Dec 20

“Atlas of the Heart” by Brene Brown: Feelings to Know

In Brené Brown‘s newest book, Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience, 87 different emotions and experiences are described and defined, giving readers “the nuanced language to fully understand our feelings and express them to others” (Seira WilsonAmazon Editor, review).

The popularity of Brown’s research, talks, and writing is so off the charts that HBO Max has already optioned the book for a series you’ll someday be able to stream. So, read the book now—or wait to watch.

Why do we need this book/series from the woman Belinda Luscombe, Time, calls “the Dr. Fauci of feelings”? Luscombe states, “In surveys taken by 7,000 people over five years, Brown and her team found that on average people can identify only three emotions as they are actually feeling them: happiness, sadness and anger. For Brown, who made her name by illuminating the finer contours of humans’ emotional landscape, this is not nearly enough.”

According to Luscombe, in addition to Brown continuing her modeling of vulnerability by sharing personal aspects of her own life, in Atlas of the Heart she also makes a confession about her professional life: she has frequently touted something she now considers misguided.

For two decades, I’ve said, “We need to understand emotion so we can recognize it in ourselves and others,” she writes. “Well, let me go on the record right now: I no longer believe that we can recognize emotion in other people, regardless of how well we understand human emotion and experience or how much language we have.”

Luscombe goes on to add, “This is not to dismiss psychotherapy (we presume), but to encourage people to talk about what they’re going through rather than expecting others to know—and to listen, rather than guess.”

Selected Atlas of the Heart Quotes (culled from various online sources):

In our research, we found that everyone who showed a deep capacity for joy had one thing in common: they practiced gratitude. In the midst of joy, there’s often a quiver, a shudder of vulnerability. Rather than using that as a warning sign to practice imagining the worst-case scenario, the people who lean into joy use the quiver as a reminder to practice gratitude.

Anxiety and excitement feel the same, but how we interpret and label them can determine how we experience them.

Do I have enough information to freak out? The answer is normally no. Will freaking out help? The answer is always no.

Hope is a function of struggle—we develop hope not during the easy or comfortable times, but through adversity and discomfort.

Don’t look away. Don’t look down. Don’t pretend not to see hurt. Look people in the eye. Even when their pain is overwhelming. And when you’re hurting and in pain, find the people who can look you in the eye.
Feb 09

“Solutions and Other Problems” by Allie Brosh

Solutions and Other Problems includes humorous stories from Allie Brosh’s childhood; the adventures of her very bad animals; merciless dissection of her own character flaws; incisive essays on grief, loneliness, and powerlessness; as well as reflections on the absurdity of modern life. Publisher of Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

A frequent point being made about comic artist Allie Brosh‘s follow-up to her last best-selling book, Hyperbole and a Half (see previous post) is that it took seven years—for her fans, seven agonizingly long years during which she’d unexplainedly withdrawn from the internet. As it happens, Brosh was going through some things, including a major health scare, her divorce, and the suicide of her younger sister.

Solutions and Other Problems (2020) is described as “a new collection of comedic, autobiographical, and illustrated essays.” As Publishers Weekly states, “Brosh’s spidery and demented digital portraits, a visual expression of fun-house mirror anxiety, fits her material perfectly.”

Selected quotes are representative of her style and attitude:

For the sake of trust building, the third chapter will follow the second. But then we will jump directly to chapter five, do you understand? No chapter four. Why? Because sometimes things don’t go like they should.

When you can explain things to people who are willing to listen to you explain them, it is extremely difficult to resist fully and brutally explaining them. It feels good to explain them—like maybe you’re getting somewhere. Like maybe, if you can just…really explain them, the experiences will realize you’re catching on and stop bothering you.

I don’t believe in karma, but I believe there are things that can happen that very specifically force you to understand what an asshole you were.

The title? She tells Susanna Schrobsdorff, Time, “So, you know that thing where you have a problem, and in trying to solve the problem you generate a brand new type of problem? It’s sort of about that. How the solutions themselves become the next generation of problems. Because no solution is perfect.”

Additional quotes from her Time interview:

I think self-improvement itself is a good thing, but sometimes the message gets a little muddled. Like, it sort of feels like self-help books are designed more to sell books than to offer practical help. There’s not a lot of realism in there. A realistic self-help book wouldnt sound like “Easily banish your anxiety with these simple tricks!” It would sound like “Moderately improve your anxiety over a span of many years by continuously choosing to do the hard thing instead of the easy thing, and there’s no real end point—you have to keep going indefinitely if you want to keep improving.” And I think that really holds self-help back—the promise of easy results.

Sometimes I feel scared to be vulnerable, but I don’t think I’ve ever regretted it. I think it’s good to be vulnerable; it shows people that it’s safe to be vulnerable too. And, for the most part, I think people appreciate that. Actually, one of the comments I have saved in my special folder is somebody who said, “Thank you for going first.” I’ve probably read that one a hundred times. It helps me remember that I don’t need to feel scared.

As always, there’s the caveat that different people experience depression slightly differently, and what works for one person might not work for the next, but for me what has been most helpful is when somebody shows a willingness to understand, and also a willingness to just quietly be there if that’s what I need. Sometimes it feels good to talk about it; sometimes it’s too overwhelming, and it feels helpful when somebody lets me know that it’s O.K. to not feel O.K. right away.

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:

Oct 05

Vulnerability and Shame: Brene Brown Enlightens Us

More than one person has told me about Brené Brown and her lessons on vulnerability and shame. Finally I’ve watched her two TED talks, “The Power of Vulnerability” and “Listening to Shame,” which have resonated with so many.

Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has been deep into studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame for 12 years. She bravely admits to the world via TED that internal conflicts triggered in the midst of her research led her to seek therapy.

In a TED blog post, Brown states that 2010 was her “year of the vulnerability talk” and 2011 her “year of walking the talk,” acknowledging that it’s harder to enact what she believes about this topic than to talk about it.

Mary Elizabeth Williams writes in a recent Salon article about Dr. Brown’s popularity, how she copes with it, and her message:

To date, Brown’s rousing pleas for humanity to move from a culture of shame, scarcity and numbness toward a more authentic, compassionate and ‘wholehearted’ approach have been viewed over 5 million times on YouTube. But not by Brown herself, who confesses, ‘It still makes me feel really uncomfortable.’

In other words, she gets it. She knows how hard it is for us to put down our emotional armor, how great the fear of failure and criticism — from both within and without – can be. Yet she plunges on, persuasively making the case that a bolder, braver way of living isn’t just happier and more fulfilling. She thinks it’s a key component of rising above the tide of debt, addiction and what Brown repeatedly refers to as the painful curse of ‘disengagement.’

Brown’s newest book just came out. It’s called Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead,  and it “argues that vulnerability is not weakness, but rather our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection.”

Some quotes from the book on vulnerability and shame, courtesy of a recent TED blog post:

“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.”

“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.”

“Worrying about scarcity is our culture’s version of post-traumatic stress. It happens when you’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.”

Publishers Weekly says of Daring Greatly: “…(T)he core of her message is understanding the difference between guilt and shame, and developing ‘shame resistance.’ Brown’s theories—complete with personal and not always flattering examples from her own life—will draw readers in and have them considering what steps they would dare to take if shame and fear were not present.”

Brown was asked in a TED interviewWhat’s the greatest lesson you have learned in your own life? “When you get to a place where you understand that love and belonging, your worthiness, is a birthright and not something you have to earn, anything is possible.”