I was first introduced to Brené Brown by my psychologist. I was going through a year of right SHIT, seeing my psych weekly to cope, when she suggested reading Brené Brown’s book The Gifts Of Imperfection. I was skeptical because my psych was telling me my core issue was to do with self-esteem, which I disagreed with at the time. Now, I see she is basically as wise as Bran on Game of Thrones. As is Brené Brown, who I subsequently became completely obsessed with.
Brené’s been popular for years now – and while she’s far more than a self-help guru (she’s actually a hugely accomplished research professor), her writings on shame, vulnerability and leadership have struck a real chord with people. There have been several times that I’ve mentioned her books to friends only to have them scream in my face “OH MY GOD HOW AMAZING IS SHE!!!”, leading to a mutual screaming extravaganza. Because yes, she is that good. But lately she’s been making even bigger waves thanks to her Netflix special. Anyone who gets a Netflix special (hi, Hannah Gadsby) instantly becomes the talk of the town.
But what’s so special about this woman from Texas who for a long time totally had one of those “speak to the manager” haircuts? Maybe you’re skeptical about self-help books (I was) or you can’t stand her super peppy persona (I used to be the same). I’d encourage you to look beyond your doubts and the superficial because this woman knows a thing or two. There’s a reason people respond with squeals of delight and fall over themselves praising her philosophies – she’s the badass of self-help, which is why I compare her to Beyonce. She’s strong, independent, and not afraid to speak her mind. Her theories are accessible to the masses, but in no way are they diluted or ridiculous.
Brené’s got several books under her belt. I haven’t read them all, but I have read three – I Thought It Was Me (But It Isn’t), The Gifts Of Imperfection and Daring Greatly. If I were to pick my favourite, it’s The Gifts Of Imperfection. But they’re all magnificent.
Then there’s her viral TED Talks, which were really what thrust her into the spotlight and landed her on Oprah’s podcast, among other celebrity endorsements.
Brené’s “bits” when it comes to self-help are vulnerability, shame and empathy. There’s more, obviously – the woman has 6 books out. But these are the three areas she generally focuses on when it comes to our own self-improvement, with other books focused on leadership. I could not do covering these any justice and suggest you a) watch the special and b) read a few of her books to really deep dive. But what I thought I could do here is tell you some stuff I’ve learnt from Brené Brown that’s stuck with me for years now, completely – yes, completely – transforming my life.
1. We’ve lost the ability to be vulnerable
I definitely had, at least. Often I was too scared to be honest because I found my thoughts or feelings shameful, which meant they became bigger and scarier in my head. When I started telling people (trusted people – another important thing I learned was that you should be careful WHO you are vulnerable with) some of the thoughts I used to keep inside, it made the fears and anxieties smaller and more manageable.
It also builds relationships – in the past I used to hide a lot of my anxiety issues from romantic partners or friends, but now I’m open about my anxiety and I’ve found the honesty and vulnerability strengthens trusted relationships, too.
2. Empathy is key
Brené Brown is big on empathy, and she’s now conditioned me to be as well. I’m constantly checking myself when I judge others or get angry at people’s behaviour. Empathy is all about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes so you can understand why they’re saying or doing things. When we do that, we stop reacting so emotionally. An area I really see it is with friends, family and relationships. When someone is upset with me about something and I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong, I’ll listen instead of get defensive. And when you receive empathy from others it feels so damn good – your feelings are validated and often they dissipate somewhat because the person you were upset with is saying “okay, I can see what you’re saying”.
3. You’ve got to get into the shit stuff
I’d always avoided really delving deep and accepting the yuck parts of my personality or my internal beliefs. But a “big” Brene quote is this:
“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
What it means is that we have to face our ick feelings – feelings of shame, unworthiness, low self-esteem and all those awful things we say to ourselves, as well as all the parts of ourselves we don’t “like”, to really overcome them. Or less overcome them than control them, I suppose. For me it was anxiety, feelings of missing the mark or failure, and some other stuff I won’t go into (remember, you aren’t expected to be vulnerable with just anyone!). The point being – don’t push down that stuff. Get in there, sort it out. It makes it smaller, trust me.
4. Down-time is important but make it count
A small, less significant chapter in one of Brene’s books that’s stuck with me is about “play”. Basically, Brene thinks as adults that we’ve lost the ability to “play”, that is, to have down-time doing something we enjoy simply for the enjoyment of it. In a life that’s become so busy and overloaded with responsibilities and things demanding our attention, she wants us to dedicate daily time to something we enjoy.
But – and there’s a but – it has to be conscious. One thing she said that shook me was that we’re all lying in front of the TV blindly watching while we play on our phones, but we’re not present in any of it. So you can watch Bachelor In Paradise as your “play”, but it’s less about spending hours after work watching reality show after reality show and never paying attention, and more about focusing on the one enjoyable pastime. Feel me?
Anyway. I can’t stress this enough – READ THE BOOKS.