An Analysis of The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 5 out of 5 ⭐️‘s
Love At First Read
Have you ever met someone and immediately recognized the similarities between the two of you, it’s like you’re drawn to the person and have this uncanny feeling that you’re destined to be friends? This happens to me sometimes. It’s rare but when it happens I have this whole internal dialogue with myself and try to figure out how I will summon up the courage to ask this person to coffee. That feeling of likemindedness is so incredibly magical and it is the best example to use to explain what happened to me as I began to read books written by Brene Brown. I felt so understood, heard, and that she just “got” me– and not just me, everyone! Every single one of her theories, research projects, all the ways in which she connects human emotion to development, behavior and to our human experience just plain and simple did it for me. It was one of the best “aha” moments I have ever had. I will never grow tired of reading her work and believe that she will always be my favorite author. She truly is a game changer.
What Did She Discover?
Brene Brown has an uncanny ability to break down human emotion, mental processes, and behavior. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection (click the link to purchase) Brown lays out the findings of her research after studying individuals who she found to be leading authentic lives full of joy. She got down to the bottom of what they all had in common, here’s what she found–
In order for individuals to be participating in what she calls wholehearted living they must be operating as fully authentic people who embrace their worthiness and who regularly use the gifts of imperfection which she identifies as courage, compassion, and connection. What gets in the way of these gifts? Shame. Below I will break down how she views the three core gifts, I’ll identify the ten guideposts that help cultivate these gifts, and finally will explain how shame can get in the way and prevent us from living a wholehearted joyful life.
“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think– no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking– yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.” -Brene Brown
What Is Courage?
Brown describes courage as something entirely different from what I was expecting. She explains that the word it is often used to describe an attribute of people behaving heroically, people who might be engaging in a risky situation in order to save others from a catastrophe or coming to the rescue in some way or another, and she says that it’s not really an accurate use of the word. She explains its original definition to be “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Brown iterates that over time the definition has changed and as a culture we have lost sight of it’s intended meaning– “that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad)” is more closely aligned with the true definition of courage.
“Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world that’s pretty extraordinary.” – Brene Brown
How Does Having Compassion (or The Lack of Compassion) Impact Us?
Brown explains that compassion is much more difficult than using shame or blame to address something that makes us uncomfortable. She emphasizes that showing compassion is not the natural response, at least not for most people. It requires us to to be comfortable enough with who we are and our own imperfections –while still maintaining our worthiness — to have the ability to recognize the need for compassion in someone else. More specifically she states “only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” Her research also led her to the realization that the individuals in her study who were living compassion filled lives also happened to be the best at setting boundaries with other people. She said the “truly committed compassion practitioners were also the most boundary-conscious people in the study.” She was stunned to learn that compassionate people were also “boundaried people”, it wasn’t what she was expecting. She attributes this to how quickly the compassionate are able to recognize mistreatment and a lack of compassion in others, and that they don’t tolerate it. They have a firm understanding of how to be compassionate and just as firm an understanding of a lack of compassion in others.
“The heart of compassion is really acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become. Well, it’s difficult to accept people when they are hurting us or taking advantage of us or walking all over us. This research has taught me that if we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior.”- Brene Brown
What She Says About Connection
The best way to explain what Brown says about connection is to start with this quote, she defines connection “as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” She goes on to explain that connection actually impacts the way our brain develops, and talks about the detrimental effects this can have on children who grow up in a household that lacks connection. She also explains the difference between fitting in and connection, as they are two completely different things. Fitting in is something we often attempt to do so that we feel accepted and a part of something, such a group or club, it often leads to changing who we are in order to feel good enough to be included, on the other hand connection is much different than that. Connection is about belonging and being a part of something so true and honest where we understand that we are fully loved and accepted for who we are, flaws and all.
“Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgement to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.” – Brene Brown
What Gets In The Way?
The things that get in the way of developing the three gifts of imperfection are shame, fear, and vulnerability. Brown explains that all three work together to prevent us from developing the gifts necessary to living a wholehearted life.
What Does She Mean By Shame, Fear, and Vulnerability?
Brown explains how shame gets in the way of everything good in our lives. First, she differentiates between shame and guilt. Guilt is equivalent to –I did something bad, I feel terrible and want to make it right (a healthy motivator for change), and shame is –I am bad, therefore I’m not worthy of love and acceptance. If we don’t feel worthy or that we are loved and accepted then we never feel comfortable (this is where fear and vulnerability come in) to show our true self (out of fear) or to share our stories with others (by becoming vulnerable). If we don’t allow ourselves to become vulnerable for fear of what will happen or of what other people will think because we have let our shame own us, then we never truly reach a point where we can accept who we are and develop the courage, compassion, and connection required to live a wholehearted life.
How Do I Develop Shame Resilience?
Wondering how to rid your life of shame? Brown has some tools for developing shame resilience, and they are remarkable. I will list the three points from her book below.
1. We all have it. Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions that we experience. The only people who don’t experience shame lack the capacity for human empathy and human connection.
2. We are all afraid to talk about shame.
3. The less we talk about shame the more control it has over our lives.
So if you read those over a few times you’ll see that the keys to resisting shame are to acknowledge that it’s normal to have it, not normal to be absent of it, it’s also difficult for everyone to talk about it, but most importantly if we don’t talk about it– it grows. Knowing that is powerful because it requires us to talk about it. If we lean into someone safe to share our stories with then we can free ourselves from the control that shame has over our lives and start to develop the tools necessary for living a wholehearted life.
In the book Brown provides ten guideposts, each with its own individual chapter, that serve to guide readers towards living a wholehearted life. I list the guideposts below. However, to really get the full scope of how to apply each one to your life you will definitely need to read the book. The left is a list of things we need to rid our lives of, and the right is a list of the qualities we should aspire to possess.
10 Guideposts To Wholehearted Living
LET GO OF/CULTIVATE
1. What Others Think/Authenticity
3. Numbing & Powerlessness/A Resilient Spirit
4. Scarcity/Gratitude & Joy
5. Need for Certainty/Intuition & Trusting Faith
7. Exhaustion as a Status Symbol & Productivity as Self Worth/Play & Rest
8.Anxiety/Calm & Stillness
9. Self Doubt/Meaningful Work
10. Being in Control/Laughter, Song, & Dance
Let’s Live With Our Whole Hearts
This may seem like a lot of information, and I hope you found it helpful, but I barely even touched the surface here. There is so much more information in the book that is extremely helpful and important to read. Specifically the ten guideposts that encompass so many stories and details about how to achieve joy, and examples and advice about how to reject shame, how to notice its triggers, and more importantly how to put all of this information into practice. I hope you found this inspiring and that it made you curious enough to pick up a copy. I plan to continue to evaluate and reevaluate my life and attempt to keep it on the path of the wholehearted, and I hope you do the same.
Brown Explains Her Hope For A “Revolution”
“…choosing authenticity and worthiness is an absolute act of resistance. Choosing to live and love with our whole hearts is an act of defiance. You’re going to confuse, piss off, and terrify lots of people—including yourself. One minute you’ll pray that the transformation stops, and the next minute you’ll pray that it never ends. You’ll also wonder how you can feel so brave and so afraid at the same time. At least that’s how I feel most of the time…brave, afraid, and very, very alive.” -Brene Brown
Have you read Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection? What did you think about it? Are you living a wholehearted life? Do you feel like you are already part of this “revolution” she speaks of? Do you have any questions? Feel free to comment below. I can’t wait to hear from you.
You can purchase The Gifts of Imperfection through my Amazon Affiliate link below!
If you love Brene Brown as much as I do then you might be interested in her other work. I will include links to her other books below!