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.

7 thoughts on “Brené Brown: The Gifts of Imperfection (2010)

  1. I’m so glad you reviewed this. When you mentioned it the first time, I put it on my amazon wish list and it does sound like a really valuable guide to have – much rings true to me! I’ll be checking out the author’s website.

    • It took me a while to decide whether I should or should not review it and didn’t know at first how. Some non-fiction books are easier to review than others. This is really full of stories and insights, you can only just convey a tiny little bit and it may speak to some and not at all to others. I like her work, her honesty and the tone of the book is really nice. Some of the things she writes are simple and we know them but she puts them in the right words. I like her blog as well and the comments are often interesting too.

  2. I like the sound of this one. The quotes you used are the kind that make me think about the effort involved in being “sweet” when boiling with frustration and about how easy it is to let someone cross the boundaries you need for your own comfort. It takes strength to make sure boundaries stay in tact…I don’t always have that strength.

    • Being sweet was my worst flaw for a long time. But the worst was, I didn’t feel how much energy everyone drained from me, I never felt angry ever… But nervous and tired… I learned to have boundaries and it is a bliss. And the magical word “no” does help as well. But I agree, it takes a lot of strength but it liberates so much energy.

  3. I’m not a very good nonfiction reader and maybe even less do I pick books on psychology, but it sounds like she writes very insightfully. I am sure I am in that group of “nice” (can’t imagine calling myself “sweet” 🙂 ), and in some ways it can really be very draining. It really is hard to find a good balance sometime. Thanks for the link–I’ll check her website out.

    • Her website is nice. I always pick up something I find inspiring. When I was very young I had a hard time letting go of being nice/sweet. I’m getting really got at not attaching to much attention to what people think or say about me. Smiling is also one of those things that drained a lot of energy from me. No more smiling unless I feel like it. I realized that some of these behaviors are much more encouraged in the States. Smiling and being very friendly struck me as very American when I was there. They immeditaely sensed that I was European.

  4. Pingback: Best and Worst Books 2011 « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

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