When we deny our stories, they define us.
When we own our stories, we get to write the ending.
Social scientist Brené Brown has ignited a global conversation on courage, vulnerability, shame, and worthiness. Her pioneering work uncovered a profound truth: Vulnerability—the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome—is the only path to more love, belonging, creativity, and joy. But living a brave life is not always easy: We are, inevitably, going to stumble and fall.
It is the rise from falling that Brown takes as her subject in Rising Strong. As a grounded theory researcher, Brown has listened as a range of people—from leaders in Fortune 500 companies and the military to artists, couples in long-term relationships, teachers, and parents—shared their stories of being brave, falling, and getting back up. She asked herself, What do these people with strong and loving relationships, leaders nurturing creativity, artists pushing innovation, and clergy walking with people through faith and mystery have in common? The answer was clear: They recognize the power of emotion and they’re not afraid to lean in to discomfort.
Walking into our stories of hurt can feel dangerous. But the process of regaining our footing in the midst of struggle is where our courage is tested and our values are forged. Our stories of struggle can be big ones, like the loss of a job or the end of a relationship, or smaller ones, like a conflict with a friend or colleague. Regardless of magnitude or circumstance, the rising strong process is the same: We reckonwith our emotions and get curious about what we’re feeling; we rumble with our stories until we get to a place of truth; and we live this process, every day, until it becomes a practice and creates nothing short of a revolution in our lives. Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness. It’s the process, Brown writes, that teaches us the most about who we are.
I am such a fan of Brené Brown. After reading Daring Greatly in January I couldn’t wait to dive into Rising Strong. I got 2 major eye-openers out of this book. The first is on compassion, empathy and sympathy and the second is on being able to ask for help as I rise from stumbling.
In chapter 7 on the brave and brokenhearted, Brené talks about the truth about sympathy. It finally clicked in my head why I am so against people telling me they are sorry when they find out I was diagnosed with MS. She writes:
“Rather than being a tool for connection, sympathy emerged in the data as a form of disconnection. Sympathy is removed: When someone says” “I feel sorry for you” or “That must be terrible,” they are standing at a safe distance. Rather than conveying the powerful “me too” of empathy, it communicates “not me” and then it adds, “But I do feel for you.” Sympathy is more likely to be a shame trigger than something that heals shame.
In the back of my head when I hear I’m sorry. I also hear “oh poor you, glad it’s not me.” What I learned from this book is that when we see people in need the easiest way we can support is by asking the question “what do you need from me right now?” For me, I’ve realized that I can offer practical or emotional empathy instead of pity towards someone who is hurting. I told my boyfriend about this book and when I’m in a place of vulnerability and trying to find my own courage he is supporting me simply by asking “what do you need from me right now?” and that’s fully amazing because it allows me to get out of sudden emotion and think more rationally towards why I’m feeling strong waves of emotion.
In chapter eight, Brené dives into a story about the homeless and really dissects why so many of us can’t look them in the eye on the street or from our cars. She comes to a powerful realization:
“I was so afraid of my own need that I couldn’t look need in the eye”
I realized that I was so good at taking control of situations. Healing myself from a toxic relationship, finding a life I love after calling off my wedding, kicking ass when it comes to living with multiple sclerosis but I’m really not a superhero. I need help sometimes and I always feel such shame asking for it. So when I read the following quotes it just clicked for me…
“Helping is courageous and compassionate, and a sign that you have it together. Asking for help is a sign of weakness…. When you judge yourself for needing help, you judge those you are helping. When you attach value to giving help, you attach value to needing help. The danger of tying your self-worth to being a helper is feeling shame when you have to ask for help.”
“I define 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 form the relationship.” Connection doesn’t exist without giving and receiving. We need to give and we need to need. “
The greatest lesson I could learn from this book is that it’s ok to ask for help. I give help so freely but have such a hard time asking for it, but I’m doing better. Brené also talks about when we’re being vulnerable we can make up stories in our head that are shame inducing attacks. I’ve already started practicing telling my stories out loud with those I find safety in being vulnerable with so they can understand my thought process and work things out with me. I love that this section applies to both work and life. She gives great examples of how we can bring up stories we are telling ourselves to be more open and vulnerable in the workplace. This will be revolutionary if practiced by more people.
The book ends with the following manifesto and it just perfectly wraps everything together.