank you for being bold & allowing yourself to be put in a position where sadly people do saying hateful things. Everyone I show you to loves you. You have more people rooting for you than against you I promise!

  21. Josh J

    YOU inspire me. YOU get me thinking. YOU are so very talented. There are so many wonderful things to find and discover in your work and I am grateful that my therapist told me I needed to check you out. I have been a fan for about a year now. Thank you for you…

    AND, even though I don't "know" you, I do know that YOU are beautiful. Your work is certainly a reflection of that. You just keep doing what you do and try not to pay attention to the haters. Maybe something you said struck a chord with this anonymous person, made them think just a little bit too much or feel a little bit too uncomfortable…

    Chin up, girl. 🙂


  22. Karl

    Adding my voice to those who appreciate your work and are grateful and touched that you share it freely with a kind heart. THANK YOU! You have helped me and friends to shift our perspectives in tough places and helped us to cope. THANK YOU! You have helped me get back to feeling some whimsy and hope. THANK YOU!

  23. I love what you say: "When we stop caring what other people think we lose our capacity for connection." I've tried to stop caring what other people think, and it doesn't work. I DO care. Anyway, I just appreciate that this is not necessarily a bad thing (depending, of course, on what you do with the vulnerability it creates). Thanks for giving words to something I've been pondering!

  24. I've just heard your talk on vulnerability and translated your latest TED talk into Danish. You have truly inspired me – the work you do, the way you share it and your ability to tell stories. For me your courage (with heart and all) is a sign post that allows me to believe, that the path I think I see unfolding for me is in fact there!

  25. Victwa

    Wow. Two things:

    1) Thank you for all the work you have done, and for being you. While you don't like writing posts while you are upset (and I understand that), I think this was an important one. You've gotten a lot of reassurance from other people, so I will not add to that, but I will thank you for modeling what you're talking about in your research. This is probably one of the hardest things to do as a leader, and I appreciate it deeply.

    2) This post could not have come at a better time in my life. I am 2 years into stepmotherhood, and let me tell you– it is a CONSTANT balance of trying to figure out how to be vulnerable enough to have connection and protected enough that I am not hurt by things constantly that don't have anything to do with me. Finding a way to show up enough to be me, who is hurt by things and has feelings, while also recognizing what are other peoples' projections is a daily challenge. However, most of the time, it feels like the well-meaning advice is "don't take it personally"– which obscures that what keeps me open for connection is the fact that it really MATTERS to me to be connected to the human beings around me, and as such, it will matter what they think of me.