Brené Brown: The Gifts of Imperfection (2010)

Human-behavior researcher and author of I Thought It Was Just Me (2007), Brown has made a career out of studying difficult emotions such as fear and shame. In this latest book, she emphasizes that above all other ingredients of living an emotionally healthy life is the importance of loving ourselves. In the grips of what she took to be a breakdown, or midlife crisis, Brown came to understand she was experiencing a “spiritual awakening” and worked to explore its significance and the interaction of knowing and understanding yourself and loving yourself. She intersperses her own personal journey with research and clinical observations of others of the work of living a “wholehearted” life, or “engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.” The point is to embrace life and oneself with all the imperfections, releasing the stress of overdoing and overworking. Brown offers exercises for readers to plumb their own emotions and begin to develop the kind of resilience needed to stand up to unrealistic expectations of others and ourselves.

I’m so glad I came upon Brené Brown’s Homepage and from there to her book The Gifts of Imperfection. This is her second book, the first was called I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t): Telling the Truth about Perfectionism, Inadequacy and Power.

Brené Brown is a researcher, specialized in topics like shame and perfectionism and analyzing how they are linked and keep us from living wholeheartedly. She is an incredibly honest and open person who is able to show her vulnerability.

Wouldn’t it be better if we could be kinder but firmer? How would our lives be different if there were less anger and more accountability?  (p. 17)

The source of this book was a major breakdown that forced her to look at herself and her life. What she found out and shares with her readers is truly invigorating.

Before the breakdown, I was sweeter – judgmental, resentful and angry on the inside – but sweeter on the outside. Today, I think I’m genuinely more compassionate, less judgmental, and resentful, and way more serious about boundaries. (p.16)

The book has two parts. The first is a more theoretical one in which she introduces us to the concept of living a wholehearted life. The key factors are: Courage, Compassion and Connection. Further she emphasizes the importance of Love, Belonging and Being Enough. But what is much more important is that she identifies that there is always something that gets in the way when we try to change. We need guideposts to overcome the hurdle and she provides them. Every guidepost is linked to something that gets in the way and is described in detail.

The Wholehearted journey is not the path of least resistance. It’s a path of consciousness and choice. And to be honest, it’s a little counter-culture. The willingness to tell our stories, feel the pain of others, and stay genuinely connected in this disconnected world is not something we can do halfheartedly. (p.21)

The second part offers a more practical approach and consists of ten very different guideposts: Authenticity, Self-Compassion, Resilience, Gratitude and Joy, Intuition and Trusting Faith, Creativity, Play and Rest, Calm and Stillness, Meaningful Work, Laughter. In the guideposts she provides her own insights, case stories from other people, research data and quotes from a variety of books. She also indicates titles for further reading. Especially those reading suggestions are very valuable and I compiled quite a list of interesting titles.

One of the best and most honest chapters is the guidepost on addiction or numbing as she calls it (Guidepost Resilience). Brené herself was an alcoholic and was also addicted to a great number of other things like over-eating and also the overuse of Facebook and the like.

Another chapter that I appreciated a lot was the one called ” Cultivating Creativity. Letting go of Comparison.”

Comparison is all about conformity and competition. At first it seems like conforming and competing are mutually exclusive, but they are not. (p.94)

The comparison mandate becomes this crushing paradox of “fit in and stand out!” It is not cultivate self-acceptance, belonging and authenticity; it’s be just like everyone else, but better (p.95)

If you like you can visit Brené Brown’s Homepage where you will find her blog as well as a lot of other resources.