The Vulnerability of Storytelling

There are many ways to talk about the moments that make you feel most vulnerable. Many people point to Brené Brown’s work, summarized beautifully in her TED talk The Power of Vulnerability, as a prime example of how to talk about the difficult parts of our lives. I recently read through her book Daring Greatly (admittedly late to the game on this one) and a section of the book is about oversharing.

I immediately began to wonder “how much is too much? Where is that line for me?”

Brené Brown suggests that “vulnerability is based on mutuality and requires boundaries and trust. It’s not oversharing, it’s not purging, it’s not indiscriminate disclosure, and it’s not celebrity-style social media information dumps.” I’ve never shared something in a group setting that could hurt someone else. This is not always easy. Some of the most impactful moments of my life center around relationships. I’d like to discuss elements of my life that involve other people, but I don’t. I don’t want to overshare and hurt someone else. My boundary is that “if I wouldn’t tell this story with the person involved in the room, I’m not going to share it.” This keeps me from “indiscriminately disclosing.”

“Oversharing is not vulnerability. In fact, it often results in disconnection, distrust and disengagement.” -Brené Brown, Daring Greatly 

That’s why when I see things like this, a TEDxUF talk by Maria Carter in 2014, that I get so invested and moved. She talks about how when she learned that she has cancer, her life as she knew it, fell apart. She doesn’t blame anyone for this, but sees that she has a choice. She makes the bold decision to not seek treatment for her cancer. To many, this would be oversharing, but she believes in us, as an audience. She is not looking for attention or sympathy. She believes that her experience will encourage and inspire us. She uses her vulnerability without oversharing.

It helps me to realize that sharing your vulnerability helps you to be authentic, but the context has to be right. Brené Brown says that “using vulnerability is not the same thing as being vulnerable; it’s the opposite.” Maria is being vulnerable to bring others into her world and inspire them, not using vulnerability to elicit attention or sympathy. When people, including myself, share their stories at Self Narrate functions, we are being vulnerable. We are not using our vulnerability for attention or affection.

Being vulnerable is the key to story sharing.