Brene Brown: Authenticity, Connection, Vulnerability, Shame and Guilt

“Connection is why we are all here.” (3:12) What Brené Brown is talking about is so universal, yet beautifully applies to those struggling with the shame that herpes can bring. Shame (fear of disconnection) is what unravels connection… something we all live for. And what is shame? She goes on to explain that shame is the part of us that says “is there something about me that if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?” (4:41) And the power of keeping shame hidden only strengthens it: “No one wants to talk about [shame] and the less you talk about it, the more you have it.” (4:57) So the question then becomes, even with this shame, how do we become connected? “In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen [vulnerability].” (5:24) The nugget she pulled from her decade of this work in social work, thousands of personal stories and tireless research was this one variable that produced connection: “The people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe that they are worthy of love and belonging. That’s it.” (7:24) Herpes can be the perfect excuse for us to convince ourselves we aren’t worthy or it can lead to the proof that we are. It’s our decision.

Everyone has shame. Some people are better at hiding it than others. But it doesn’t mean it’s not there. We have a strange tendency – I do it, you do it, we all do it – to compare our insides with everyone else’s outsides. Time and time again I would hear myself saying, “Look at that person, they look sooooo happy. I’ll bet you they don’t have herpes.”

People with herpes are confronted with a very physical and intimate version of shame on an ongoing basis. Our automatic reaction is to go numb and look the other way, waiting for it to go away so we can get back to our lives. But what if there was something important we were turning away from? It could be an opportunity for us to literally be faced with this shame. The intense vulnerability inherent in fully experiencing the shame – seeing it, feeling it and talking about it – allows the shame to diminish.

What if herpes were a physical manifestation of the deep shame or guilt we were already holding onto in a different way? It just brings what used to be hidden as emotions and feelings into a more physical version. We can either suppress and deny it or face it head on and come out the other side understanding that we are already whole as we are. Only experiencing the painful aspects of life can allow us to welcome in the joyful aspects, too.