Brené Brown’s latest book, Rising Strong, is rich with insights and anecdotes that delve further into the themes of her research; shame and vulnerability—the opposites of which being compassion and courage. As in her previous books—and the widely popular TED talks—Brené continues, in Rising Strong, to encourage us to own our stories because within our stories we’ll find courage. To find that courage, we must become vulnerability.

I believe that vulnerability—the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome—is the only path to more love, belonging, and joy”, writes Brené. “hiding out, pretending, and armoring up against vulnerability are killing us: killing our spirits, our hopes, our potential, our creativity, our ability to lead, our love, our faith, and our joy.

rising strongWe live in a culture of masks and labels. Many of us are afraid to show our true selves, to the world at large or the microcosm that is our family and friends. We mold ourselves into what’s expected, or what we perceive to be expected. We refrain from real dialog and gravitate toward the more superficial. We bury our faces in screens as our primary source of communications—with family and strangers alike. Is this a product of our shame? When we resist dealing with our own hurt we often end up projecting it on others, or we engage in self-sabotaging behavior.

Via Rising Strong
There are too many people today who instead of feeling hurt are acting out their hurt; instead of acknowledging pain, they’re inflicting pain on others. Rather than risking feeling disappointed, they’re choosing to live disappointed. Emotional stoicism is not badassery. Blustery posturing is not badassery. Swagger is not badassery. Perfection is about the furthest thing in the world from badassery.

Stoicism remains the default persona that men should adopt, so it seems based on popular culture. You seldom see our leading men, leaders, and mentors showing vulnerability. By in large, Women are better at engaging, sharing, and reaching out to friends and family for help. Men need to emulate James Bond—be the hero on the white horse; this is reflected in the suicide rates of men versus women. A study in Britain shows suicide as the biggest killer among men of a certain age, and men accounting for 76% of all suicides.

Via The Guardian
Suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 and 49, eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. It is also predominantly a male disorder. Of the 5,981 suicides in 2012, an astonishing 4,590 (76%) were men.

We need more people who are willing to demonstrate what it looks like to risk and endure failure, disappointment, and regret— people willing to feel their own hurt instead of working it out on other people, people willing to own their stories, live their values, and keep showing up. —Brené Brown

Via Rising Strong
Even with small, everyday conflicts and disappointments, physical and emotional intolerance for discomfort is the primary reason we linger on the outskirts of our stories, never truly facing them or integrating them into our lives. We disengage to self-protect.

To get beyond our shaming and negative, often untrue, self-beliefs, Brené recommends we have an emotional reckoning with ourselves, basically figuring out where we are and how it is we got there. The reckoning is two-fold:

  1. engaging with our feelings, and
  2. getting curious about the story behind the feelings

Brené’s reckoning isn’t necessarily ground breaking, it seems quite similar to psychologist, Martin Seligman’s, advice on using disputation to change one’s mindset from pessimism (depressive) toward a more optimistic view. Brown, and Seligman, advise we lean into our feelings and our adversities and get curious about the source. Advising we essentially become researchers and investigators in our own right, with the subject of study being our minds—and hearts.

It may seem counter-intuitive to lean into your feelings while simultaneously trying to step outside the emotions that lead many of us to the fork in the road between feeling bad about a failure to labeling ourselves as failures. I failed vs. I am a failure. But, as investigators into our own well-being, we need to learn to take that step back and objectively look at the situation and the feelings that are rising. We need to do so despite the emotional triggers.

The opposite of recognizing that we’re feeling something is denying our emotions. The opposite of being curious is disengaging. When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us,” writes Brown.

Most often what gets in the way of our emotional reckoning is the big F-bomb—FEAR. The last thing we want to do is confront those fears, confront those scary emotions, realize and accept perhaps we aren’t as strong as we thought. Ironically, running from the fears re-enforces our weakness; our slice of shame pie is consumed more often and the slices get cut larger and larger, until one day we wake up and the effects—depression and anxiety—have set in. It’s the confronting of our stories—over again—that makes us stronger and more resilient. We tend to take the short-term easy route, which Brené calls numbing, not necessarily realizing it is the path to long-term suffering.

Via Rising Strong
We can take the edge off emotional pain with a whole bunch of stuff, including alcohol, drugs, food, sex, relationships, money, work, caretaking, gambling, affairs, religion, chaos, shopping, planning, perfectionism, constant change, and the Internet.

But no matter what we use, we can’t selectively numb emotions— when we numb the dark, we also numb the light.

Brené’s research also reveals what she labels stockpiling, the avoidance and internal burying of emotions. This tends to go hand-in-hand with, or is the purpose of, the numbing.

Via Rising Strong
In hundreds of interviews, people have recounted how they just “kept everything inside” until they couldn’t sleep or eat or they became so anxious they couldn’t focus at work or grew too depressed to do anything but stay in bed.

Depression and anxiety are two of the body’s first reactions to stockpiles of hurt.

Read Brene Brown’s books and check out her TED talks if you want to expand your emotional boundaries, and improve your internal dialog and connections with loved ones.

I’ll end this post with an excerpt from another book referenced in Rising Strong.

But despite our fear, there is something in us that wants to feel all these emotional energies, because they are the juice of life. When we suppress and diminish our emotions, we feel deprived. So we watch horror movies or so-called reality shows like Fear Factor. We seek out emotional intensity vicariously, because when we are emotionally numb, we need a great deal of stimulation to feel something, anything. So emotional pornography provides the stimulation, but it’s only ersatz emotion— it doesn’t teach us anything about ourselves or the world. — Miriam Greenspan, a psychotherapist and the author of Healing Through the Dark Emotions.