4 Characteristics of People Who Have Found the Key to Genuine Connection

With Brené Brown’s new special at the top of our Netflix queues, we wanted to revisit her now world-famous TEDTalk: The power of vulnerability. Meghan Stone expands on what Brown taught us.

by | May 29, 2019 | article

The famous poet Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Was this his sophisticated way of saying “no regrets” encouragingly? More than likely someone has told you to let your guard down or to allow yourself to be susceptible to the whims of life and love. While poetic sounding, the thought of actually doing those things can be terrifying. 

Vulnerability might make you feel like you’re shaking in your boots. You are not alone. Like everyone, you’re probably still learning how to welcome vulnerability and be nonresistant to the ebbs and flows of life. But what if we were able to shift our perspective and view vulnerability as a superpower — something that made us strong and whole?

Social worker, researcher, author, and storyteller Brené Brown’s approach to sensitive subjects like shame and vulnerability is refreshing and insightful. Most of us probably don’t spend much time thinking about vulnerability at all. When I think of vulnerability I immediately get that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach that you have as you’re getting strapped into the seat of a rollercoaster. Brown advocates for embracing vulnerability and explains why we should start considering vulnerability the gatekeeper to connection. The first step is identifying the difference between your authentic self and your potential with the façade you portray. Embracing vulnerabilities will transform our lives for the better. 

First, Brown reminds us that connection is why we’re here. With thousands of pieces of data over her 8 years of research, she found that people like to talk about heartbreak, exclusion, and disconnection before they talk about love, belonging, and connection. Why? Because as humans we all struggle with shame. Brown defines shame as “the fear of disconnection” or a deep feeling that we are not good enough, that we are not worthy. (Remember that last part.)

What is at the heart of shame is a deep vulnerability. So how do we take the plunge? How do we prevent ourselves from feeling robbed of connections because we shut off as a default defense mechanism? Our brain’s survival design triggers the fight-or-flight response. In other words, anything that generates an inkling of vulnerability makes us want to run for the hills.


Throughout her research she found that those who had a strong sense of love and belonging believed that they were worthy of love and belonging.

Throughout her research she found that those who had a strong sense of love and belonging believed that they were worthy of love and belonging. Those that didn’t have a sense of love and belonging feared that they didn’t deserve those things. That was the difference — the belief that you are worthy. Determined to take a closer look at this group of people who had such a strong sense of worthiness, love, and connection, Brown found that these people had a few things in common: 

A sense of courage

This courage might not be the kind that you typically think of. Brown is referring to the courage to be who you really are — to be imperfect. It doesn’t take a revolutionary act to be courageous. We develop courage by facing our fears and confronting big questions. When we function from a place of fear, we operate in a disingenuous way, depriving both ourselves and others of the truth.

A sense of compassion

These people were kind and compassionate to themselves first, which allowed them to be truly kind and compassionate to others. Compassion is cultivated through introspection.

True connection

They experienced true connection with others as a result of their own authenticity. They let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they are, which is fundamental for connection.

Fully embraced vulnerability

They didn’t see vulnerability as being good or bad, hard or easy; it was simply necessary. They believed their vulnerability also made them beautiful. They were willing to take risks in relationships, love with no guarantee of being loved back, try something with no guarantee of success, and invest in something that didn’t promise a desirable outcome.

This puzzled Brown because she wasn’t convinced that vulnerability was necessary for connection. But to her surprise, she found that although vulnerability is the core of fear, it is also the birthplace of love, creativity, joy and belonging. Vulnerability is a lot like a double-edged sword.

We can’t rub numbing creaming on vulnerability, fear, shame and the other unpleasant emotions without also numbing joy, gratitude and happiness.

We struggle with vulnerability because it makes most of us feel something we don’t love — like climbing the first hill of a rollercoaster. The issue is that we can’t selectively numb our emotions and instincts. We can’t rub numbing creaming on vulnerability, fear, shame and the other unpleasant emotions without also numbing joy, gratitude and happiness. Your vulnerabilities must be accepted by you to live an open, whole-hearted life.

None of us are made of stone. But when we avoid emotions for long enough, we can convince ourselves that we are. Brown has good news though!here is a way to start living differently right now. Here’s how:

  • Allow yourself to be truly seen by others for exactly who you are. Own your pain points.
  • Love with your whole heart, even when there is no guarantee that you will be loved back or that your heart will be protected. Cast the net that is your heart far and wide.
  • Practice gratitude and joy. Even in those moments when your feelings are so intense that they scare you, stop and be grateful that feeling vulnerable means that you are truly living.

Accept and believe that you are enough. You will be kinder and gentler to yourself and everyone around you.

It’s time we shed our armor. Even if you feel like you were born a cynic or a critic, it’s time to take on the vulnerability challenge, and recognizing your vulnerabilities is a great place to start. Playing it safe won’t leave you feeling fulfilled. We aren’t saying that embracing vulnerability won’t make feel like you are a jigsaw puzzle strewn across the floor at times. What we are promising is that when you begin welcoming the unwelcome, you make your heart a vast space for opportunities. Uncertainty can make us feel uncomfortable, but imagine this: you are seen and loved for who you are. You are able to see someone else and their vulnerabilities and love them just as they are. This is one of life’s most beautiful experiences. When walls come down, your greatest triumphs are right around the corner.

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