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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Daring Greatly (A BlogHer Book Club Review).

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

I know, right? But I do love books and lord knows I have opinions, so wheee!

Anywhoodle, I was given the opportunity to read Daring Greatly, the new book by shame researcher Brené Brown, which hits newsstands today, as I understand. If you're not familiar with Brené, she is a Social Work professor and researcher that studies fear, shame, and vulnerability and how it affects connection between people, how our organizations work, and our society as a whole.

Right up my alley, that stuff is.

In Daring Greatly, she focuses mostly on the vulnerability aspect, on how we avoid feeling it and the coping mechanisms we employ as individuals and as a society that essentially fuel the great disconnection that exacerbates a great deal of issues such as depression, anxiety, and addiction (just to name a few), and how shame is really the result of avoiding vulnerability. She discusses vulnerability from nearly every angle -- how women and men experience shame and vulnerability differently, how it's treated in our culture (of scarcity, as she calls it), and the different ways people utilize to avoid being vulnerable and feeling shame.

Brené discusses her previous research so that someone, like me, who hasn't read her previous works or seen her TED talk on shame (it's just something I've never gotten to, oops) can follow along with her concepts of our scarcity culture, the work she's done on shame, and concepts she carries forth such as Wholeheartedness, which is living and loving with your whole heart due in part to what she calls shame resilience. Shame resilience is the ability to basically reject shame when it's either cast at you or, as many of us know all too well, self-shame.

I'll admit, I was SUPER STOKED to read this book, because (a) I love research and (b) I love social stuff (I do have a degree in Sociology). However, after finishing it, I'm struggling with it. While there were parts that I absolutely adored, like when she talked about the correlation between performing gender and shame(!!!!!), there were other parts that kind of ... fell flat for me. I talked with Kyle about it a lot when I finished the book, trying to pinpoint what it was that made me feel so meh about it as a whole.

That isn't to say it's not a good book, and that I think it will do a lot to open people's eyes about how much fear of shame and vulnerability affect and even drive our behavior without us even realizing it. Part of my struggle with it, I believe, is that I come from a research-heavy discipline and I truly enjoy reviewing research, which I often felt was being sort of glossed over (I suspect to increase it's marketability/relatability to the average reader). I became frustrated with terms that to me, felt like bad research, because I know better, although I fully understand that I am the exception, not the rule. Luckily, there was an Appendix that explained her theory and methods and gave me the data and numbers I was craving, so that soothed that angst a good deal.

The other part that left me feeling a bit deflated was the sort-of revelation I had throughout the book that I ... pretty much figured out how to be shame resilient and be open to vulnerability years ago. Three years ago, to be exact, while Kyle and I went through the almost-divorce. Which in some ways, was kind of YAY I ALREADY DO THIS but in other ways was like, oh, that's it? Hm. And that's not anything to do with Brené  or her research, but just my reality of being an unmedicated bipolar who has to constantly self-regulate because medication doesn't work for me.

When things got crazy and Kyle filed for divorce after my postpartum-fueled breakdown, a very strange clarity came over me. I could either do the things I've always done, which was to make everything black and white and me versus you and take no prisoners sort of stuff, or I could, essentially, dare greatly and change things.

I chose to be open and vulnerable and to refuse to be ashamed.

And I got my family back. Plus one.

Maybe it's somehow harder for people not in life-altering situations to consciously make that choice and move forward with their hearts open and be equally prepared to face success or failure, whereas for me, it was a clear fork in the road. I really don't know. But I can tell you that I'm not as in practice of these behaviors as I used to be, and this book kind of reminded me of that -- that who I became in order to save my marriage and my family isn't necessarily who I am today, and I probably need to work on that.

Brené talks about education a great deal in the book, and she says that if you're not uncomfortable, you're not learning anything. And the discomfort I'm still struggling with a bit after finishing this book probably means I'm learning more than I realize I am. I'm pretty much left wanting to meet Brené and talk with her at length about some of the findings of her studies so that I can grasp them better from an intellectual, sociological perspective (it is what I know, after all) instead of the simplified generalizations I came across.

I think, if you're looking for a book that makes you think without boring you to death or completely messing with you, this is a good one for that. Kyle's going to read it next, so I might come back to you on his takes as a teacher and someone who still struggles with shame and vulnerability on a very meta level.

If you're curious about what I and approximately 100 other ladies think about shame, vulnerability, and what Daring Greatly means to us, go on over to the BlogHer Book Club discussion page and chime in. We'll be talking about it for the next four weeks, and I expect the conversation to be VERY INTERESTING. And if you're interested in more of what Brené Brown has to say about fear, shame, vulnerability and Wholeheartedness, check her out at (which is where I downloaded the photo for this post). Thanks to Penguin Books & BlogHer for giving me this opportunity and for supporting bloggers!