Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston's Graduate College of Social Work who has spent the past 10 years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. She is a nationally renowned speaker and has won numerous teaching awards, including the college's Outstanding Faculty Award. Her groundbreaking work has been featured on PBS, NPR, and CNN. Her 2010 TEDxHouston talk on the power of vulnerability is one of most watched talks on TED.com. Her most recent TED talk, "Listening to Shame," was released in March 2012.
Brené is the author of The Gifts of Imperfection and I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't). She is also the author of Connections, a psychoeducational shame resilience curriculum that is being facilitated across the nation by mental health and addiction professionals.
Brené's current research focuses on wholeheartedness in families, schools, and organizations. She lives in Houston with her husband and their two young children.
Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston’s graduate college of social work who has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. Brené is the author of the number-one New York Times bestseller Daring Greatly, and with Sounds True she has created the audio learning course The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection, and Courage. In this episode, Tami Simon speaks with Brené about the cultural myth that equates vulnerability with weakness instead of recognizing it as the greatest measure of our courage. They also examine Brené’s research into the qualities that allow someone to live in a wholehearted way. (66 minutes)
We all know that perfect parenting does not exist, yet we still struggle with the social expectations that teach us that being imperfect is synonymous with being inadequate. These messages are powerful and we end up spending precious time and energy managing perception and the carefully edited versions of the families we show to the world.
“You cannot access empathy if you’re not willing to be vulnerable.” What a rich and evocative statement from our friend and Sounds True author Brené Brown. There is such a deeply-rooted pull to move toward those emotional-states that we identify as “positive” or “light” or “spiritual” – along with a counter move away from those “darker” or challenging and exposing emotions such as vulnerability, sadness, and grief. But, as Brené reminds us, vulnerability is the ground of all of the so-called positive emotional states, including those of love, joy, and belonging.
When we can allow ourselves to be naked, exposed, to be profoundly touched by whatever appears, we can meet this life – and the sweet, beautiful heart of another – in the most precious way. It is in this turning into the immediacy of our experience, in a truly embodied way, that we come to discover the many fruits of this sacred world. There are times, of course, when doing so is not easy, when it takes everything we have (and more), and feels completely counter-instinctual. But somehow, by some mysterious grace, we learn to stay with what is there, knowing that it has something very precious to show us about ourselves, and about the true nature of love.
If you are interested in learning more about Brené’s teachings and research in the areas of vulnerability, shame, and worthiness, you may enjoy her original audio programs with Sounds True:
Dr. W. Keith Campbell is a social psychologist and professor in the Behavioral and Brain Sciences Program at the University of Georgia. Best known for his research and writing on narcissism, Dr. Campbell is the author of several books including The Handbook of Narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder, When You Love a Man Who Loves Himself, The Narcissism Epidemic, and a new book with Sounds True, The New Science of Narcissism: Understanding One of the Greatest Psychological Challenges of Our Time―and What You Can Do About It. In this podcast, Sounds True founder Tami Simon speaks with Dr. Campbell about the latest scientific understanding of narcissism and its various forms, the spectrum of narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the “big five” personality traits and the importance of balance, the malleability of our personalities and the possibility for change, and more.
Steven Hayes is a professor, the chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Nevada, and the author of more than 35 books and 500 scientific articles. The cofounder of the acclaimed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (known as ACT), Steven is a contributor to the Sounds True book The Self Acceptance Project: How to Be Kind and Compassionate Toward Yourself in Any Situation and the author of the Sounds True audio program Acceptance and Commitment Theory. In this episode of Insights of the Edge—which previously aired as part of an interview series on self-acceptance—Tami Simon and Steven discuss his experiences living with a panic disorder at a young age, and how his own bouts with anxiety shaped his clinical studies. They talk about the practice of perspective-taking and how it can be a powerful bulwark against self-recrimination. Finally, Steven offers his perspective on spirituality and how that perspective informs the core tenets of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
It’s in everyone’s best interest to learn to remove the emotional blinders and identify emotions accurately, both the uncomfortable and the upbeat ones. After all, unpleasant emotions are normal and natural, a fundamental part of being human. Emotions fluctuate on a daily basis, often several times in a given day. If you didn’t experience negative feelings now and then, the positive ones wouldn’t be as noteworthy or joyful; your emotional life would likely be unnaturally narrow. You would also be deprived of the opportunity to glean important insights into yourself. Feelings, both the good and the bad, are silent messages, alerting you to pay attention to something in your personal or professional life, in your behavior, or in the world around you.
Instead of separating emotions into categories such as good or bad, positive or negative, happy or sad, it’s better to view all your emotions as useful information, as “evolutionarily evolved responses that are uniquely appropriate to specific situations,” says Karla McLaren, MEd, author of The Language of Emotions. “When you stop valencing, you’ll learn to empathically respond to what’s actually going on—and you’ll learn how to observe emotions without demonizing them or glorifying them.”
Being able to recognize and express what you’re feeling helps you better understand yourself (leading to greater self-knowledge); validate your emotions and tend to your own emotional needs; and take steps to address those feelings directly by communicating and responding to them effectively. Having emotional self-awareness can motivate you to make healthy changes in your life, take action to improve the world around you, and become more psychologically resilient—that is, better able to cope with crises and rebound from setbacks.
Learning to Unpack Your Emotions
For some people, engaging in free association can clear the cobwebs from their minds, almost like opening the cellar door to a musty basement and letting in light and fresh air. To do this, you might take a break and consider how you’re feeling about what you’re doing, reading, seeing, or thinking every few hours throughout the day. If a general word comes to mind—such as stressed, anxious, or angry—dig deeper and ask yourself what other emotions you might be feeling (maybe fear or annoyance) along with it. If you do this out loud in unedited, private moments, you might find yourself blurting out what you’re really thinking or feeling, revealing the emotions that are taking a lot of energy to keep inside. This is really about unpacking your suitcase of feelings, or untangling the knot of emotions that is taking up space inside you.
When you think about this in the abstract, it can be hard to pinpoint how you’re feeling. You may just see a swirling mass of a feeling quality such as “dread” or “foreboding” rather than recognizing the specific emotions you feel. To get to the root of your feelings, spend five minutes looking at the word cloud below—no more than five so that you don’t have time to filter your responses—and choose the emotions that resonate with your mood-state lately.
If reviewing these words evokes other feelings for you or if words or phrases that apply to you were not on this word cloud, jot these down in the blank word cloud that follows. Give yourself another five minutes to think about your recent state of mind and jot down phrases, images, or words that occur to you. This is your opportunity to personalize it without any limits or restrictions. If you feel stymied or draw a blank initially, think about your recent responses to current events or situations in your personal life or on the world stage. Try to be as honest as you can by focusing on how you’re really feeling when no one is watching—free-associate without judging, censoring, or revising what you write down.
Once you’ve finished your list, look at the order of the words you wrote down: Did they progress from all negative to increasingly hopeful? Do they portray an internal tension or friction in going back and forth between various feelings? If all the words are positive, consider the possibility that you may be in some degree of denial, focusing only on the window dressing rather than the emotions that lie beneath the surface. Also, consider this: Is there a pattern of shallow, visceral reactions that came out initially, followed by more complex thoughts and feelings? If so, think about whether you’re giving yourself enough time in your life to reflect. If you came out with highly intellectualized words or phrases first, it might suggest that you put on a bit of a facade when engaging with the world, and you might benefit from striving for a deeper engagement or familiarity with your emotions.