Rapper Eminem Makes Vulnerability Cool, Not Weak
The cornerstone to mental/emotional health includes a willingness to courageously and honestly show up every day—uncertain of the outcome—and not allow shame to impede one’s journey. That often requires a daily practice of vulnerability, authenticity, accountability, and shame resilience. It also requires us to face our fears and shame.
Unfortunately, things like vulnerability, authenticity, and shame are EXTREMELY difficult concepts to understand, adopt, or teach. They are very uncomfortable states of being so we tend to avoid them, at all costs. Yet the consequences of ignoring them are devastating in our lives and relationships. Therefore, it’s become my passion to help these concepts become relatable and applicable in all our lives. Hence, my impetus behind using Eminem’s work as a teaching tool.
I’m a fan of Eminem (AKA Marshall Mathers). I don’t really dig his crude language or raunchy gestures, but I do feel like his music can be very raw, honest, and vulnerable. So much so, I use his work, especially his movie 8 Mile, as a metaphor for authenticity and vulnerability.
8 mile is apparently loosely based on Eminem’s early life. His character, “Rabbit,” is raised in a rundown trailer park in one of the poorest regions of Detroit, Michigan known as “8 Mile.” The audience learns that Rabbit has no father, an abusive alcoholic mother, a troubled past and present, and essentially no chance of creating a more promising future. He has dreams of making it big as a rapper despite being mocked daily for being “white trash”, associating with “loser” friends, and dating “loose” women. He spends most of the movie trying to prove his worth to those around him while hiding his shame and embarrassment for being himself. Still, he gets up on stage and engages in improvised “rap battles” where rappers compete by making fun of their opponents in front of crowds and whomever smears their opponent the best (per the crowd’s response), wins the competition.
As you can imagine, Rabbit’s adverse life circumstances makes him an easy target for mockery. It also provides him with a heaping pile of fear and self-doubt. He’s constantly wrestling with his shortcomings while trying to appear tough on the outside. There appears to be no way out of his lot in life. That is, until the end of the movie. It culminates when Rabbit faces off with a rival gang rapper group, Leaders of the Free World, and their leader, Papa Doc. Throughout the movie Papa doc and his gang literally and figuratively beat Rabbit, humiliate him, and are the clear antagonists to Rabbit’s hopes and dreams. Rap battle after rap battle Rabbit tries to make fun of his opponents but they all just have too much embarrassing material against him. However, in the final round, Rabbit does what no one expects him to do: HE LEADS WITH HIS OWN MISTAKES AND SHORTCOMINGS.
Here's a three minute clip from 8 mile, the final rap battle. WARNING: THERE IS A LOT OF BAD/ADULT LANGUAGE IN THIS CLIP. DO NOT WATCH IF YOU'RE EASILY OFFENDED
BOOM! Mic drop! So how does this all relate to authenticity, vulnerability, and setting yourself free from shame and bulls#!t facades? Let me explain…
Rabbit represents all of us, in a way: A flawed human walking around in constant fear of not being enough. Though we all experience different versions of shame, Rabbit’s “shame voices” were probably saying, “I’m not talented enough. I’m not tough enough. I’m white trash. I’ll never rise above my circumstances. Maybe everything they’re saying about me is right.” These “shame voices” filled him with fear, self-doubt, hurt, and anger. He spends a lifetime building a defensive façade to hide them from the world, instead of facing his fear and shame head-on. That is, until the end of the movie.
When Rabbit gets on stage the final time, instead of focusing on making fun of his opponent while defending his own dominance and value, he leads with his flaws and shortcomings (He also points out that his opponent has been putting on a façade, too). How does Rabbit’s opponent respond to this tactic? He’s speechless. He’s left with zero material to use against Rabbit.
Think about how much time and energy we put into creating façades, showing only certain versions of ourselves to others, defending our value and worth, or even just avoiding and isolating from others? Those are all methods of hiding yourself from the world. What if we instead owned the mistakes we make, our flaws and scars, and admit the shameful thoughts that cross our mind each day (Because I promise you that most of us are thinking the same shameful thoughts about ourselves and struggling in similar ways). What would we have left to hide? THAT IS LIVING AN HONEST AND AUTHENTIC LIFE. SHOWING YOURSELF TO THE WORLD IN THAT WAY IS VULNERABILITY. And to clear up any misconceptions, vulnerability is far from weakness. It is the most challenging, courageous way to exist. Because—as you can imagine—there is freedom in owning and accepting one’s perfectly imperfect self. However, there are always new critics ready to shame you, judge you (An extension of their own shame), and those damn shame voices continue to rear their ugly little heads throughout one’s lifetime. Our default state always wants to return to armoring ourselves up against vulnerability to help us feel more “in control” and “safe”. But those “in control,” “safe” states are really just facades, defensiveness, lying, and manipulation. Honesty, Authenticity, Accountability, Vulnerability are daily practices to freedom and joy.
Let’s close with one more amazing work by Eminem (featuring Beyonce) "Walk on Water." WARNING: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE AGAIN.
Don’t put me on a pedestal. I’m no better or worse than anyone. I’m insecure and flawed, just like everyone else.
We all have shame. We all struggle. My tendency is to puff up my chest and act bigger and better than I am to survive my shame. Others shrink down, become smaller, or isolate in order to avoid their shame. As Brene Brown says, we need to “stand our sacred ground”. Don’t hustle for your worthiness. (Check out my Exercises for Who I Am, to explore what your "sacred ground"might be)
I realize most of my clients are facing life-altering crises and deep pain that I never want to trivialize by using a movie metaphor or song to explain their struggle. Nothing is that simple. We are all complex humans with deep wounds. This is just a way to explain my work in a relatable and applicable way to hopefully benefit your journey in life.