Monday, 13 June 2016

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown


This is rather far afield from the books I usually read. I have a healthy skepticism about self-help books born of years working in a bookstore, seeing the vast mass of them and how few looked like they offered anything at all but platitudes. However, this was a pick for my real-life book club this month, and so I sat down and read it. It didn't hurt that a youtube video of Brene Brown (not her ubiquitous TED talk) had helped me figure out a few things during a stressful time.

So, when I sat down and read this, what did I find? I liked a lot of her message, and felt that the book was strongest when she was drawing directly on her research. However, there were a few sections in the middle where it got a little mushy, and one particularly irritating moment when I had a moment of recognition, and then very little help. 

Her main thesis (looks liked explored more thoroughly in a previous book) is that when she studied people who lived wholeheartedly, she found that they were the very people who accepted and even embraced vulnerability despite how much it gets you hurt.  And that shame was the greatest barrier to embracing vulnerability, because we think other people will see our openness as weakness.

In general, I'm on board. Her main ideas feel right, and she has a few practical ideas for staying mindful and opening yourself up. (On the other hand, most of the kinds of vulnerability she's talking about I already feel like I'm fairly good at embracing, so I would wonder how this would read to someone who is entirely vulnerability-averse.)

I am particularly wary of self-help books when they advise being more vigilant every second to make sure that you're doing this right. It's a twisted way of creating more stress - when your happiness is all your own responsibility, are you doing enough? Being enough? If you're not happy, is it really your own fault?

At least this book is striving to help people achieve a sense of innate worthiness no matter what happens in their lives, of knowing that bad things happen and you can fuck up and that does not mean you are a horrible fucked-up person. I feel like in the the last ten years, I arrived at a place of believing that I was an alright person, no matter what happened, and deserved my spot here as much as anyone does. (And furthermore, that it's not a matter of deserving, so just let that the fuck go and be here.)

(Thanks, Mom and Dad, for well equipping me to arrive at that place.)

So, in other words, I'm already on board with her general ideas. But there was this one section that annoyed me and got a little mushy. In the section on armour, she goes through what she says are the three distancing/coping techniques for vulnerability that everyone uses at some time or another, and ways to combat them. Then she goes through some less frequent ones. And one of those made me stop and go "yes. That's what I do. That's the one I use." Then I was eager to see what she'd say was a good coping technique with that particular armour.

But she really didn't. It felt like her research hadn't covered that one yet, so she could identify it, and all she said for addressing it was "when I'm doing this, I think of this one movie that contains the line I'm referencing in naming this armour, and it makes me stop."

That is...not that helpful if you've never seen the movie and are unclear on how knowing the movie would help you stop. I get that it's a deeply personal reminder that works for her but this is one place I really wanted some simultaneously broader and more specific advice like she was dispensing earlier in the book.

I don't think this book changed my life. I mean, really, it was more or less validating for several strongly held beliefs I had, so it was a welcome reminder, and gave some good advice on how I can keep working on something I'm already working on. Ways to think about it.

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