For the longest time there was a wall I couldn’t surpass as an actor. I didn’t know how to be fully emotionally vulnerable in my work. Every now and then I would hit on something and it would surprise me. I couldn’t get back there, and I didn’t understand why.
A few months ago, I saw a play that featured a word that I thought I understood, but realized I didn’t truly understand. The word was shame. I thought I had a sense of what shame was, and I had a feeling about its pervasiveness in our society, but it was a vague sense and a vague feeling.
As it turned out, Vulnerability and Shame were inextricably linked. Being vulnerable means being able to confront your shame.
According to researcher + storyteller Brené Brown, shame can be easily understood as “the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?” It’s the voice in your head that says, “I’m not skinny enough; I’m not smart enough; I’m not worthy enough; I’m not _________ enough.”
And the only way through our shame is “excruciating vulnerability.” “This idea [that], in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.”
This idea is incredibly powerful for actors and writers, all artists really. If you’re willing to be honest with all your fears about not being enough and let those shine through your characters, you’ve suddenly opened the most personal window into the soul. And the truly magical thing is that because everyone has shame, you are able to touch your audience on a deeply emotional level. It’s the whole “the more personal it is, the more universal it is” thing.
Sharing your challenges, your fears, your flaws, and your short comings is the fastest way to connect with another human being. From Brown: “The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.“
I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotations from Alan Bennett in The History Boys:
“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
I have been so inspired by Brené Brown and this new understanding of shame and vulnerability. I have been eager to implement it more intentionally into all of my work moving forward. It can be a scary place to examine, but I am buoyed by her assertion that “vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
See her incredible Ted Talks below: