You might’ve heard of Brené Brown from her viral TED talk.
She’s a researcher who studies shame, vulnerability and courage. Basically, she analyzes how people can live joyful and meaningful lives.
I enjoyed Brené Brown’s TED talk so much; I had to read and review her book The Gifts of Imperfection.
If I were to summarize the 160-page book in one line, I’d say, “Be yourself”, the cheesy adage we know all too well.
But how do you juggle others’ expectations and who you are? You’re used to sacrificing one for the other.
We all worry about what others think and fear looking “weak” or being ridiculed.
Our world can be merciless. Vultures swoop down on us when we speak up.
So, how can we stay true to ourselves?
Easier said than done
In the preface, Brown presents her research on how to cultivate a “wholehearted life”—the first of many lofty terms throughout the book—which means knowing you’re worthy and living from that truth.
After collecting thousands of stories from men and women, Brown discovered things like rest, play, faith, authenticity and gratitude promote wholehearted living.
And perfection, numbing, fitting in, judgment and scarcity curb it.
Brown hopes this book will guide people on the journey towards wholehearted living. Because when you remove your masks, you:
- feel healthier, more joyful and more peaceful
- worry less about what people think
- accept your “flaws”
- enjoy fulfilling relationships
- live life on your terms
Most importantly, you feel deserving of love and respect.
3 tools to feel worthy
Courage, compassion and connection are necessary to feel good enough. Like habits, they become more natural with daily practice.
Brown shares many personal anecdotes, which help me better understand her ideas and keep the text lively. Though, I would’ve also appreciated stories of people from different backgrounds.
I can’t relate to Brown’s stories about public speaking, researching and parenthood, but I can relate to the main theme: own your struggles and show up as you are anyway.
“Heroics is often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line.” —Brené Brown
“Ordinary courage” especially resonates with me. Maybe it’s my penchant for Zen Buddhism, but I practice accepting each moment, which demands much more courage than one may think.
When I get lost in self-doubt, for example, I admit to myself, I’m beating myself up. I feel like crap.
Then I inform my partner Loïc. And if he’s willing, I tell him what’s going on.
Loïc listens and validates my emotions with me. We like to say we “hold the door open” for each other: Difficult emotions like fear or anger can limit your perspective, so it helps to have a loved one show you some compassion.
No, you’re not weird or stupid for feeling these emotions. I know it’s hard. I’ve been there too.
Given the right people, we can afford to take a leap of faith.
Instead of blaming, we can expose our “flaws” and glide on love and understanding.
The importance of self-love
To experience love and belonging, we must believe we deserve them as much as anybody. Which makes sense—and reminds me of my single friends who yearn for a partner, but don’t feel confident they have what it takes.
That said, I feel humbled to have developed a loving relationship with my partner. For years, I’d shoo his affectionate gestures, believing he’d abandon me sooner or later.
We have many prerequisites to feel worthy. For example, I’ll be worthy…
- when I lose 20 pounds
- if everyone thinks I’m a good parent
- if he calls back and asks me out
- when my parents finally approve
- when I can do it all
But here’s the truth: You’re worthy. Period.
And when we let go of prerequisites, we let in love and belonging.
“Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted.
Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” —Brené Brown
I think the trickiest part is releasing these ifs and whens.
We’ve all learned via our parents, teachers and society what’s acceptable.
No one wants to feel judged or rejected. So, we bite the bullet and conform.
If abided by, the prerequisites to worthiness keep us safe and loved, at least on the surface. Letting them go, then, is like jumping off a cliff.
I overcame many fears by first accepting my fear of being worthless—or “shame” as Brown calls it—and healing from past hurts. Obviously, this process takes time. But after the fog clears, you gain enough confidence to be yourself more often.
Everyone has shame, especially perfectionists. That’s why we need to own and share our experiences.
Let’s uplift each other through our common struggle.
How to overcome shame
Brown stresses the need to build “shame resilience”, or the ability to identify and accept shame. As a result, we experience more courage, compassion and connection in our lives.
Shame survives when we refuse to talk about it.
Now that I’ve warmed up to Brown’s jargon, I feel the urgency behind her important message. Ultimately, our shame—or rather, our ignorance of it—keeps us small, depressed and unfulfilled.
But what can we do?
Firstly, Brown advises us to:
- Become aware of your reactions to shame. For example, your heart races, face turns hot and mouth gets dry.
- Protect yourself. Grounding techniques, deep breathing, praying.
- Confide. Share your story with those who have earned the right to hear it.
- Do “the most courageous thing you could do for yourself when you feel small and hurt”.
Then, follow her 10 guidelines below to further cultivate a wholehearted life. Once again, Brown’s personal examples help illustrate her points.
Focus on staying true to yourself, instead of being liked. Have the courage to show your vulnerability and set boundaries.
Brown doesn’t suggest much on how to be genuine, especially when many people fear rejection or react out of habit.
In my experience, self-awareness makes way for authenticity.
Perfectionism keeps you from staying true to yourself. It’s a self-destructive way to protect yourself from judgment and shame.
Do a reality check instead of slipping into all-or-nothing thinking: I’ve made good progress. One mistake doesn’t mean I’m a failure.
It’s the ability to overcome adversity. We do that by:
- having hope, or believing we can manage
- developing critical awareness—questioning images of success and beauty and practicing spirituality
- letting go of numbing activities like excessively drinking alcohol, shopping or eating junk food
Meditation, prayer, helping others, exercising and journaling help build resilience.
4) Gratitude and joy
Practicing gratitude helps us feel joy, an emotion that thrives despite outside circumstances (unlike happiness).
As a result, we live from the attitude of “sufficiency”, that there’s enough time, money and love. And that we’re enough.
Acknowledge your fears. Keep a gratitude journal and do gratitude meditations. The key is to practice everyday.
5) Intuition and faith
It’s hard to accept uncertainty, possible disasters and mistakes. Yet if we resist these aspects of life, conflicts and anxiety abound.
Instead, open your arms to life’s mystery and believe that you’ll be alright.
Doing anything creative reminds you that there’s no one like you. Only you have had your experiences and ideas. You’re incomparable.
Try scrapbooking, taking photos, flower arranging or cooking!
7) Play and rest
In our culture of “no pain, no gain”, productivity and exhaustion win over play and rest. But, believe it or not, rest can actually sharpen your focus and improve your performance.
Schedule naptime, gaze at the stars or listen to your favorite music.
8) Calm and stillness
Instead of reacting to anxiety, notice strong emotions. Breathe deeply. Count to 10 before acting.
Exercising more, reducing caffeine and putting things in perspective also help calm down intense emotions.
9) Meaningful work
Sharing our gifts and talents—whatever they may be—gives a purpose to our lives. When we don’t do so, we struggle and feel empty, frustrated, shame, fear and grief. Don’t let your inner critic tell you otherwise.
10) Laughter, song and dance
These 3 things remind us that we’re not alone. When we laugh with each other, we experience the relief and connection that comes from sharing our stories.
Many people don’t let themselves laugh hysterically, sing out loud or dance in public. We struggle with feeling vulnerable and worry about what others think.
But when we try to “look cool” and “in control”, we betray ourselves. And risk hurting loved ones when they show their silly and awkward side.
So, dare to laugh, sing along to music and dance everyday.
I recommend The Gifts of Imperfection only if…
you want a general outline of what it takes to boost your self-esteem… And if you can get past Brown’s many lofty terms and bland writing.
For richer insight and practical tips on how to overcome shame, I highly recommend Hal and Sidra Stone’s book Embracing Your Inner Critic (non-affiliate link).
However, we all can use a reminder from The Gifts of Imperfection:
Accept your vulnerability—the core of your emotions.
Believe that you’re enough.
And be kind to yourself.
About the author
Annie Moussu is a mindfulness coach on a mission to help people let go of perfectionism, self-doubt and people-pleasing. Sign up for her newsletter to get blog articles twice a month.