25: Of Apples and Badassery

You say often, “I would give, but only to the deserving.” The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pastures. They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.

Kahil Gibran

Earlier this week I posted a comment to Leah Marshall’s Facebook Esther Perel Discussion Group related to Brene Brown’s discussion of what is, and is not, “badassery.”

This is a theme within Brown’s writings and research on vulnerability.

I’m reposting my comment, and the complete quote from Brown below:


“Emotional stoicism is not badassery.”

I love everything about this quote from Brown: “Emotional stoicism is not badassery. Blustering posturing is not badassery. Swagger is not badassery. Perfectionism is about the furthest thing in the world from badassery.”

IMO, being vulnerable enough to lose it all is badassery.

I lost everything out of fear of conflict, a grandiose expectation that my role was to protect everyone, and a pride-filled unwillingness to ask for help. It was the opposite of vulnerability. By trying to hold onto what I hold dear I betrayed my integrity, honor, life, and loves. I lost a life I adored.

A vulnerability is a radical acceptance recognizing the impermanence of everything. If I had been willing to lose everything I might have been able to live more congruently with my life and loves.

From that post grew a conversation including this question from Natacha:

Having been afraid to be vulnerable what would have helped you take that step before losing everything? Do you think anything would have or did the stakes have to be that high for change to occur?

I spent last night sussing out an answer. Below is my short and long answers.

Short Answers


Q#1: Having been afraid to be vulnerable what would have helped you take that step before losing everything?

I defer to Alain de Botton, The Course of Love, “Never having been betrayed sets up poor preconditions for remaining faithful. Evolving into genuinely more loyal people requires us to suffer through some properly innoculative episodes, in which we feel for a time limitlessly panicked, violated and on the edge of collapse. Only then can the injunction not to betray our spouses evolve from a bland bromide into a permanently vivid moral imperative.”

I had to lose it all.

Loss and pain was the only thing that was going to strip me of my bravado, into learning, and open the door for a better life. My lies and secrets were built around trying to not be seen as weak and lose my place as my xp’s Hero. I really didn’t know who I was to my xp without my armor and white horse.

By her actions post-discovery, now I know.

This is what we both needed if we were ever going to move through our Patterns together. She decided she isn’t interested in doing that with me. An understandable choice.


Q#2: Do you think anything would have or did the stakes have to be that high for change to occur?

“The wise man learns from someone else’s mistakes, the smart man learns from his own, and the stupid one never learns.”

I think there are plenty of people wiser and smarter than me. I think there are plenty of people far dumber and less aware. For me, I think the stakes needed to be dramatic.

To paraphrase, Darth Vader, “The pride is strong with this one.” Maybe someone else will be wise enough to learn from my mistakes.

I may fall into one of the two latter categories. I still sorting through that.

Time will tell.

Longer Answer


First, let me clarify, contrary to anything I may have said, I do not have a fear of being vulnerable. I utilize a vulnerability in unskillful ways. I am often vulnerable…just in a way undermined by other areas of outsized unskillfulness and ignorance.

As a result, there are no appropriate boundaries on my vulnerability. I am too open at the beginning of the relationship and slowly back away the more I become emotionally invested.

I’m sure there is a word for that.

One of the many benefits of this experience is I recognize I carry a misunderstanding in my life and how vulnerability is applied in relationships. I would have argued I was often vulnerable with my xp, in my marriage to K, and in my personal relationships. After all, just as my relationship is more than the sum of my betrayal, so am I.

However, my family of origin issues, multiple abusive foundational relationships, and physical and emotional abuse from family and peers trained me to equate vulnerability with weakness. Primarily, asking for help, and needing or wanting someone is being weak.

At times I have said I want vulnerability but often I conflate emotional stoicism as patience, posturing as toughness, swagger as confidence, and perfectionism as achievable expectations.

Being vulnerable meant having things used against me and held over my head. Anything that made me vulnerable required me to hide it. After all, I’ve had multiple relationships where any vulnerability eventually was leveraged by others for power. This is a root problem in many homes where emotional and physical abuse is the status quo.

Of course, this is hard to admit, right?

Van by the river

Don’t even get me started on how my experience in the Marine Corp Infantry impacted my perceptions of power, strength, vulnerability, weakness, sex, and identity.

In my family I was referred to as too sensitive, taking things too personally, being too serious, and caring too much about what happens to others. I was told repeatedly by family, peers, and adults that, “my skin was too thin” and I needed to “toughen up.” While I do believe there is some truth, after all some of my reactions were immature, I also think some of that is code speak for calling me immature, weak, and naive. When I think on it I can hear the shame I felt hearing those words, even if it wasn’t their intentions it is certainly is how I often interpreted it.

I’m the lone empath in my family. I was the peacemaker and hero. Even today my motto, “e Pluribus Unum” is derided by my family as progressive claptrap. Their mindset is much more aligned with “Every man for themselves” and “What is mine is mine and what is yours is mine.” Although my parents have grown a bit as they’ve aged and come to recognize the need for, and use of, social services, handicap access, and inter- and intra-dependent relationships.

There was little room to learn how to express feelings, needs, and wants in a way that is vulnerable when it is met with derision, contempt, competing interests, and sarcasm. So I don’t think I was afraid of vulnerability as much as having a definition that equated it with weakness resulting in abuse.

I just never learned what it looks like in a healthy model…if those actually exist.

out of order text on persons belly

For example, I do not like people playing with my belly button. I don’t know why and it doesn’t matter why. Just please don’t stick your fingers in it or poke it. I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable.

I had a sexual partner that playfully did it one time not knowing. I was very clear and asked her not to do it again. They thought it was a weird and silly request. From that point forward it turned into a game for her. When she was irritated with me she’d try poking me there. If she felt playful she’d try poking me there. And my irritation occasionally escalated to me getting up and leaving the room or yelling at her for doing it.

Worse yet, in response, I’d find passive aggressive ways to strike back including pressing on her nose and say, “Beep.”

She hates.

But it allowed me to feel I had something over her to protect my belly button. Weird how power exchanges work. Or is it a hostage negotiation? Eye for an eye? Mutually assured destruction?

I digress.

Anyway, this woman treated my belly-button “issue” as a silly and unreasonable request. She found power in my “weakness”. As a result of how she responded it made me feel less willing to be vulnerable with her. She’d suggest I was overreacting and I’d feel shame and small again.

This story reminds me of a quote from Alain de Botton, “There is no one more likely to destroy us than the person we marry.”

My point is, I tried to be vulnerable about what should have been a little thing and I learned that this mostly really excellent person seemed to take joy in doing the exact opposite of what I needed her to do…or not do.

This experience is consistent with how I felt about being vulnerable growing up in my FOO.

Isn’t it odd what we remember?

But now, I realize that being vulnerable means telling someone I care about how much I hate being touched there…but then being open to exploring why. If she doesn’t poke me, you can be assured I am intending to ask for her to marry me.


However, one of the benefits of my rebuilding year is that I’ve been forced to redefine nearly everything I understand about my life if I want to embrace myself completely. That includes issues of forgiveness, compassion, understanding, acceptance, my belly button (physical safety), and most importantly vulnerability.

And this is why from the very beginning I have embraced the writings of Perel, Tara Brach, Mark Nepo, Alain de Botton, the Gottman’s, and of course Brene Brown. I see clearly that nearly everything I have done in my relationships over the last 30 years has been tainted by this misunderstanding of vulnerability.

As I’ve sought to better understand myself and my identity I have adopted Brown’s definition of vulnerability: vulnerability = taking a risk + facing uncertainty + being emotionally open.

Through this math, I have developed a rough calculus for when and where in my life I am opting for safety over vulnerability. You cannot be vulnerable and safe at the same time. They are mutually exclusive. You cannot find a solution to an equation if you are working with the wrong assumptions.

I realize, as I suss this out, I opt for safety and as a result, miss out on the meaningful relationships and intimacy I quietly crave. My lying and secret keeping were about safety and not simply manipulation…although it may look the same from the outside.

However, the intentions matter to me.

I chased safety with my xp. I did this in my marriage. I’ve done this repeatedly throughout my life.

I’m still doing it in some ways.


For example, recently, I took a job I know I will hate because I’m seeking some stability after living out of hotels and AirBnb’s for 10 of the last 15 months, driving 85K miles across 16 states. There is no risk here. There is no uncertainty. It is a safer option and a steady paycheck. I know this about my choices and I’m doing it anyway because I need some stability even if it is just a bridge.

This is one of the reasons I have embraced Brown’s writings and teachings. Whereas Perel and the Gottman’s have provided me with models and tools for improving my relationships, Brown has provided the language around vulnerability that is helping me better define the variables and equations so I can better apply the models and tools I’m learning.

It is why I blab on an on about vulnerability. I really believe it is the only armor keeping me safe from my own self-destructive fears. Only though vulnerability will I find genuine courage without the traps of emotional stoicism, blustering posturing, self-aggrandizing swagger, and perfectionism.

I’m not doing it well but I am doing it…but I keep telling myself this is a practice.

braving brown

14 thoughts on “25: Of Apples and Badassery

  1. I have found that when I am ok with myself, as I am, that I can be completely authentic and vulnerable because I am not afraid someone will use me against me. I embrace rigorous honesty as a way of life. It has not been an easy change, but over many years it has become who I am.

    And if they do try to use it against me it is clearly a problem with them.

    This life philosophy has dramatically reduced my stress and anxiety.

    1. And this is where I am headed.

      The anxiety over how someone reacts to me being honest about my wants and needs or the feeling about being responsible for their feelings creates emotional panic.

      Immense pressure to not make waves because if they are upset they won’t love me, they will abandon me, and I will be left alone.

      This is going to take practice but I’m doing it anyway.

      1. Yes. I completely understand. I almost drank myself to death because of that emotional panic. I remember it well.

        It can be overcome. Yoga was my path.

  2. This post really made me think about all the times I have felt vulnerable in my life. I am a kind of stand on your own 2 feet kind of person, and a if you don’t like me oh well kind of person, and it made me wonder how I got there. I realised that it went way back to when I was the youngest child in my lane, and when all the others were at school I was left on my own to play in the back alley. I think it started there, I only had myself and I had to rely on myself.
    Like you I am an empath, I walk in that persons shoes, I cry with them I feel their pain, that can work for and against you. By being able to feel someone else’s pain I was able to consider things from Rich’s position, but being a stand on your own 2 feet kind of girl, and also being someone who can walk away I am also a contradiction in terms.
    I have always said that I am not an easy person to get to know. A thought provoking post for me. Thank you.

    1. I’ve never given much weight to how birth order impacts relationship develop but the more I read the more I think there is something to it…toss in an alcoholic parent of the depressive and manic type and I start to appreciate the confluence of experiences and how it impacts how we interact with the world.

  3. My problem was never wanting to be vulnerable to others. It was my poor choices around choosing to whom to make myself vulnerable as well as the speed of light pace at which I was doing so.

    I was that girl who would be in a convention center and meet a man at a water cooler and end up telling my life story to him within the first 5 minutes.

    And I wondered how I ended up with toxic, abusive, narcissistic men my entire life?

    Being vulnerable happens with small amounts of information being dispensed over time and trust being built. Who knew.

    Coming from a dysfunctional family of origin I had no healthy template to know what healthy boundaries looked like. Hell, I didn’t know what healthy anything looked like.

    All I knew was I had the capacity to love and the capacity for empathy.

    The rest I’m still learning ❤️

      1. I am a friend of Bill W. and have an addict nature so I would say you are spot on.

      2. I’ve been a friend of Lois for a long time. I know Bill W very well too.

        Bill and Lois W both know about infidelity too. Alcohol is a grease for the most unskillful acts.

  4. Hear hear, in the rooms I have heard lots about unskillful acts and shared my own. The rooms have taught me much about humility, practicing self-forgiveness and being “right sized.”

    Hell, one 85 year old friend with a 40 year coin and wisdom from Virginia, told me my self-deprecation was being selfish and self-centered to the extreme but just in a different direction.

    After I shared how much of a loser I felt I was one day, she approached me afterwards and said,”take yourself off the cross and save the wood for someone else. you are just another bozo on the bus. you are not special.”

    I initially was sort of shocked. Felt kicked. After processing it, I realized she was right. She was a tough old bird but her message was clear, not to beat the tar out of myself.

    Amen, amen.

    1. I love those old timers.

      30 years ago I heard an old timer say, “they don’t lock you up for thinking crazy, they lock you up for acting crazy.”

      That is stuck with me since the day I heard it.

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