Writer’s Wednesday: Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

I have talked before about the importance of daring to be vulnerable, and how Brené Brown’s TED talks on vulnerability and shame (and if you haven’t watched them you must), but it had taken a while for me to get around to reading her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. I wish I had read it sooner, but I know this is one of the rare books that I will read again. I think about half of the book has been highlighted and I want to buy it and make everyone around me read it.

Brené talks about Wholehearted living, which “is about engaging in our lives from a place or worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

She debunks the myths around vulnerability, for example that it is weakness, something “you don’t do”, letting it all hang out or going it alone.

We love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we’re afraid to let them see it in us. We’re afraid that our truth isn’t enough – that what we have to offer isn’t enough without the bells and whistles, without editing, and impressing.

Here’s the crux of the struggle:
I want to experience your vulnerability but I don’t want to be vulnerable.
Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me.
I’m drawn to your vulnerability but repelled by mine.

Brown goes on to talk about “Shame [which] is the fear of disconnection. … [It] is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” She then shows us the difference between shame (I am bad) and guilt (I did something bad) and further on shows us how this is important not just for us as grown ups, but especially as we are raising children.

When we apologize for something we’ve done, make amends, or change a behavior that doesn’t align with our vlaues, guilt – not shame – is most often the driving force. We feel guilty when we hold up something we’ve done or failed to do against our values and find they don’t match up. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, but one that’s helpful. The psychological discomfort, something similar to cognitive dissonance, is what motivates meaningful change. Guilt is just as powerful as shame, but its influence is positive, while shame’s is destructive. In fact, in my research I found that shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we can change and do better.

Men and women don’t experience shame in the same way. “…the real struggle for women – what amplifies shame regardless of the category – is that we’re expected (and sometimes desire) to be perfect, yet we’re not allowed to look as if we’re working for it. We want it to just materialize somehow. Everything should be effortless. The expectation is to be natural beauties, natural mothers, natural leaders, and naturally good parents, and we want to belong to naturally fabulous families. Think about how much money has been made seeling products that promise “the natural look.” And when it comes to work, we love to hear, “She makes it look so easy,” or “She’s a natural.””

The main struggle of men, on the other hand, is: “Do not be perceived as weak.” and often the women in their lives can’t handle men’s vulnerability: “We ask them to be vulnerable, we beg them to let us in, and we plead with them to tell us when they’re afraid, but the truth is that most women can’t stomach it. In those moments when real vulnerability happens in men, most of us recoil with fear and that fear manifests as everything from disappointment to disgust. And men are very smart. They know the risks, and they see the look in our when we’re thinking, C’mon! Pull it together. Man up. … “Men know what women really want. They want us to pretend to be vulnerable. We get really good at pretending.”” (I know I for one am taking a careful look if I have different standards and expectations for the men in my life than for the women).

These feminine and masculine norms are the foundation of shame triggers, and here’s why: If women want to play by the rules, they need to be sweet, thin, and pretty, stay quiet, be perfect moms and wives, and not own their power. One move outside of these expectations and BAM! The shame web closes in. Men, on the other hand, need to stop feeling, start earning, put everyone in their place, and climb their way to the top or die trying. Push open the lid of your box to grab a breath of air, or slide that curtain back a bit to see what’s going on, and BAM! Shame cuts you down to size.

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.

Brown talks about how we try to protect ourselves through foreboding joy, perfectionism and numbing , but also how we can develop practices that help us lower our guard and dare to live a vulnerable life through practicing gratitude, appreciating the beauty of cracks, setting boundaries and finding true comfort.

Like I said at the beginning, I think this book is absolutely incredible and I think everyone, their family and friends and the world itself would be better off if we all read it and took its message to heart. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead is eye-opening, thought-provoking and at times hard to read, but oh so important.

Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. In a world where scarcity and shame dominate and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. Uncomfortable. It’s even a little dangerous at times. And, without question, putting ourselves out there means there’s far greater risk of feeling hurt. But as I look back on my own live and what Daring Greatly has meant to me, I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like  if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.

As always I invite you to find me and connect with me on Goodreads.




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