Narrative therapy assists in understanding a variety of socio-political issues in our society which varies from personal life, employment and industry. It is human nature to express feelings and qualities through narrative (Ingraham, 2017), crafting an individual persona which adheres to the values an individual may resonate with and believe in (Lang, 2013). It is important we recognise these deep-rooted values as they drive our decisions not only personally, but professionally in our decisions.
Branche (2016) notes that society prohibits us and frowns upon sharing vulnerabilities with others as it conveys weakness which is deeply embedded in the roots of our ancestry. This ideology is specifically prominent in men as it is seen as “weak, pitiful and de-masculating for men to be vulnerable” (Baraka, 2016). Social Darwinism from Dickens (2000) suggests that we disassociate the weak from ourselves to become stronger, as they will eventuate into nothingness, leaving only those who were meant to survive. However, this philosophy is extremely bias and primitive when juxtaposed to Branche’s (2016) research. This anthropology therefore dictates that society evolves and adhering to this, we associate the qualities of strength and weakness in regards to personal narrative, specifically, vulnerability and authenticity. “Strength isn’t about fighting; sometimes it’s about letting go. Having the courage to be vulnerable, even when it feels insurmountable, is the first step on the journey to a wholehearted life” (Downs, 2013). Therefore, in modern society, this negative stigma shrouding vulnerability, sharing stories of hardship, and mental illness can be translated into strength and courage.
Re-evaluating the way we contemplate about perceptions of personal narrative with specifics on vulnerability and authenticity within the workplace will provide insight into possible solutions for these issues present in the workforce.
“Men don’t cry and neither do boys, hold your head up and get on with it. We don’t deal with sooks who can’t get the job done, we’ll just replace you.”
It is the authenticity of personal narrative that is a powerful tool which can be harnessed by both employers and employees. It can be employed to cultivate work relationships and discover values associated with their character. Personal narrative requires immense self-reflexivity, vulnerability and from this, bravery which should be recognised, not shunned (Ellis & Bochner, 2000).
There is a strong stigma in the workplace which prohibits showing weakness, failures and vulnerability, personifying a machine-like state that does not compute in reality. Individuals will always have emotions as “We need to be respected, to be recognized for our contributions, to feel a sense of belonging, and we need autonomy, personal growth and meaning in our work.” (Stallard, 2007) which is why this recognition of our stories is important. It is imperative that we identify these emotions, attribute them to values and evaluate where employees and employers lay on the line of understanding each other.
It is human nature for individuals to doubt and target the weak which provides room for contemplation about vulnerability in a professional context. If we are perceived as ‘weaker’ than another candidate, we will not be offered a job over the ‘stronger’ individual. Why do we reward someone for hiding their insecurities when someone is brave enough to wear them on their sleeve so openly?
Our fear of vulnerability runs deep within our veins. It relates back to our experiences which of the past which resonate with trauma and uncomfortableness. This relates heavily to Michael White’s (2007) construction of Narrative Therapy and Practices in that we can identify, through becoming vulnerable, underlying positive values define who we are as individuals. Johnson (2014) undertook research regarding personal narrative in young people, challenging her own perception and prejudice of vulnerability, provoking change. Her own experience allowed for enhanced engagement with her students and understanding underlying values which drove their experiences within their lives, crafting narrative. It then conveyed the positive implications of personal narrative as a form of expressing vulnerability in a quintessential form, allowing for self-exploration and growth (Priya, Dalal, 2015).
We carry this baggage and stigma of vulnerability as a set of armour to protect ourselves from the perceptions and judgement of others. However, it is important to practice vulnerability in the workplace, to set down this set of armour and break down the barriers of fear to understand values and goals which drive an individual. “The greatest artists like Dylan, Picasso and Newton risked failure. And if we want to be great, we’ve got to risk it, too.” (Lorber, 2013). Fundamentally, it is necessary to be comfortable with vulnerability as it constitutes familiarity with the fear of failure. Vulnerability therefore cultivates innovation as the fear of failure becomes correlated with the notion of persistence in the face of adversity, eliciting strength. This fear is then minimised and the thirst for success is never quenched. Being comfortable with flaws strengthens goals, ethics, ideologies and values within a team as well as within an employee.
Understanding weaknesses and vulnerabilities then constitutes and elicits power, confidence and strength. Vulnerability not only cultivates confidence, but cohesion within a group, productiveness, connectedness and fosters real relationships that are not fabricated by the nine to five or confined to the walls of a work building.
Furthermore, it is necessary for employers to embrace this vulnerability, identify these emotional feelings and be empathetic towards their employees who have shared their stories.
Therefore to be honest with an employer about struggles and hardships, minimises the risk of conflict and creates bonds. This culminating ideology in problem solving is reliant on these things we call values, employing them as bandages to mend wounds. These deep rooted ideological entities that we say we resonate with are therefore of significance in our professional and personal lives. They are important at home, at the workplace, with mates and in life. The values which you hold close will always with be with you, so why pretend like they aren’t, hide them, and slowly whittle away at the drive and passion which we try so hard to search for?
“Taking the day off because you’re stressed? It’s only uni mate, no big deal. Just change the date of your exam and you’ll be sweet.”
Being able to say to your employer that you need to have a day off to work on your mental health is extremely uncommon. Having to craft a narrative for yourself to understand your values, is also extremely uncommon, however it is imperative to understanding limits, values and weaknesses. Human’s need time to recharge.
Beyond Blue released statistics in relation to mental health in the workplace in 2014.
91% of Australian’s believe mental health in the workplace is important (88% believe physical safety is important). Despite this, only 52% of employees believe their workplace is mentally healthy compared to 76% for physical safety. Only five in ten (56%) believe their most senior leader values mental health. It would then be right to say that:
If your manager doesn’t assault you physically and pays you correctly, you don’t complain. – Claire Farquhar, “Say ‘Yes’ to Me.”
This identifies that there is a serious misalignment in Australian values and the government and workplaces agendas for their employees. Along with this associated stigma comes exploitation of an employees vulnerability. Logar (2010) mentions employers may use psychological warfare to position themselves in a environment of control, making the vulnerable feel powerless. This correlates to the ideology of Dickens (2000) in that Social Darwinism prey’s on the individuals who suffer from mental health illnesses, being introverted and loneliness which are the same prejudices in the workplace (Russinova et al, 2011).
These associated views do not collate to the quality of work done, how successful an individual may be or a misalignment of their values. In fact, it strengthens the values of an individual so they may craft their own narrative and future.
In this way, employers must have a high emotional intelligence and use empathy to understand and invigorate their team. With this comes productivity and success. It is important to understand weaknesses and limitations before the claws of anxiety, stress and depression drag you down, drowning you in self doubt and low self esteem.
“You’re leaving here? We didn’t need you much anyway, dead-weight, emotional and bad at your job. Good riddance.” He handed me a piece of paper with the words ‘Does not stop crying at the stupidest things’ and I walked out with my head in my hands, sobbing. I was finally free.
“I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” (Brown, 2013). We need to work on this ideology of vulnerability being strong to both understand our employers, as well as our employees.
It is this feeling of connectedness that is neurobiological in our bodies, to want someone to care for us in our vulnerable state, however, the workplace is not this space for many individuals.
“You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then, we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.” (Brown, 2010).
Brown takes us back to the machine like state of the workforce which we fear will have no empathy, as we numb emotions which are detrimental to life. We numb them so we don’t have to deal with them, because really, vulnerability is difficult to employ and comprehend. It is difficult to practice empathy and vulnerability, especially as a man, with the underlying stigma of unworthiness as Brown stated. She described vulnerability as whole heartedness, a courage and worthiness of love and kindness. However, in the workforce this is juxtaposed as a taboo of vulnerability manifesting weakness, poor work ethic and unworthiness. This is to say, that a mentally ill individual in the workforce cannot be fixed as they have been mentally broken.
Little did I know while watching this outstanding talk that this video had been the fifth most viewed TedTalk video in the world.
It is authenticity. The authenticity that an individual has with themselves and their employer and the expression of transparency in the relationship that is cultivated by the sharing of values, opinions and goals. It is important to be authentic so that you don’t end up in the wrong workplace, avoiding contact with people who exhibit ethics that you may not agree with, or values which are against your own. This authenticity is important, and the level of transparency with an employer regarding mental health and in turn vulnerability is critical.
Narrative practice and therapy allows us to identify these values, making it simpler to find a workplace which will suit not only our futuristic goals, but our personality types, mission in life and in turn, the values which we associate ourselves with. Vulnerability and empathy will always be a part of workplaces, however in varying degrees of appreciation and practice.
There are a few ways we can attempt to change this stigma. By enhancing our emotional intelligence, cultivating empathy within our own work places, fostering vulnerability and our ability to listen to the narratives of others.
We can inform individuals so they may become comfortable with vulnerability, and break down the taboo of boys crying. In workplaces that employees consider mentally healthy, self-reported absenteeism as a result of experiencing mental ill-health almost halves (13%). Not only does this show that individuals who convey their emotions reduce their risk of mental health, but proves that people are happier if they share their stories of hardship.
Men and women should not be treated as robots as we are inherently emotional beings who strive for this sense of belonging, especially in their professional lives. This mythology is described by Mitchell (2004). The myth boys don’t cry is inherently wrong and that employees cannot do work and have feelings at the same time with ongoing stress, strain and anxiety is also false. Emotions are not static, they drive decisions, feelings and values. To disregard emotion is to disregard pride, passion and happiness. It is impossible to have staff without emotions also correlating to Brown’s (2010) ideology of attempting to numb emotion being inherently wrong.
The word professional in a professional relationship should not exclude conversations surrounding the vulnerability of an individual in the workplace. Vulnerability should be employed by leaders to empower their staff, connect with them and motivate them to do great things. Breaking down insecurities and building tolerance to taboos and stigma surrounding vulnerability and mental health should be a part of induction for employees.
The government needs to recognise mental health as well as physical health in the workplace as an ongoing social issue. For the black suits at the pinnacle of the bureaucratic hierarchy, mental health is a disease that is not meant for the workplace. The notion of leaving your feelings, emotions and home life at the door is becoming more and more prominent, not dealing with the issue but sweeping it under the rug in a sick breeding frenzy manifesting more mental health problems.
Finally, I would like to come to a utopian conclusion which is inspired by Claire in her post.
There are twenty-three of us in BCM311.
We as younger job seekers strive to create a career narrative exuding professionalism, however, White’s (2007) approach is inherently different. By becoming vulnerable, understanding our past experiences and analysing them, we are able to identify values and narratives which would be of greater value to our professional employers.
I hope that this paragraph rings true as I (and I hope we all) assist in crafting a more tolerant industry, workplace and (however utopian) Australian work culture. As strength becomes synonymous with personal narrative, vulnerability and authenticity, we can hope that employers understand empathy and the values associated with this bravery of conveying emotion.
Afterword: I have enjoyed working in this class with all of you. Thank you for being exceptional writers and creating a space which evoked discussion and sparked conversation about issues which are extremely important.
I will miss thinking every Tuesday afternoon after class.
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Branche, S 2016, ‘It’s all in how you look at it: Thoughts and questions about love and relationships’, SAGE, Bloomington, Indiana.
Baraka, Z 2016, ‘The Subtle Shaming of Men and Vulnerability’, The Good Men Project, 26 December, viewed 1 November 2017, <https://goodmenproject.com/sex-relationships/the-subtle-shaming-of-men-and-vulnerability-dg/>
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Lorber, L 2013, ‘’Jobs’ Movie Is Missing the Magic of His Story’, Entrepreneur, 19 August, viewed 2 November 2017, https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/227971
Logar, T 2010, ‘Exploitation as Wrongful Use: Beyond taking advatange of Vulnerabilities’, Acta Analytica: International Periodical for Philosophy in the Analytical Tradition, pp. 329-346.
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Brown, B 2013, ‘Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead’, New York, NY : Gotham Books.
Mitchell, V 2004, ‘Emotional Terrors in the Workplace: Emotional continuity management in the workplace’, Rothstein, Brookfield.