Brené Brown is a researcher of shame and vulnerability. In Daring Greatly, she explores the idea that shame is behind much of our social interaction, self-esteem issues and working relationships. She looks at the different ways that shame shows itself, by hiding behind our emotional armour and thriving in our silence; and reminds us that everybody struggles with it. She suggests how vulnerability, courage and ‘wholehearted living’ can be used to challenge shame.
Brené Brown sees vulnerability as being brave enough to show our true selves, and allow for rejection or feeling like a failure; not being afraid to accept our experiences, emotions and mistakes, while at the same time not letting self-worth be influenced by our mistakes. For example, guilt and shame are two very different things. Guilt is ‘I did a bad thing’, while shame is ‘I am bad,’ or ‘I am worthless’. Brown explains how we are often our own worst enemies, listening to what she calls ‘gremlins’, ie. the voices in our heads that tell us that we aren’t good enough (another way that shame presents itself in our lives). Vulnerability is having the courage to be open.
She points out that self-worth comes from understanding that you are enough to be a whole person now, and using this to live ‘wholeheartedly’, ie. approaching life with courage, compassion and connection. Instead of trying to meet unrealistic expectations – such as imaginary physical perfection, macho masculinity, coolness – we need to accept that vulnerability is not a weakness, but takes courage and connection. Self-worth and ‘wholehearted’ living comes from accepting we need to have courage, compassion with ourselves and other people, and connection.
In particular, the author focuses on the idea that shame stops us from engaging in life, relationships, even enthusiasm for our work. She argues that this is what leads to destructive or dangerous behaviour, such as addiction or over-sharing, that doesn’t allow for people to relate to each other properly (in an age of celebrity culture and social networking, relationships are more likely to be one-sided than ever before). Instead we should be both sharing and being open and listening to other people – daring greatly to connect and be open to possibility. Listening to others and making connections by meaningful sharing means we are at less risk of disengagement from life.
Daring Greatly is a timely reminder of the need to talk about shame, and how we deal with it in society, relationships, families and at work. It offers guidelines for how we can manage shame – becoming ‘shame resistant’ by identifying the difference between shame and guilt, and finding ways to realise when we are shaming ourselves or others, or when others are shaming us. A difficult read, but worth the time. An important reminder of how much we need to recognise shame and how we deal with it in society, relationships, families and at work.