“Daring Greatly” is a book about a philosophy of life, and a manual for fostering healthy human connection. The gist is the following: a life well-lived is a life full of courage and daring greatly. Those who try their hardest, take risks, get beat up, and doubtlessly encounter pain and humiliation, are living lives that matter. The body of the book explains how, when applied to a social context, daring greatly is a willingness to be vulnerable.
Since childhood, we are most afraid of being ridiculed, ostracized, and forgotten. Brown explains how vulnerability is a tight-rope walk: if you are too stingy or non-reciprocal with your vulnerability, you won’t connect deeply; but if you are too upfront about your vulnerability then you’ll seem manipulative or non-genuine. She also discusses strategies for building shame resilience, a key trait that softens the damage when daring greatly (sometimes unavoidably) leads to pain.
I enjoyed this book quite a lot. While reading it, I had to take quite a few introspective pauses to review experiences in my life through the lens of her ideas. As a non-parent, even the chapter on parenting was engaging. The ideas in this book seem like they could be useful to bolster the meaningfulness of several relationships in my life.
I began to develop and hone my vulnerability-avoidance skills
Over time I tried everything from “the good girl” with my “perform-perfect-please” routine, to clove-smoking poet, angry activist, corporate climber, and out-of-control party girl. At first glance these may seem like reasonable, if not predictable, developmental stages, but they were more than that for me. All of my stages were different suits of armor that kept me from becoming too engaged and too vulnerable. Keep everyone at a safe distance and always have an exit strategy.
Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of live and belonging.
This definition is based on these fundamental ideals:
Love and belonging are irreducible needs of all men, women, and children.
If you roughly divide people into two groups-- those who feel a deep sense of love and belonging, and those who struggle for it-- there’s only one variable that separates them. They either do (or don’t) believe they are worthy of love and belonging.
The opposite of scarcity is enough, or what I call Wholeheartedness.
Vulnerability myth #1: “Vulnerability is weakness”. To foreclose on our emotional life out of a fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to life.
Vulnerability: uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.
Influence-and-persuasion researchers conducted a series of studies on vulnerability. They found that the participants who thought they were not susceptible or vulnerable to deceptive advertising were, in fact, the most vulnerable. Researchers: “Far from being an effective shield, the illusion of invulnerability undermines the very response that would have supplied genuine protection.”
Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me.
Are you all in? Can you value your own vulnerability as much as you value it in others? Answering yes to these questions is not weakness: it’s courage beyond measure. It’s daring greatly. And often the result isn’t a victory march, but a quiet sense of freedom mixed with a little battle fatigue.
Vulnerability myth #2: “I don’t do vulnerability”.
“I’m an engineer–we hate vulnerability.”
Trust is built one marble at a time. Our friends’ jars get more marbles when:
- They keep our secrets
- They tell us their secrets
- They remember my birthday
- They make sure I’m included in fun things.
- They know when I’m sad and ask me why.
The most corrosive element against the trust connection is disengagement. Disengagement triggers shame and our greatest fears-- of being abandoned, unworthy, and unlovable.
The people who love me, the people I really depend on, were never the critics who were pointing at me while I stumbled.
Elements of shame resilience:
- Recognizing shame and understanding its triggers.
- Practicing critical awareness (reality checking expectations that trigger shame).
- Reaching out. (Owning and sharing your story so that we can experience empathy)
- Speaking shame. Talk about how you feel and ask for what you need when you feel shame.
How others deal with shame:
- move away (withdrawing, hiding, silencing, secrets)
- move towards (seeking to appease and please)
- move against (gain power over others, aggressiveness, using shame of others to fight shame in self)
How Brené deals with shame:
- Practice courage and reach out instead of hiding.
- Self-talk the way you would talk to someone you really love (fight unworthiness: You’re okay. You’re human. We all make mistakes.)
- Own the story; don’t bury it or let it define you. “If you own this story you get to write the ending.”
A man in his early 60s: “I used to think the best way to go through life was to expect the worst. That way, if it happened, you were prepared, and if it didn’t happen, you were pleasantly surprised. Then I was in a car accident and my wife was killed. Needless to say, expecting the worst didn’t prepare me at all. And worse, I still grieve for all those wonderful moments we share and that I didn’t fully enjoy. My commitment to her is to fully enjoy every moment now. I just wish she was here, now that I know how to do that.”
When we spend our lives (knowingly or unknowingly) pushing away vulnerability, we can’t hold space open for the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure of joy.
Learnings about joy:
- Joy comes to us in moments–ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary.
- Be grateful for what you have.
- Don’t squander joy. Every time we allow ourselves to lean into joy and give into those moments, we build resilience and we cultivate hope.
Takeaway: cultivate a gratitude practice. Literally say aloud: “I’m feeling vulnerable and I’m so grateful for ________.”
In all my research, I’ve never heard one person attribute their joy, success, or Wholeheartedness to being perfect.
Perfectionism is a defensive move. It’s the belief that if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame.
Mindfulness requires that we not “over-identify” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negativity.
One of the most universal numbing strategies is what I call crazy-busy. If we stay busy enough, the truth of our lives wont catch up to us.
“We believe that the most destructive feeling that a person can experience is psychological isolation. . . People will do almost anything to escape this combination of condemned isolation and powerlessness.”
[Wholehearted men and women] explained that reducing anxiety meant paying attention to how much they could do and how much was too much, and learning how to say, “Enough.”
Connection: Connection is the energy that is created between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement.
Belonging: Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this learning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world.
On living a connected life, ask yourself: “What are these feelings and where did they come from?” Invariably the answers are that I’m not feeling connected enough, and this comes from (take your pick) not sleeping enough, not playing enough, working too much, or trying to run from vulnerability.
Shadow Comfort: You can chat on message boards for 1/2 an hour and be energized by the community and ready to go back to work. Or you can chat on message boards because you’re avoiding talking to your partner about how angry he or she made you last night.
Ask yourself: “Are my choices comforting and nourishing my spirit, or are they temporary reprieves from vulnerability and difficult emotions ultimately diminishing my spirit? Are my choices leading to my Wholeheartedness, or do they leave me empty and searching?”
- Sitting down to a wonderful meal is nourishing and pleasure.
- Flipping through channels for an hour, or standing in the pantry while eating, is numbing.
Using vulnerability is not the same thing as being vulnerable; it’s the opposite–it’s armor. Disclosing information as a way to work through your personal stuff is inappropriate and unethical. I only share when I have no unmet needs that I’m trying to fill.
Checklist prior to sharing:
- Why am I sharing this?
- What outcome and I hoping for?
- What emotions am I experiencing?
- Do my intentions align with my values?
- Is there an outcome, response or lack of a response that will hurt my feelings?
- Is this sharing in the service of a connection?
- Am I genuinely asking the people in my life for what I need?
Shame can only rise so far in any system before people disengage to protect themselves. When we’re disengaged, we don’t show up, we don’t contribute, and we stop caring.
Childhood experiences of shame change who we are, how we think about ourselves, and our self worth.
So often we think that we earn parenting points by being critical, put out, and exasperated… I don’t want to criticize when my kids walk into the room, I want to light up!
- Before criticizing, first look and flash a smile before saying “Don’t touch anything before you wash your hands.”
You can’t claim to care about the welfare of children if you’re shaming other parents for the choices they’re making.
Minding the gap can be particularly challenging when honoring difference is one of our aspirational values.
[After Brené received a poster that she expected to be on, but wasn’t, and was feeling hurt and humiliated]. Ellen leaned forward, looked at me, and said, “I know what that feels like. When I’m the other, I feel hurt and small and lonely. We all want to matter and belong.”
If we’re always following our children into the arena, hushing the critics, and assuring their victory, they’ll never learn that they have the ability to dare greatly on their own.
My note on Page 237: As a parent, there will be moments where your child points out that you yourself are not being Wholehearted. Can you tolerate the vulnerability long enough to be with it for a minute? Or will you discharge the shame and discomfort by redirecting your child or blaming them for “crossing the line?” Can we make mistakes and make amends? Acknowledge how wonderfully he’s practicing empathy? If we want our kids to own and be honest about their experiences, can we own ours?
I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.