Aug 24

“Rising Strong” By Brene Brown: Dealing With Adversity

The physics of vulnerability is simple: If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fall. Rising Strong is a book about what it takes to get back up and how owning our stories of struggle gives us the power to write a daring new ending. Brené Brown

Pema Chödrön‘s upcoming book (September 1st) Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better: Wise Advice for Leaning into the Unknown contains a transcript of the commencement speech she gave last year in which she emphasizes lessons Brené Brown also imparts via her newest book, Rising Strong.

A couple of these lessons, in Chödrön’s words, are the importance of “knowing how to fail well” and “knowing how to hold the pain of things happening that you really don’t want to be happening.”

Rising Strong, called by Brown “by far my most personal book,” has been so popular in advance of its publication that many of her upcoming book launch events have already sold out.

Brown, of course, has already had significant output on such topics as shame, vulnerability, and perfectionism. On her site Brown offers a concise view of how her work has progressed thus far. The Gifts of Imperfection, she says, is about “Be you.” Daring Greatly, “Be all in.” And now, Rising Strong: “Fall. Get up. Try again.”

According to Fast Company, here’s the gist of Rising Strong:

Brown analyzed data from more than 24,000 people in various professions and interviewed 2,000 others—from corporate executives to war veterans at West Point. She also plumbed her own experiences, including a marital squabble during a vacation. This led to a three-step process for leaders wanting to bounce back from adversity: Examine your emotions and actions (‘The Reckoning’), confront the challenges that are holding you back (‘The Rumble’), and write an ending to the story that will transform how you face future obstacles (‘The Revolution’).

From the publisher, one of Brown’s key insights:

She asked herself, What do these people with strong and loving relationships, leaders nurturing creativity, artists pushing innovation, and clergy walking with people through faith and mystery have in common? The answer was clear: They recognize the power of emotion and they’re not afraid to lean in to discomfort.

A favorite passage of hers, as Brown writes on her blog, has to do with “reclaim[ing] the truth about our lovability, divinity, and creativity”:

  • Lovability: “…If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past thirteen years, it’s this: Just because someone isn’t willing or able to love us, it doesn’t mean that we are unlovable.
  • Divinity: “…Over half of the participants who talked about experiencing shame in their faith histories also found resilience and healing through spirituality…They believed that the sources of shame arose from the earthly, man-made, human-interpreted rules or regulations and the social/community expectations of religion rather than their personal relationships with God or the divine…Our faith narratives must be protected, and we must remember that no person is ordained to judge our divinity or to write the story of our spiritual worthiness.
  • Creativity and Ability: Regarding shaming incidents from one’s past, Brown states: Just because we didn’t measure up to some standard of achievement doesn’t mean that we don’t possess gifts and talents that only we can bring to the world. Just because someone failed to see the value in what we can create or achieve doesn’t change its worth or ours.

 A video intro to Rising Strong:

Publishers Weekly: “With a fresh perspective that marries research and humor, Brown offers compassion while delivering thought-provoking ideas about relationships—with others and with oneself…This book is about owning your story and choosing how to actively engage with the world. With Brown’s excellent guidance, it’s easy for readers to become as invested in her story as they are in their own, and, more importantly, to move beyond preconceived stories about themselves.”

Feb 26

Shame Story: Something We All Have, According to Brene Brown

If we share our shame story with the wrong person, they can easily become one more piece of flying debris in an already dangerous storm. Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

In 2008 noted shame researcher Brené Brown wrote, “There are three things I know about shame:

1. Everyone has it.
2. Everyone is scared to talk about it.
3. The less we talk about it; the more we have it.

But who should be on the listening end of our shame story? Brown cautions that there are six types of folks who don’t deserve to be. Watch her tell Oprah in this classic interview (of about five minutes) or skip to below:

In an article corresponding to this interview, Brown lists the six types to avoid:

1. The friend who hears the story and actually feels shame for you. She gasps and confirms how horrified you should be. Then there is awkward silence. Then you have to make her feel better.

2. The friend who responds with sympathy (‘I feel so sorry for you’) rather than empathy (‘I get it, I feel with you, and I’ve been there’). If you want to see a shame cyclone turn deadly, throw one of these at it: ‘Oh, you poor thing.’ Or, the incredibly passive-aggressive Southern version of sympathy, ‘Bless your heart.’

3. The friend who needs you to be the pillar of worthiness and authenticity. She can’t help because she’s too disappointed in your imperfections. You’ve let her down.

4. The friend who is so uncomfortable with vulnerability that she scolds you: ‘How did you let this happen? What were you thinking?’ Or she looks for someone to blame: ‘Who was that guy? We’ll kick his ass.’

5. The friend who is all about making it better and, out of her own discomfort, refuses to acknowledge that you can actually be crazy and make terrible choices: ‘You’re exaggerating. It wasn’t that bad. You rock. You’re perfect. Everyone loves you.’

6. The friend who confuses connection with the opportunity to one-up you: ‘That’s nothing. Listen to what happened to me one time!’

Unfortunately, all of us, says Brown, can also fall into this at times—the undesirable position of not being able to receive someone else’s shame story in a helpful way. This is most likely to happen when the shame-teller’s issues are too closely connected to our own.

So, all the more reason that choosing one’s listener needs to be context-specific. “When we’re looking for compassion, it’s about connecting with the right person at the right time about the right issue.”

Furthermore, ideally we’d all have at least one of what a friend of Brown’s has called a “move-a-body friend.” Its history and coinage:

[Brown’s friend] said that one of her sister’s close friends had called her sister and asked her to help her move her mom. The friend’s mother, who was apparently only invited to visit once a year, struggled with alcoholism. When my friend’s sister’s friend came home from work, her mother was passed out drunk on the sofa. It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and the kids would be busting through the front door any minute. She called because she physically needed help moving her mother.

Brown felt highly complimented when she heard exactly why this same person perceives her as such a friend:

I’d call you because you would come right away, give me a hug, never look judgmental or disapproving or disgusted. And then you’d say, ‘Let’s do this.’

The next day, when you saw my mom at the park or the soccer game, you’d be kind and respectful.

And most of all, it would never cross my mind to say something to you like ‘Please don’t tell anyone.’ You don’t do that.

Afraid you don’t have enough of these friends? Just having one makes you a lucky person, says Brown. Just one MABF is indeed a precious thing.

Nov 26

Gratitude: A Few Quotes for Thanksgiving; Plus, Brene Brown Links to Joy

Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse. Henry Van Dyke

“The more expectations you have, the less gratitude you will have. If you get what you expect, you will not be grateful for getting it.” Dennis Prager

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” Marcel Proust

“I am thankful for all difficult people in my life, they have shown me exactly who I do not want to be. Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” Melody Beattie

“Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides. It means that you are willing to stop being such a jerk. When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back.” Anne Lamott

“Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.” Randy Pausch 

“Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.”
Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

“If you can’t be content with what you have received, be thankful for what you have escaped.” Author unknown

“Happiness is not what makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy.” Brother David Steindl-Rast

Twelve years of research led to Brené Brown‘s own conclusion, echoing the above, that people who describe their lives as joyous are those who practice gratitude actively:

Feb 07

“Daring Greatly” By Brene Brown: Aim For What You Want

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;…who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. Theodore Roosevelt

One of Brené Brown‘s most recent books is Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012)Her theme is inspired by the above quote from Roosevelt.

States the publisher: “In Daring Greatly, Dr. Brown challenges everything we think we know about vulnerability. Based on twelve years of research, she argues that vulnerability is not weakness, but rather our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection.”

What’s Worse Than Being Vulnerable? Brown answered this in “Oprah’s Lifeclass” by describing her perception of what daring greatly is: “I think being vulnerable feels dangerous, and I think it feels scary, and I think it is terrifying. But I don’t think it’s as dangerous, scary, or terrifying as getting to the end of our lives and wondering, what if I would have shown up?”

Some Other Key Quotes

As I look back on what I’ve learned about shame, gender, and worthiness, the greatest lesson is this: If we’re going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light. To set down those lists of what we’re supposed to be is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.

I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. With that definition in mind, let’s think about love. Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can’t ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment’s notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow—that’s vulnerability.

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.

Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

Wholeheartedness. There are many tenets of Wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and worthiness; facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.

Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.

Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.

Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress. It happens when we’ve been through too much, and rather than coming together to heal (which requires vulnerability) we’re angry and scared and at each other’s throats.

Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.

We judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing. If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices. If I feel good about my body, I don’t go around making fun of other people’s weight or appearance. We’re hard on each other because we’re using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived deficiency.

Raising children who are hopeful and who have the courage to be vulnerable means stepping back and letting them experience disappointment, deal with conflict, learn how to assert themselves, and have the opportunity to fail. If we’re always following our children into the arena, hushing the critics, and assuring their victory, they’ll never learn that they have the ability to dare greatly on their own.

Don’t try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer.

Numb the dark and you numb the light.

Below Brown speaks with Oprah about some of these issues:

Aug 14

Public Shaming: How NOT to Get Others to Change

At the same time that the serious and thoughtful work of such researchers as Brené Brown has helped us understand the harmful effects of shame, debate continues over whether the purposeful use of public shaming can motivate people to make healthy changes, e.g., to lose weight or recover from an addiction or be a better-behaved child.

Mirroring this issue has been a burgeoning public shaming humor culture in which photos of non-humans committing bad behaviors are posted online. These dogs, cats, bunnies, and even robots often wear signs expressing their various confessions of wrongdoing. Some examples can be found at the following sites:

Turning back to people, the following quote from Brené Brown, in an interview with Mothers Movement, is pertinent to the argument against the shaming method: “Meaningful, healthy change requires us to assess both our strengths and limitations. We change from a place of self-worth, not a place of shame, powerlessness and isolation. Real change requires awareness, insight and thoughtful decision-making – these are rarely present when we are experiencing shame.”

Unfortunately, our culture has long been into shaming, Brown points out. Children especially are often targeted, as for parents and other caretakers “(i)t is both effective and efficient in the short-term.”

She elaborates on how this tendency is then recycled throughout our culture:

…(S)hame is used as a change agent all the time. It’s used in our ‘here and now’ society because you can actually see a swift behavior change when you use shame. The consequences, however, are very serious. Shame promotes change by using fear of rejection, fear of not being accepted and fear of disconnection. Ultimately, shame is very destructive to both the person doing the shaming and the person being shamed. When you talk to 200 women about shame (and now some men as well), you quickly learn how many of our deepest scars are from being shamed and many of our most profound regrets can be traced back to experiences when we shamed others.

An example of shaming gone wrong, as reported in The Huffington Post, is seen in the recent research of psychologist Angelina Sutin et al. showing that it actually hinders weight loss—in fact, victims of weight discrimination were significantly more likely to become obese.

In a Psychology Today blog post, noted addictions expert Dr. Stanton Peele also warns against public shaming. He states that the too common practice of rehab shaming, or “hectoring addicts and alcoholics for their bad behavior,” also fails.

Peele refers to neuroscience journalist Maia Szalavitzwhose article in Time, “Being Ashamed of Drinking Prompts Relapse, Not Recovery,” cites new research results that “add to a body of literature suggesting that widely used shaming and humiliating methods of treating alcohol and other drug problems — such as those seen on shows like Celebrity Rehab — are not only ineffective but also may be counterproductive.”

In fact, we just wind up back where we started:

Why doesn’t shame change or deter addictive behavior? Shame is not only an effect of addiction but also can be a key reason why some people turn to drink or other drugs in the first place. Research suggests that people who feel particularly high levels of shame are at increased risk not just for addictions but also for other conditions that can worsen addictions, like depression…

That can set up a vicious cycle: if you drink to escape shame and then embarrass yourself while drinking, you wind up with even more reasons to drink — and to be ashamed of yourself.

Have you ever been shamed into changing your bad habits or behavior? How’d it work out?