According To This Vulnerability Researcher, We’re Facing A “Shame Epidemic”

Can you count the number of times you’ve ever made a mistake or failed at something? I know I can’t. I’ve failed so many times, I’ve lost track. Guess what? It’s okay to fail, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed because of it.

Brené Brown, a vulnerability researcher agrees. In her Ted Talk, she discusses this so-called “shame epidemic” our world is living in. Check out her talk here:

So why should shame, vulnerability, and failure be important to you? You’re in college. This is the prime of you’re life and it’s crucial that you experience all these concepts now before you graduate (if you haven’t already). Are you panicking yet?

Let’s break them down.


What does it mean to be vulnerable? To be vulnerable is to be easily susceptible to emotional and physical harms and attacks. And for most people, the negative connotation of this word makes it seem like a weak trait. Brown begins by arguing, “Vulnerability is not weakness.” Rather, she says it’s what gives us a more accurate measure of our own courage.

That courage leads us to become innovative, creative, and adaptive. These will be key elements once you graduate and start your career. Vulnerability fuels our lives, and without it, we cannot succeed, or even begin to fail.


We tend to recall these moments as some of the worst parts of our lives. Would you be surprised to hear someone call your moments of failure the best parts of your life? I know I would. Brown calls the Ted Talks the “failure conference,” because she believes not one person there has been afraid to fail. What does this tell us? No one has gone through life without making mistakes and failing.

Just look at Vera Wang. We know her to be a fashion designer today, but back in 1968, she failed to make the U.S. Olympic figure skating team. If she hadn’t failed early on in life, do you think she’d be where she is today? You have to fail before you can finally reach a point of success. The sooner we learn that failure is an option, the sooner we can feel less ashamed of doing it.


Shame is not guilt. Brown says the one defining difference is that shame is focused on the self, while guilt is focused on behavior. This means when you’re lying awake in bed at night, you’re thinking “I am bad,” not “I did something bad.” As much as we don’t want to talk about shame, we have to. Men and women know the same feeling of shame, but feel it for different reasons. Shocker, right?

Brown describes a woman’s shame as competing with expectations about who we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to act. She says if we combat shame with empathy, it cannot survive, and it needs not to survive.

So Lala ladies, I leave you with this.

Be vulnerable. Don’t be afraid to fail. And most important, forget about shame.

Alexandra Warner

Alexandra Warner, Ohio University Major: Journalism Her heart belongs to: Sephora and macarons - la petite French cookies Her guilty pleasures: Watching the Price is Right every morning at 11 and belting out the lyrics to Defying Gravity while driving alone

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