Vulnerability, DBT, and Brene Brown

person sitting in therapy session

What do these three have in common? What even is vulnerability? Who is Brene? Well, we are going to work through those questions in this latest blog discussing DBT’s ability to help us live a life worth living. 

Brene’s Ted Talk “The Power of Vulnerability” given 13 years ago discusses some important ideas that will be shared here. One of the first is to see that as people we tend to see vulnerability as a weakness. In her words from the talk, “vulnerability is the core of shame and fear; also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.” That presents a type of dialectic that this important practice of vulnerability can both be found with shame and fear as well as joy, belonging, love, and creativity. This can seem difficult to comprehend that vulnerability might be an adaptive skill to learn. Yes, learning vulnerability is what it takes. Why do we struggle with vulnerability? Because it can feel tremendously uncomfortable; it holds us on that edge of shame/fear and the chance to open to joy and so much more. 

How Does this Apply to DBT? 

According to Brene, she would call that a “whole-hearted” life. In her talk she referenced some qualities that can be attributed to whole-hearted living: people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy of the love and belonging. Other qualities are: courage, compassion, connection, and vulnerability. Also, letting ourselves be seen; love with whole heart and without guarantees; practice gratitude and joy; and believe we are enough. 

Recall the quote shared in the first DBT blog about mindfulness is how we befriend ourselves and our experiences. Our experiences are vulnerable, uncomfortable; it’s hard to befriend ourselves if we are judging ourselves too harshly. The work of DBT is to learn to lean into the discomfort of feeling, seeing, knowing ourselves and create a life worth living. 

These things sound wonderful and truly can help life feel more bearable. It does mean that we have to lean into the discomfort that comes with shame, fear, and other depleting emotions. Brene discusses in her talk that we cannot selectively numb emotions; when we numb, everything is numbed. Directly from her talk she says that “we are the most in debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history.” We try and make uncertain things certain; we attempt to perfect things; we pretend that what we do doesn’t have an impact; we blame which is a way to discharge pain and discomfort. 

In our fulcircle moment, DBT skills are largely to help us manage distress (that makes us feel vulnerable), be mindful of our (vulnerable) experiences, accept, and regulate our emotions (that make us feel vulnerable). Here are a few more distress tolerance skills to add to the tool box – 

STOP Skill: 

S – stop, freeze in your tracks. Try visualizing a red STOP sign in front of you. 

T – take a step back; mentally or physically and notice your breath. Let yourself become “unglued” from the situation. 

O – observe by noticing what is around you, what the situation is, what you are thinking and feeling. 

P – proceed mindfully and act with awareness. 

TIPP Skill: can be used to bring down the intensity of a distressing moment. These are effective when you are in extreme distress – “when at your max.” 

T – tip the temperature by changing your body temperature; we can quickly decrease the intensity of an emotion. Try an ice pack on your face, around your eyes and cheeks. Drink cold water; splash some cold water on your face or neck. 

I – intense exercise by engaging in intense cardio/aerobic exercise. This engages the body in a way that deescalates emotions. 

P – paced breathing; try slowing your breathing down to 5 or 6 breaths a minute. 

P – paired muscle relaxation; practice tensing your muscles as you breathe in for 5-6 seconds. Notice that feeling. Then relax them as you breathe out paying attention to how it feels as you do it. You can do this with every muscle from the top of your head to your toes. 

There are numerous YouTube videos you can find to aid with the paced breathing and paired muscle relaxation. 

Paced Breathing: 

Paired Muscle Relaxation: 

If you are interested in learning more about whole-hearted qualities and how you are doing with yours, checkout Brene’s whole-hearted inventory