Saturday, February 4, 2012

January Book Report: I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn't) by Brene Brown

Back in October, a favorite blogger of mine posted a video under the heading: "How I Want to Live My Life." The TEDTalk video was Brene Brown (someone I'd never heard of) talking about shame, worthiness, vulnerability, and living wholeheartedly.

It blew me away. I found her website and blog Ordinary Courage, and loved what I read. She puts into words what I'm experiencing in my family, in my marriage, in my job, and in my faith. I wanted to shout "Where have you been all my life?"

So I bought her book.

She describes her research as a social worker, interviewing women to learn the impact shame has (which she defines as "the fear of disconnection"). What she discovered was that women who are resilient to shame have four things in common: understanding of their shame triggers, critical awareness, support, and language for speaking about shame. She says courage, compassion and connection are all necessary for resiliency.

Her writing is shifting things into focus for me. Like an optometrist flipping various lenses in front of my eyes and determining the strength of the prescription I need, Brene Brown's perspective is the perfect fit for my emotional near sightedness.

Throughout the book, I kept thinking things like, "That's why I react so strongly when I feel dismissed or seen as flawed." And, "Yeah, there's definitely a correlation to vulnerability and fear, but also vulnerability and connection."

The vulnerability I feel while grappling with the impact Alzheimer's has had on my family has been a weird combination of anger, loss, grief and equal measures of gratitude, joy, and appreciation.

I'm discovering how deep-seated my perfectionism is, and how hatred of my own mistakes and weaknesses impacts my beliefs about my worthiness (my subconscious mantra is "I must be perfect so I remain lovable"). Lots of therapy-time has been spent on that one lately.

I usually refer to what Ms. Brown defines as "shame" as self-consciousness (debilitating at times) or insecurity or neediness. My adolescence was spent in a constant state of guilt over sins (real and imagined). That guilt still reappears from time to time, like a storm cloud. I'm re-categorizing all those negative emotions under the heading of "shame."

I dog-eared page 196 where she writes, "When we choose growth over perfection, we immediately increase our shame resilience. Improvement is a far more realistic goal than perfection" (Brown, 2008).

The whole book is chock full of excerpts from the interviews she's conducted and stories of her own experience with feelings of (un)worthiness. She's a professional, highly educated, and her career is loaded with distinguished accomplishments. But her writing is nothing but down-to-earth.

When I finished reading all I could way was, "Dang. How can I arrange a coffee date with her?"


  1. Hey Emily,

    If you find out how to have coffee with this woman, let me know :) I want to read this book. Thanks for writing about it! You are such a good writer.

  2. I'm a recent Brene Brown convert, too, but I haven't read that book. I'll be picking it up soon! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this--shows how you are putting her thoughts into action--I am embracing this spirit of vulnerability these days, too.