In the month of February, I had the pleasure of reading Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, & Parent, by talented writer & research professor, Brené Brown. I consider Daring Greatly to be a fantastic – and important read for anyone who has felt or currently feels stunted – perhaps relationally, professionally, or emotionally – by the experience of rejection, shame, and the pressure of perfectionism.
A few months ago, I shared a video by Brené Brown on my blog, entitled The Power of Vulnerability. In this 20 minute talk, she outlines the research she conducted for 6+ years on the topics of shame, vulnerability, and what it means to live Wholeheartedly. She also candidly admits to her own personal struggles with perfectionism, her honest disdain for “messy” emotions, and the journey she endured in therapy to truly “lose the fight [for control] but win my life back.”
Daring Greatly showcases in much more detail the research and findings Brené touches on in her TedTalk. It is difficult to summarize 250+ all-noteworthy pages of insight into a brief book review. However, I want to share one of my favorite points Brené shares, which is what she calls “Wholehearted Living.”
Wholehearted Living vs. the “Culture of Scarcity”
After years of collecting the stories of real men and women with real hurts, pains, struggles, and joys, Brené noticed a common theme in one group of research participants who she noticed lived “Wholeheartedly” or from a place of worthiness. These “Wholehearted” persons who experienced a deep sense of love & belonging were only different in one way from others. The difference was not in financial status, race, profession, gender, or age. The difference existed in one area: they believed they were worthy of love & belonging. Living from this place of worthiness did not shield them from heartache, disappointment, or loss. They experienced pain like any other person. Neither did they possess some kind of super-human ability to always say and do the right thing. They were flawed, made mistakes, and felt normal guilt just as any person does. However, Brené explains that the defining difference involved how these “Wholehearted” people viewed themselves. When life threw them a curve ball or they themselves made mistakes, they offered themselves grace & understanding rather than harsh criticism. Rather than reacting to life from a place of “scarcity” – (a fear of not being or having enough), Brené notes that Wholehearted living involves “digging deep” and seeing themselves in a realistic and compassionate manner.
“Scarcity is the ‘never enough’ problem…Everything from safety to love to money and resources feels lacking” (Brown, p. 27).
“What makes this constant assessing and comparing so self-defeating is that we are often comparing our lives, our marriages, our families, and our communities to unattainable, media-driven visions of perfection, or we’re holding up our reality against our own fictional account of how great someone else has it” (Brown, p. 26).
“The opposite of ‘never enough’ isn’t abundance or ‘more than you could ever imagine.’ The opposite of scarcity is enough, or what I call Wholeheartedness…[which] at its core is vulnerability and worthiness: facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough” (Brown, p. 29).
After reading Daring Greatly, I believe the idea of living Wholeheartedly is not a mere Self-Help idea like the “Power of Positive Thinking.” It goes much deeper than patting oneself on the back. Neither does it involve sticking our heads in the sand and denying problems in our lives or within ourselves. Furthermore, to say, “I am enough” does not denote a narcissistic belief system or idealism that assumes “I can do anything” or “I can be everything.” Instead, it simply means that I can accept in essence my humanness – of feeling pain, of experiencing brokenness, and of battling shame and accept these parts of me as instrically human. To be enough, also means to be able to look into our hurts and our fears and see them for what they are, and to allow ourselves the freedom to exist with these things under the umbrella of kindness rather than under the umbrella of contempt and disdain.
“Leaning into the Discomfort”: Stepping off the Zipline
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness” (Brown, p. 27).
Brené Brown speaks of “leaning into the discomfort” of emotional messiness in her TedTalk as well as in her book by embracing vulnerability. As I read Daring Greatly, one image kept crossing my mind: I imagined a child preparing to experience a zipline for the very first time. He’s on the edge of the platform, strapped in to the harness, and ready to jump. However, his heart beats fast in his small chest as his legs shake beneath him. The fear is real. Walking off the platform means leaving the security of what is known behind and facing a thrilling yet risky challenge…he literally must lean in to the discomfort of the reality of his adventure. What boldness it takes to respect the fear, experience it, and embrace the challenge regardless.
“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” (Brown, p.27).
I believe facing our fears – emotional fears- feels like this. I sit with courageous clients who dare greatly by sharing their innermost thoughts, feelings, and experiences they have carried for years – and even decades alone. Leaning into that kind of discomfort is powerful. It can also feel intimidating for the person exposing their truth. Further, it is a process to be done with a safe person (aka, a “secure harness”). One of the most true messages that Brené makes clear in Daring Greatly is that not everyone is worthy or capable of sitting with you in your place of vulnerability. I believe that especially with deep hurts and sensitive struggles, finding persons who can be with you in your discomfort to provide support and compassion – rather than judgment, advice-giving, or a legalistic “finger-wagging” is essential. A safe person allows the space for your story to be told without interruption and respects the uniqueness of your story as your own.
I learned a great deal from Daring Greatly and hope to share more of what I gleaned in future posts. If you feel that the topics of the book I discussed speak to your own personal story, I encourage you to check-out Brené Brown’s books here.
Brown, Brené. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, and parent. New York, New York: Penguin Group Publishing.
Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s Counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.