Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: Daring Greatly

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (I don't know how to get the accent over the last e in her name, and I'm too lazy to figure it out. Apologies.)

Summary (Courtesy of Goodreads): Researcher and thought leader Dr. Brené Brown offers a powerful new vision that encourages us to dare greatly: to embrace vulnerability and imperfection, to live wholeheartedly, and to courageously engage in our lives. Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable, or to dare greatly. Whether the arena is a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation, we must find the courage to walk into vulnerability and engage with our whole hearts. 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. The book that Dr. Brown’s many fans have been waiting for, Daring Greatly will spark a new spirit of truth—and trust—in our organizations, families, schools, and communities.

This book came highly recommended to me by several very trusted sources but it took me a while to get around to it. And when I finally did pick it up, I wasn't sure I would personally get a lot out of this book. After all, Brown's big revelation that "vulnerability" is necessary to experience true connection and joy wasn't all that big of a revelation to me. Honestly, that was something I figured out the first time I fell in love (because I was the first one to say "I love you," and I experienced all sorts of vulnerable emotions that long week before he plucked up the courage to say it back to me).

And as far as the "shame" issues she discusses, I felt like I was beyond that too. Brown talks a lot about shame, and how when people feel shame (over body image, money, lifestyle, whatever it is) they will use coping techniques to hide their shame in an attempt to control how people perceive and connect with them. Of course, back in high school I experienced all sorts of insecurities and shame (who doesn't), and I definitely used to be a perfectionist (one of the unhealthy coping strategies she talks about). But somehow I managed to get over it. By and large, I feel like I more firmly belong in the category of "whole-hearted" peopled she described as coping well with shame, and I didn't think this book would offer me much.

But the more I read, the more I realized what a prideful assumption that was on my part. I may not feel the same types of shame as most other people in our society today, but I still feel shame about a lot of things, and I still have coping techniques that are not healthy. In some types of relationships, I am great at being open and honest and connected. But in other relationships, I feel nothing but disconnect. I feel vulnerable or uncertain, so I close up and shut down. Most of the time I attribute this to my introverted nature, but Brown helped me see how a lot of my relationship problems come from shame, and a lack of willingness to be vulnerable.

The chapter I found most insightful was how to be open to vulnerability as a parent in order to really connect with our children, and most importantly, never to use shame with our children. I've found myself thinking and reflecting about this constantly. Brown talks about how some parents use shame in an effort to control a child's choices, but that is never healthy or productive because it often leads to a child who feels fundamentally unworthy of love. Suddenly I wondered if my attempts to potty-train my toddler by pointing out all his friends who are potty-trained and telling him only babies wear diapers are communicating a sense of shame instead of motivation. I really want my children to feel comfortable with me, to feel like they can be open with me and tell me things without fear of shame or judgment from me, and that's one of the main reasons I will keep coming back to this book over and over again.

This book had some other great insights too, about feeling like we have "enough" in our lives instead of "never enough," and allowing ourselves to truly feel joy without any sort of caveat (this one was big for me, I am almost always suspicious of happy moments in life because I'm sure it means something terrible is going to happen soon). And even though I feel like I intuitively understood many of the lessons it took Brown twelve years of research to figure out, this book was still incredibly helpful for me in understanding the motivations and behaviors of others. It's heartbreaking to realize how many annoying or confusing or abrasive behaviors are motivated from a place of shame. If anything, this book has helped me have more compassion for other people, and greater courage in how I navigate relationships with other people.

In the end, I determined this book was one I needed to revisit and reread. This is a book for marking up and taking notes. It is one I needed to own (so my sister got it for me for my birthday), and like I said in my last post, that is the highest praise I can give a book.

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