Insights from Brene Brown….

For a recent assignment, I was required to select a self help book that pertained in some way to the subject of career counseling and provide an overview of it. As a Brene Brown fan, I chose to revew her latest book, “Rising Strong”.  A Grounded Theory Researcher, Brene’s self-books provide a summary of findings from interviews with research participants, utilizing a Narrative Therapy perspective. From a personal standpoint, I’ve really appreciated Brene’s books, since they summarize my own path of self-development. Underlying this process of personal growth, was an inexplicable “stuckness” that feels much like a “vinyl record with a needle stuck in a groove, repeating the same sound over and over”, (Ingram, 2012). Brene’s method of addressing this issue of stuckness, is to utilize a storytelling approach.   It is by claiming ownership of our life story, that we can find an underlying system of meaning woven throughout it (Brene, 2015).  What I appreciate about her books are they appear to follow the author’s progression of growth.  For this reason I feel they are really worth reviewing below…

So What Does Forward Motion Look Like????

In the book’s introduction, Brene Brown describes how all her books fit within as part of an overall picture towards wholehearted living which she defines as follows:

IMG_2379“engaging in our lives from a places of worthiness…cultivating the courage, compassion, connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough’” (Brene, 2015, p xix).

Brene describes in her latest book “Rising Strong” how each book she has published, fits within an overall picture of wholehearted living.  Understanding this concept has been essentially for me to become “unstuck” and get off the hamster wheel.  It has taught me to understand how I get in my own way and develop a live a life that at one point had been “impossible”.   So what does forward motion – away from where we are to where we want to get to – look like??  To answer this question, a quick review of key concepts from Brene’s books is useful here….

STEP ONE: Listening to Shame…

Defined as “an intensely painful feeling that we are flawed, and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging”, (Brown, 2006, p 45), the concept of shame is first introduced in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” (Brene, 2010).  Here, we are guided through a discussion that encourages how the concept of shame is woven throughout our personal life narrative (Brene, 2015).  As an individual with PTSD, this was an especially laborious process and the subject of several years of therapy.  However, what I discovered is that these feelings of shame pertain to messages I’ve received throughout my lifetime about what “good enough” means.  In retrospect, I realize I’m someone who has been running towards a preconceived notion of what this has meant for me.  simultaneously, I’ve been running away from what unwanted identities, comprised the messages of shame from others, (I’m not pretty enough, I’m not smart enough, etc).  Recognizing this has allowed me to accept myself as I am as good enough right now.  The journey now isn’t about getting to a place I believed was necessary to be “good enoug”. Instead good enough is now.  I can finally relax into the moments of my life and be present to enjoy it more fully.

STEP TWO: Being Vulnerable…

In her second book, “Daring Greatly”, Brene defines her concept of vulnerability as “having the courage to show up and be seen when you have no control over the outcome” (Brene, 2015, p4).  Vulnerability has produced a sense of vibrant fear in me.  Yes, I am aware that vulnerability is crucial for full engagement in life or,”Being all in” (Brene, 2012, p. 2).  However, unresolved traumas throughout my life have taught me otherwise.  Vulnerability produces fear because it means I have to be seen, and risk criticism or judgment.  Being “perfect and bulletproof are seductive” (Brene, 2012, p. 2) for exactly this reason.  The practice of vulnerability in an uncertain world has taken time for me.  The first step happened as I addressed old hurts.  The second step came as I learned to become more secure in who I was and validate myself in ways others hadn’t.  In time, the fear of vulnerability has gradually subsided.

STEP THREE:  Growing from Failure…

Overcoming shame and becoming vulnerability can be difficult when you stumble and fail.  However, failure, as Brene notes in her latest book, “Rising Strong” is an inevitable part of progression though life.  For this latest book, Brene (2015) gathered stories of sucess in a series of interviews to uncover any commonailties.  What she found were narratives mirroring Joseph Campbell’s (2008), book “The Hero with a Thousand Phases”.   In the first act of this book, the main character finds himself in a situation, which is the onset of a new adventure (Brene, 2015; Campbell, 2008). The second act finds our hero in a situation in which he has to take drastic steps to solve his dilemma (Brene, 2015; Campbell, 2008). The final act finds our character doing what is necessary to achieve his goal, resulting in a conflict resolution (Brene, 2015; Campbell, 2008).  In sum, her latest research has uncovered stories of success arising form failure as a learning opportunity to along a spiritual path towards wholeness.  The final section of this post provides a brief overview of these steps:

Rising Strong: An Overview

“If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fail; this is the physics of vulnerability.  Once we fail in the services of being brave, we can never go back.  Courage transforms the emotional structure of our being” (Brene, 2015, p5).

In her latest book, “Rising Strong”, Berne (2015) provides an overview of how to move past failure.  The first step, known as “The Reckoning”, (Brene, 2015, p37), involves acknowledging our story and accepting responsibility for our narrative role. The second step, known as “The Rumble” (Brene, 2015, p37), involves taking ownership of our story and involves an honest examination of it. Along the way, we’re forced to acknowledge truths and erroneous assumptions. Finally, Rising Strong process involves a “Revolution” (Brene, 2015, p37), and involves rewriting our narrative and learning from our rumble to create a new story. What follows is an overview of the steps in this narrative process….

STEP ONE: “The Reckoning” (Brene, 2015).

 In her discussion of “The Reckoning”, Brene (2015) states: “you either walk into your story and own your truth or you live outside your story, hustling for your worthiness” (p45).  Brene, (2015) notes that fear and trauma often complicate our efforts to claim ownership of our story.  To explain this desire to resist our life story, she utilizes the concept of chandelier pain as an exquisite and intolerable hurt which one cannot ignore (Brene, 2015, p16).  Rather than owning it, it isn’t uncommon to medicate, numb it or stockpile it.  Taking time to work through the unresolved traumas in my own life has been critical to the initiation of forward motion in life.  In order to “get unstuck” this was an absolutely essential step for me.

STEP TWO: “The Rumble” (Brene, 2015).

The next step in growing from failure involves examining our life story, and how we have created it as the narrator.  This process, which she calls “The Rumble”, (Brene, 2015), mirrors narrative therapy.  She encourages readers to examine the stories behind our emotions.  As I’ve said often throughout this blog, there’s a big difference between thing through your feelings and not with them.  I believe this is what Brene is speaking of here.  What stories, believes, and thoughts underlie your emotional responses to life events?  What triggered the emotions?  How does this narrative exists as a self-fulfilling prophecy, by creating the life experiences which reflect it?   The section ends with an overview of questions that might be useful in examining our narrative: (1) what do I need to understand about the event? (2) What do I need to learn about from other people in this story? and (3) what do I need to understand about myself in the context of this story? (Brene, 2015, p92-93).  Finally, Brene (2015) states this process simply begins with an attitude of curiosity and willingness.  

STEP THREE: “The Revolution” (Brene, 2015).

            The final step in this process of growing from failure is revolution: a “no-turning-back” Brene, 2015, p 254) stage.   This “revolution” involves a renewed sense of clarity this process starts once insight is put into practice (Brown, 2015). In a step-by-step manner, this process involves a gradual change as we create new stories based on altered narratives. A convenient example, would be my latest (and successful attempt to lose weight). Rather than chasing a physical ideal based on what I considered to be “good enough”, I’m instead assuming “good enough” is now. The result is, a sense of peace in which self-care is the priority, and getting there occurs one step at a time.

Conclusion

I owe a debt of gratitude to Brene Brown for helping redefine the concepts of failure and success. When I was younger, success was always a “then point” where I could work my way into being “good enough”. Success was conceived of as a state of invulnerability, in which I was delivered from my own shame-laden life story. Failure, in turn was what I didn’t want to be in the present. As I have (long since) learned, success requires us to examine our past and any underlying narratives. Acting on these insights on the road to success, taking a chance not knowing the outcome, and risking failure.  This means acting on faith, that the journey contains the lessons we need to find our way there.

References

Brown, B. (2006). Shame Resilience Theory: A grounded theory study on women and shame.  Families in Society. 87(1), 43-48.
Brown, B. (2008). I Thought it was Just Me: But it Isn’t: Telling the Truth about Perfectionsim, Inadequacy, and Power. Gotham.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are.Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden Publishing.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. London, England: Penguin.
Brown, B. (2015). Rising Strong. Random House: New York.
Campbell, J. (2008). The hero with a thousand faces, 3rd ed. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Ingram, B.L. (2012). Clinical Case Formulations: Matching the Integrative Treatment Plan to the Client. (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

 

 

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