Brené Brown’s intelligent sincerity and easy prose welcome readers to her informed, supportive counsel.
Brené Brown’s singular combination of astute compassion and insightful guidance, as seen in Daring Greatly, produced a New York Times number one bestseller of more than two million copies. The Wall Street Journal said that Brown, “…offers insights into how people don personal armor to shield themselves from vulnerability.” Publishers Weekly condensed Brown’s message nicely, saying, “Will…have [readers] considering what steps they would dare to take if shame and fear were not present.”
Brown is a TED Talk star and prolific author. She holds the Huffington Foundation–Brené Brown Endowed Chair at the Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston and is a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business.
When Brené Brown applies the powerful lens of vulnerability to narcissistic behavior, she finds people often act out a terror of being ordinary that has its roots in shame. She says people have trouble accepting that anyone recognizes their uniqueness, and that this isolation leads to a plague of self-loathing.
We must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly.Brené Brown
Brown discusses sources and triggers of shame and explains how to blunt its pernicious power. Measuring yourself against others, she explains, only harms you. Brown urges you to consider how, in low moments, you may indulge in comparing your current self with a supposed former, wonderful version of you. She is adamant that such indulgence yields only self-destructive, self-limiting falsehoods.
Brown describes heroic souls who integrate trauma into their lives and carry on. She details how these resilient people undergo the conscious realization that they’ve suffered, embrace professional or personal help, and reconnect to their vulnerability as a conscious daily act. They proactively seek a return to vulnerability, a step that Brown believes demonstrates more courage even than surviving the initial trauma.
Brown cites how women who feel shamed by a lack of validation will criticize their husbands to provoke a reaction; this replaces genuine emotional communication. Conversely, men who experience shame when criticized will withdraw – further shutting down any connection. This fuels a vicious cycle of mutual armoring and distancing.
Brown describes how this cycle took hold in her 18-year marriage, and how she and her husband overcame it. She mentions that they’ve celebrated the 25th anniversary of their first date. Brown emphasizes that no one can inflict shame upon you and maintain it as persuasively as your lover, partner or parent. They have the intimate connection with you to understand what frightens you and makes you vulnerable. This is why a shaming assault from those closest to you proves the most painful. Brown asserts that inflicting shame on someone close to you is a toxic betrayal.
Details, Lists and Credibility
Unfortunately, Brown fills page after page with lists. She outlines her research even though presenting her conclusions would lead to a text that is more effective and easier to read. Brown’s academic credentials are beyond reproach. Her excess of minutiae reads as if she feels the need to prove that she didn’t just think up her insights. She wants her readers to know her perceptions stem from her rigorous study. Granted, Brown is in a tough position. She fears pushing readers away with too much academic material, but she doesn’t want professionals in her field to regard her as a New Age amateur.
The most difficult and most rewarding challenge of my work is how to be both a mapmaker and a traveler.Brené Brown
And yet, that is the least likely conclusion astute readers will draw. Brown is credible, period. In a field full of blowhards, charlatans and charismatic speakers who lack intellectual attainment or insight, Brown remains unique. Part of what distinguishes her and makes this work so worthwhile – and connects readers to her insights so powerfully – is Brown’s unassailable sincerity. Reading her words directly and reading between the lines produces the same insight: Brown has been through every process of the self-work she describes. She has fought her own demons of pride and shame and faced difficult insights about herself on the road to embracing vulnerability.
Brown advocates for the healing power of love. Pretty much every pop song ever written agrees with her and for good reason. Then she moves into the province of poets and tries to craft a definition of love – as she says, one of the most difficult tasks she ever attempted. Her definition manifests in the way she reaches out to readers about the nature of love.
Loving someone leaves us emotionally exposed. Yes, it’s scary and yes, we’re open to being hurt, but can you imagine your life without loving or being loved?Brené Brown
Brown quotes from her earlier book The Gifts of Imperfection, saying that love emerges from showing your most open and strong self. She stresses that to experience love, you must be perceived and understood. So, Brown reminds you, you must escape shame, which destroys love. She describes how she foolishly resisted the concept that you can’t love someone until you embrace loving yourself. She asks the crucial question: Are you only espousing love – it’s easy enough, after all, to say “I love you” – or are you truly living it?
If Brown gets a little gee-whiz now and then, or falls into unfortunate habits like offering epigrams from Top Gun, or making a reader sort through more facts and figures than anyone but academics would want to read, she still delivers her message with grace, kindness and affection. That might be her greatest gift and will likely keep you returning often to those passages that speak to you most powerfully and personally.
If Brown’s empathetic approach speaks you to, you may want to also read her books The Gifts of Imperfection, I Thought It Was Just Me, Dare to Lead and Rising Strong.