If you don’t know who Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW is, it’s time to get acquainted with her. She’s an author, TED talk speaker extraordinaire, and a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She is one wise woman whose insights every person with an eating disorder needs to learn from. Here are some nuggets of wisdom from an article she wrote on the “Physics of Vulnerability” in the May/June 2017 issue of Psychotherapy Networker (pp. 32-33).
Brown believes that if you’re not allowing yourself to feel vulnerable often enough or refuse to move out of your comfort zone, you won’t get anywhere in life. I would add that if you spend most of your time obsessing about how to do something right and always need to feel safe and sure of an outcome, you not only won’t get very far in recovery, but you’ll have your eating problems for the rest of your life. It’s heartbreaking to watch clients or friends stick rigidly to what they know: dieting, relying on self-control, toughing life out alone, weighing themselves, and trying not to feel emotional pain.
Brown and I aren’t simply talking about being vulnerable with others, but with yourself as well. One way to do that is to expect to fail along the way because it’s going to happen whether you like it or not. She urges people to be “all in” while knowing that they will encounter failure. There’s true comfort in recognizing this paradox—rather than trying to avoid it—on the way to success, while believing that you’ll recover. For most adults, the worst part of our lives is over. If you’ve come this far, you’ll likely make it the rest of the way. But, if you think you got here by keeping your feelings to yourself and never showing your “true” self or taking risks, then you’ll always fear that happening.
One of my favorite ideas that Brown puts forth is that we may long for the safety of not being vulnerable and also yearning to be more open and expressive. That’s okay, she says. It’s part of being human to feel frightened and desire security. But it’s also part of being human to move forward in spite of fear. So, feel scared and wish that you weren’t taking a giant step, and take it anyway.
Here are some things to increase your vulnerability, which at the same time will grow you stronger: Tell a friend about your eating problems, give up weighing yourself for a day or a week, gall your former therapist to say that you’re ready to return to growing and healing, throw out your calorie book and rely on your appetite signals to guide your eating, confess something you did that you think is awful to someone who loves you, stop making foods good or bad, and make friends with failure.