Brené Brown:

Authenticity, connection, vulnerability, shame (and herpes?)

“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 decades of 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)

And herpes can be the perfect excuse for us to convince ourselves we aren’t worthy or it can lead to discovery that always have been. 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 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 super intimate version of shame. Our automatic reaction might be 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 look at the shame, to see it for what it really is. 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 outbreaks are a physical manifestation of the deep shame or guilt we were already holding onto, but can now see? What if herpes is bringing what used to be hidden as emotions and feelings into a more physical version? We can either deny it or face it head on. Being courageous and seeing all the feelings that come up around herpes helps us come out the other side understanding that we are already whole as we are. Nothing is inherently wrong with us. We just have herpes. That’s it. And experiencing the painful aspects of life can allow us to more deeply welcome the joyful ones. The important part is who are we becoming in the face of this perceived obstacle? How are we turning strife to strength?

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