So I’ve always thought that the best thing to do when I meet someone is to try to make a big splash, ya know, impress them. So I start pretty quickly in the introduction on my 'resume,' whether or not I’m given the fairly standard opportunity “So what do you do?” I try to get the phrases Master's Degree, yoga teacher, ten years in India, and Dating & Relationship Coach pretty quickly into the conversation. If I’m on a pretty good roll, I might even slip something in about my vintage motorcycle, honors for undergrad and grad school, my recent radio and magazine appearances (oooh, aaahhh…), and my current friend count on facebook. Okay, maybe not the bit about facebook, but you get the idea.
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My hope is that my new friend will reflect how impressed they are with me by the look on their face, tell me how amazing I am, then we will ride off into the sunset together with our brand new BFF necklaces. Oddly enough, it does not achieve the desired effect. In fact, it usually has the opposite. I notice my new “friend” yawning, starting to feel a little standoffish, and either beginning to one up my nice-to-meet-ya-resume or to look at their watch.
Sound familiar? If it does, it’s because this oft played script comes from the universal desire to connect with others. In fact, Brene Brown says we are neurobiologically wired to want to connect. It’s why we are here. So it’s not a bad thing that we try to impress the folks we meet, it’s just that it doesn’t get us what we really want--connection.
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'Shame is our fear of disconnection. We ask ourselves, “Is there something about me that if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection. Everyone has it and the less you talk about it the more you have it,”' says Brown. We hide behind our resume of accomplishments instead, and according to her research, all it does is increase our amount of shame. (BTW, research is just empirical validation of the very things we already know internally to be true.)
So what do we do about it?
Start to cultivate the opposite, or what Abraham Maslow (he’s the hierarchy of needs guy you may remember from Psych 101) called 'belongingness.' People who have a sense of worthiness have a strong sense of belonging and they believe that they are worthy of it. The opposite is true too of people who really struggle for it. Easy enough right?
Well no, the paradox is, to cultivate this sense of belonging, it requires us to do the opposite of our initial tendency to impress and instead--you ready for this--be vulnerable.