As much as I love reading books for pleasure, I think reading books for self-development can be even more rewarding in some ways. On Self-Love Sundays, I'll be sharing the self-improvement or self-care book I'm reading this month, and doing a reflection of sorts on what I'm taking away from the book. If you'd like to join me in reading & reflecting, please link up below!
This month, Queen Brené reigns. You may have heard of Brené Brown. She's been featured on the Oprah channel, Ted talks, and is a bestselling author and respected sociologist. I picked up The Gifts of Imperfection: Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life, from an unlikely source this summer. The job I was working at included a weekly book club of sorts where we read Brené and reflected on her nuggets of wisdom. As it was required at the time, I didn't read as carefully as I could have, so I'm re-reading this and attempting to apply Brené's advice to my life more wholeheartedly.
Introduction & Courage, Compassion, and Connection
Brené begins the book with an introduction on how she upon the idea of wholehearted living. A perfectionist for most of her life, Brené thought that she had it together. A successful career, loving family, and an organized life all gave the semblance of a perfect life. However, in the event Brené calls the 2007
Breakdown Spiritual Awakening. After studying those people Brené deemed "wholehearted," she realized something: all the qualities she was putting in the column for things these people didn't do, were her own traits, and vice versa. This lead to years of soul searching and more research, and resulted in this wonderful book.
Brené opens up her "Courage, Compassion and Connection" chapter with a shame story. We all have them: a time when we were so embarrassed, so disappointed in the way we've acted, that we want to curl up into a ball and hide from the event forever. Brené recommends the opposite: share your shame. "Shame loves secrecy," she explains. "The most dangerous thing to do after a shaming experience is hide or bury our story. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes." (10) I don't know about y'all, but that's always been my first instinct. Slack off at work? Hide it. Fail a test? No one needs to know. But exposing ourselves in these moments to people we love gives us a safe place to share our shame, and takes that weight off our chests. After talking to her sister about her shame event, Brené feels "totally exposed and completely loved and accepted at the same time." (11) Not only does that feeling of acceptance after a shame event remind us that we are redeemable and allowed to make mistakes, it strengthens relationships when the other person realizes that we trust them with our most embarrassing moments.
These thoughts bring us to one of the topics of this chapter: courage. I read a lot of YA. I think of courage as those strong main characters who are fighting demons, vampires, and dragons, and equate that with courage. However, Brené says of courage: "Heroics is often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today's world, that's pretty extraordinary." (13) In other words, we don't need to battle dragons or bad guys to have courage. Rather than armoring ourselves up and thinking that means we're strong, vulnerability exposes us, allowing us to live life fully.
Vulnerability is necessary to living a wholehearted life because not feeling emotions fully only numbs happier times. Brené says, "It's only been in the last few years that I've learned that playing down the exciting stuff doesn't take the pain away when it doesn't happen. It does, however, minimize the joy when it does happen. It also creates a lost of isolation. Once you've diminished the importance of something, your friends are not likely to call and say, 'I'm sorry that didn't work out I know you were excited about it.'" I feel this point so strongly and it's one of the things that I'm really working on this month to change in my behavior. I've done this for so long, it's become an ingrained habit. When working on assignments in high school and college, I never put my full effort into anything, in case I didn't get the grade I wanted on it. If I did it halfheartedly and got a B, I could say I didn't try my best. But if I pour my heart and soul into something and then have it rejected? That would be crushing. On the other side, what could I have done with those years if I had given my all to everything? How much full joy would I have gained? This also goes for relationships. When I broke up with my last boyfriend, I played it off to my friends that I was relieved (I was, mostly), and that I was really over it. Without giving myself the space and vulnerability to grieve, I cut myself off from my main support system by telling them it wasn't that important - it was a bad relationship, and I shouldn't have these feelings about it. After suppressing those emotions for month, they all came out, and I was alone.
The next element of this chapter is compassion, which literally means "to suffer with". When put this way, we can see that compassion can actually hurt. That's why our first response is often to self-protect - to go into "judgement mode" or "fix-it mode" (16). "Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals... Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity." (16) To truly be compassionate, we can't stand above the hurting person and advise them on how to move forward, or offer to fix the problem for them. We have to relate to them in their darkness and acknowledge the common connection between your pain and theirs. I have a hard time being empathetic, and I have a tendency to become frustrated with people who are going through things. Often, I don't understand why they can't get out of this funk or situation or judge them for getting into it in the first place. I'm working on finding that common ground, rather than going into either of those modes.
The last element of the chapter, connection, is described by Brené as "the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship." (19) We biologically have an innate need for connection. It affects the way our brain functions, develops, and views the world. Raised in an individualistic society as an introvert, I've never been one to rely on people much. My home life as a younger child was very unstable, and I occupied myself much of the time, without many playmates. When I began a homeschool program in 5th grade, I had even more time with only me, myself, and I. I've always considered myself very independent. Brené wants us to let go of the "myth of self-sufficiency. One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance we place on 'going it alone'. Somehow we've come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we're very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It's as if we've divided the world into 'those who offer help' and 'those who need help'." (20) I've always subconsciously counted myself in that first category. I didn't realize that by putting a judgement on myself when I have to ask for help, I'm also judging all those I help myself. "Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgement to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgement to giving help." (20-21). This week, I'm working on not judging myself when I need help, and in turn, not judging others when they need my help as well.
Goals this week:
- Don't bury shame
- Lean into vulnearbility
- Recieve and give help with no judgement on yourself or others