I read a book by Brene Brown, called The Gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are; Your guide to a wholehearted life. This is the book’s title, or just all the words on the cover of the book, either way the words inside and out of this book are imbued with acceptance…embrace who you are, imperfections and all. The book doesn’t preach about acceptance, it is more of an underlying character that is interwoven with all the other characters. The book’s objective seems to be more directly illustrating the value of boldly owning up to one’s imperfections rather than hiding them for fear of not being seen as “perfect” and therefore not being worthy of the love and respect of others. And this fear of unworthiness is a big part of what fuels shame–shame being the buzz word of Brown’s career. Brown is very careful to clearly define all the important words she uses, such as love, intuition, and of course shame. Her definitions come from her own research as well as others, however, this exacting, scientific approach does not make for a dry, boring textbook read; Brown identifies herself as a storyteller as well as a researcher which enables her to create a very readable and relate-able handbook. Her writing contains the overarching story gathered through her research participants as well as stories from her own life as a way of modeling the importance of sharing our weaknesses or “imperfections”.
The book is organized into two key sections, the first is an overview of Brown’s work in researching shame and woven tightly into that are the stories of her own personal work which was triggered by what she saw coming out of her academic work. Brown’s research is qualitative, which means she interviews people with open-ended questions and collects thousands of stories, then dissects them looking for themes and patterns. As she was working to better understand shame and shame-resilience she was disturbed by what she saw because she recognized how shame was directing choices in her own life. Many a reader of this book will likely have a similar, uncomfortable experience of feeling the words hit close to home, and I would say the greater the discomfort the greater the value in continuing to read.
Brown tells us that shame is something that everyone experiences and one of its key features is that it tells us to keep the shame experience and the imperfections a secret so that it can grow. In the “Shame 101” section Brown defines shame and shows the way to usurp it: recognize it, debunk its messages, and take the risk of being vulnerable enough to share the experience with a trusted listener. Brown’s research showed how vulnerability is the source of shame resilience and this has lead her to baring herself and her imperfections for others to see, which she illustrates and models throughout the book. Through the process of being vulnerable Brown practices courage and compassion allowing for deeper connection between her and the listener. These words–courage, compassion, connection–are what Brown identifies as the gifts we receive when we allow ourselves to be seen as imperfect so they are defined and explored or “unpacked”, along with all the other important words. I particularly like one definition: courage is to “speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart” (p 12).
The second section of the book is the most how-to’ey with its’ guideposts on making changes in various areas of life. It has a how-to aspect without any of the subtle shame that can sneak in with your typical list of ways to improve your life; the checklist how-to’s tend to lead me into giving myself a pass-fail grade based on how many how-to’s I’m already doing vs. ones that had never occurred to me or seem out of reach for various reasons. Brown’s guideposts don’t lend themselves to that outcome, instead each one highlights the two alternatives, one unbalanced or “imperfect” way of interacting with the world and one more authentic, inspired “wholehearted” way. The language she chooses is important, each guidepost is about “letting go” of one alternative while “cultivating” the other alternative, reinforcing the message that the work is an on-going process (not a check list). There are ten guideposts in all and they address a variety of topics from work to play, self-doubt to perfectionism, anxiety to coolness. The guideposts all inspire, encourage, and enable a non-judgmental self-assessment, as Brown continues to model. The last part of each guidepost is a “DIG deep” prompt which is the guiding suggestions of what to do about the conundrum of how to change. The acronym DIG stands for Deliberate, Inspire, and Going, as in the path to change requires one to be “deliberate in their thoughts and behaviors through prayer, meditation, or simply setting their intention; inspired to make new and different choices; going. they take action.” (p 4).
I think Brene Brown’s work is amazing and I felt a bit daunted writing a review of this book, just as I often find myself a bit tongue-tied when I try to sum up and pass along her wisdom when I am working with clients. I often find myself referring clients to read or listen or watch Brown’s words directly, so I want to do the same for my readers here. There are many of her works I could recommend, my favorite in this moment is a animated video most specifically about blame, check it out at this link to you tube but don’t stop there…
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