Thursday, May 12, 2016

Brené Brown: an author review, of sorts.

I've always been a huge believer in a book finding you at just the right time. Usually for me, said book is fiction, with a character whose struggles mirror my own in some way, or a setting that feels so familiar it's like being home. I'm not much into non-fiction; I've enjoyed a few (Terry Tempest William's Refuge and John Krakauer's Into Thin Air come to mind, both read with my book group), but usually about a third of way through non-fiction books, especially when they deal with self-help, I tune out and lose interest.

Enter Brené Brown. I first heard about her when a friend posted her TED talk on shame and vulnerability on Facebook. Listening to that talk was so enlightening - I can still remember the little explosions going off in my brain as I identified with her wise words on shame. I always remembered how that TED talk made me feel, but I didn't take it any further.

Then a few weeks ago I had a thought in the shower (because doesn't all wisdom flow from the time you spend in the shower? I saw a meme that said a fraction of our time in the shower is spent cleaning ourselves, and the majority is spent evaluating our life. So true!) about my tendency to ruminate. Since my anxiety blew up last summer, a lot of my rumination time is spent either suppressing or magnifying my heightened emotions about driving to work. I vacillate between the two on almost a minute by minute basis on the days I go to work. Or, if it's not the drive to work, it's my feelings about a person or a situation that makes me feel vulnerable in some way. I realized that if I'm going to live with anxiety, I need to find a way to let it be in my life but not the focus of my life. And to start that journey, I need to learn to get out of my head.

One of the suggested books about rumination and worry was by Brené Brown. I can't tell you which one, because my search resulted in my reserving several of her books and audio books at the library. I started reading the first one that came available as a hold - I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't). (I also picked up Rising Strong, but old habits required me to read ITIWJM, because it was written earlier, and I wouldn't want to "spoil" the series by reading the last book first!) After the Introduction, I realized that it would never do to just read the library copy - I wanted to write all over the book immediately. By page 44, I was sending pics of favorite passages to Amy, and on page 76 (which I read while on a flight to Spokane for Bloomsday - a moment I think I will remember my whole life), I had a revelation about my life and how I use shame and vulnerability against myself that forever changed me. Making a mental note to buy the book as soon as I got the chance, I got out the journal I'd brought along with me on the plane and started writing. I saw the shame that has hampered my adult life with such a clarity and the source that started its terrible trajectory in such a clear-eyed way that I knew I'd never be able to go back. I'm different, altered, changed - whatever synonym a thesaurus can come up with - I'm that.

Shame has been my go-to place for so long that I cannot remember a time when it hasn't been my companion. I don't know what happened or didn't happen to make that be my reality. Brown's distinction of how guilt and shame are different - guilt is the feeling that something you have done is bad, shame is the feeling that what you are is bad - was especially helpful, because I've never wanted to call what I feel shame - I've always blamed it on guilt. But my interior landscape has always told me that I'm fundamentally bad. And as a result, I've spent my whole life trying unsuccessfully to argue with that landscape. (Putting that sentence out there makes me feel so vulnerable - I want to delete it. But allowing myself to be vulnerable and not sell the image that "I'm perfect!" is what will help me to start to alter my landscape, which I want to do with all of my heart and soul.)

I now have my own marked up copy of ITIWJM. I just finished it this morning. I've also been reading in tandem a library copy of The Gifts of Imperfection (another one I need to buy - I might as well start my own library of Brown's books.) Reading them together helped to explain and clarify questions I had about ITIWJM - many of the ideas carry over into The Gifts, reinforcing some of the harder concepts for me to apply.

Like Brené Brown says in the book, reading just one book on shame isn't going to solve my issues with shame and vulnerability. But I'm better armed to change my landscape because of the following:

  • I have knowledge of what to call the emotions I feel that cause me to want to control situations.
  • I can be better prepared for the situations that lead me to anguish over others' feelings about me.
  • I can better process and maybe understand the feelings that start debates in my head that tell me without mincing any words just how terrible I am and why. Maybe I can even head off these thoughts before they start.
  • I can identify what my shame triggers are and which screens I use internally and externally to throw others off of the scent of my vulnerability.
  • I can be more helpful to others when they are showing me their vulnerability. My go-to mode in these situation is to try to head off their pain and tell them that what they are saying isn't true because I don't want them to experience pain. A favorite quote - "can we be with her in her shame? Or do we feel the need to make it better or redirect the conversation? If we are willing to be open and present, we are willing to practice compassion." And also, "Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals." (that last quote is quoted in the book -  it was said by Pema Chödrön, an American Buddhist nun. Love, love that quote and I want to strive to use it in my life.)

If you see or talk to me in real life and I start spouting off these newfound truths, forgive me. Or maybe you can sit with me in my vulnerability and then let me sit with you. Or maybe I won't remember what I've learned and I'll try to fix you - forgive me again. If I get angry and go off on you about things that happened in the past or situations that I make me vulnerable because they show me an part of myself that I don't like - forgive me, I'm trying to change my old patters of shame screens and identities that I want to avoid. If you catch me quiet and scatter-brained because I've gotten stuck in my head again, forgive me and ask me what I'm feeling shameful about and then let me be vulnerable with you. If you respond in a way that doesn't address my vulnerability, I'll try (maybe unsuccessfully) to forgive you and realize that you are doing your best. If I give you a copy of a book to read or send you quotes I like - forgive me; just know I love you and want to share something that felt authentic in me and I sent it to you in the chance that it will feel authentic to you.

I'm planning to finish The Gifts of Imperfection and move on to Rising Strong.

Have you read any of these books? Is it just me? Do I sound completely crazy-pants? I'd love to have your comments.<3 br="">


Feisty Harriet said...

Whelp, I just ordered 3 of her books.

Yay to new-to-me authors and life-changing reading!