“The Stories We Tell Ourselves”: Thoughts on Brené Brown’s ‘Rising Strong’

Today I share my thoughts on Brené Brown’s newest book Rising Strong. The book is a continuation of her first two, The Gifts of Imperfection & Daring Greatly (which I have reviewed here). In it she continues sharing her findings of years of research on the topics of living wholeheartedly – or from a place of worthiness -through embracing vulnerability. This time around she looks at what happens when we live honestly & wholeheartedly yet still fall and are confronted with “face-down” moments such as heartbreak, grief, and failure. Brene describes the progression of her three writings this way:

The Gifts of Imperfection: Be you.

Daring Greatly: Be all in.

Rising Strong: Fall. Get up. Try again.

image

The Middle can represent the middle of our stories – the parts we must rumble with if we are to get a true & honest picture of reality.

I highly recommend people read Rising Strong in its entirety – it’s impossible to sufficiently cover all of its insight in single a blog post. What I can offer here is my favorite takeaway of Rising Strong: what Brené refers to as “Rumbling” – or getting honest with ourselves – about “the stories we tell ourselves.”

The Stories We Tell Ourselves:

“The goal of the rumble is to get honest about the stories we’re making up about our struggles, to revisit, challenge, and reality-check these narratives as we dig into topics such as boundaries, shame, blame, resentment, heartbreak, generosity, and forgiveness.” (77).

By referencing the work of psychologists and neuroscientists, Brené brings attention to the power of narrative in our individual minds and thus lives. Life is hard and complex, and our brains in an attempt to make sense of the world around and within us, gravitates towards narratives, or stories, to bring about clarity. Its largely an unconscious process we do every day and almost every hour.

“Our brains reward us with dopamine when we recognize and complete patterns. Stories are patterns. The brain recognizes the familiar beginning-middle-end structure of a story and rewards us for clearing up the ambiguity. Unfortunately, we don’t need to be accurate, just certain” (79).

What we see and what is described above is how our minds work, especially when we are confronted with feelings of hurt, disappointment, fear, and anger. The gaps – the not knowing – brings pain and discomfort. So we often fill them in. Further, Brené describes this internal storytelling we do as both powerful and historical. Powerful because it is historical.  In “clearing up ambiguity” or uncertainty, we often return to the old but familiar stories – stories ingrained in childhood, imprinted from a traumatic event, or begun in even subtle yet consistent ways, often when our emotions and minds are vulnerable. We do this, as she describes, out of “an immediate need to self-protect” (78).


imageConspiracies & Confabulations:

“The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability..” (82).

In challenging us to dig deep and be honest about the stories we tell ourselves, Brené asks us to consider the “conspiracies & confabulations” which infiltrate our stories the most. Examples of conspiracies held can include the “I’m not _____________ enough” beliefs. Not smart enough, attractive enough, important enough, and on and on. We can find ourselves doing this to others too. In facing rejection or conflict we may answer questions of hurt with “They are not _________ enough.” Blame, judgment, & shame are often the places we get stuck when we return to these beliefs to fill gaps in stories again and again.

Rumbling:

Throughout Rising Strong, Brené challenges us to “rumble” or question honestly the stories we tell ourselves. She asks us, though it can feel scary, to stay with the feeling in the moment of struggle rather than jump to a quick conclusion.

I believe what Brené offers us, by way of describing her own experiences of “rumbling with story” is a picture of what it can look like to live with boundaries, integrity, and compassion intentionally. She asks us to “lean in” to the difficult work of balancing emotion with reality-testing and leading a courageous life in the small interactions, choices, and reflections each day.

Learn more about Brené and her books, including Rising Strong, here.

Brown, Brené (2015). Rising Strong. Penguin Random House: New York, New York.

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Thanks for reading. Learn more about Lydia Minear, MA, LAPC’s counseling practice @ East-West Psychotherapy Associates here.

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