Brown explains that most people can understand the difficulty of personal “scarcity” because they are living it. When she asks interview subjects to fill in this phrase: “Never (blank) enough,” people quickly write “good, perfect, thin, powerful, successful, smart, certain, safe” or “extraordinary.” To measure yourself against others only harms you. For instance, she urges artists not to allow their work and its reception to become the primary source of their self-worth. “Nostalgia” is a dangerous corollary to the idea of never measuring up or being enough. Consider how, in low moments, you may indulge in comparing your current self with a former, more effective, wonderful version of you. As with never enough, your conclusions are invariably self-destructive, self-limiting falsehoods.
Brown describes heroic souls who integrate trauma into their lives and carry on. These resilient people follow a specific path or course of action even though few other people understand their circumstances. They undergo the conscious realization that they’ve suffered, embrace professional or personal help, deliberately “work through” embarrassment, and reconnect to their vulnerability as “a daily practice.” They proactively seek a return to being vulnerable, a step that Brown explains often demonstrates even more courage than surviving the initial trauma.
Details, Lists and Clear Credibility
Unfortunately, Brown fills page after page with lists. She outlines her research even though just presenting her conclusions would be more effective and certainly easier to read. Brown’s academic credentials are beyond reproach. Her excess of minutiae about her research reads as if she feels the need to prove that she didn’t just think up her insights. She wants her readers to know that her perceptions stem from diligent and rigorous study. Granted, Brown’s in a tough position. She doesn’t want to drive readers away with too much academic material, but she also doesn’t want professionals in her field to regard her as a New Age amateur.
And yet, that is the least likely conclusion astute readers will draw. Brown is credible, period. In a field full of blowhards, charlatans and charismatic speakers who lack intellectual attainment or insight, Brown remains unique. Part of what distinguishes her and makes this work so worthwhile – and connects readers to her insights so powerfully – is Brown’s unassailable sincerity. Reading her words directly and reading between the lines produces the same insight: Brown has been through every process of the self-work she describes. She has fought her own demons of pride and shame and faced difficult insights about herself to embrace vulnerability.
If Brown gets a little gee-whiz now and then, or falls into unfortunate habits like offering epigrams from Top Gun, or making a reader sort through more facts and figures than anyone but academics would want to read, she still delivers her message with grace, kindness and affection. She has a gift for describing the ephemera of life and emotion in a way that resonates. It’s hard not to wander into cliché, but she avoids most of the trite banalities that adhere to this subject realm like barnacles. Brown’s genuineness and easy prose style enable readers to connect to the information she provides. They also help you identify with the emotion in her writing. That might be her greatest gift to you and will likely keep you returning to those passages that speak to you most powerfully and personally.
Within her discussion of marriage, Brown cites the corrosive effects of shame. Women who feel shamed by a lack of validation will criticize their husbands to provoke a reaction; this takes the place of genuine emotional communication. Conversely, men who experience shame when criticized will withdraw – thus further shutting down any chance of connection. This fuels a vicious cycle of mutual armoring and distancing.
Brown describes how this cycle took hold in her 18-year marriage, and how she and her husband overcame it. She mentions that they’ve celebrated the 25th anniversary of their first date, and credits the health of their long relationship to “vulnerability, love, humor, respect, shame-free fighting and blame-free living.” Brown describes shame as “painful” and says “perpetuating shame” is even more so. No one can inflict shame upon you and maintain it as persuasively as your lover, partner or parent. They have the intimacy to understand your “vulnerabilities and fears.” This is why a shaming assault from those closest to you is the most effective and the most painful. And it’s why inflicting shame on someone close to you is a toxic betrayal.
Brown advocates strongly the healing power of love. Pretty much every pop song ever written agrees with her and for good reason. Brown moves into the province of poets and tries to craft a definition of love – as she says, one of the most difficult tasks she ever attempted. Her definition is her effort to reach out to readers to “start a conversation” about the nature of love.
Brown quotes from her earlier book The Gifts of Imperfection, saying that love emerges from showing your “most vulnerable and powerful self.” She stresses that to experience love, you must “allow” yourself to be “seen and known.” To do that, you must escape shame, which makes people “withhold affection” and destroys love. Brown describes how she resisted with all her might the concept that you can’t love someone else until you embrace loving yourself. Now, after “practicing self-love” over a long span of time, she recognizes the positive effect it has on all her relationships. Brown asks the crucial question: Are you only espousing love – it’s easy enough, after all, to say “I love you” – or are you truly living it?