You know that iconic scene from Love Actually – one of the best films of all time, don’t fight me on it – about Joni Mitchell?
Emma Thompson’s character is listening to Joni Mitchell while wrapping presents, and is explaining to her bastard of a husband (no, I’ll never get over it) played by Alan Rickman why this seemingly depressing music means so much to her.
She says; “Joni Mitchell taught your cold English wife how to feel.”
This is how I now feel about Dr. Brene Brown, thanks to her amazing book ‘Daring Greatly’.
Since going into lockdown I have read this book twice. I was compelled to read it back to back simply because I needed to see her words again; I needed to make sure the message was clear.
Daring Greatly is such a powerful book about shame and vulnerability.
I know those topics sound kind of weird and uncomfortable, which the book certainly is at some times, but I cannot express how important they are. Since reading the book, I honestly feel as though I have had my very own spiritual awakening, much like the one that Dr. Brown references multiple times in her story.
Vulnerability was something I didn’t really understand. Heck, I hadn’t even considered it to be a feeling before reading this work.
I’ve always prided myself on being an independent person, someone who can just get on with things and knows themselves better than anyone. If I have bad feelings, I’ll deal with it on my own, thank you very much.
This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this right now, but this way of thinking is not useful. Nor was it helping me ‘cope’ with any of the feelings or experiences that occur in my life.
As someone who thinks they’re pretty ‘woke’ (cringe) I was kind of shocked, almost embarrassed for myself, when reading this book because it finally hit me:
I wasn’t/am not coping at all.
In fact, it has been through reading this book that I discovered I have actually never coped with or handled any emotion. Whether that’s good feelings, like love and connection, to the bad, like shame and insecurity, I haven’t been allowing myself to experience any of it.
Instead, I was hiding myself behind a cloak of independence, strength and perfectionism to numb whatever feelings happened to appear.
I am so focused on what other people think of me and how I am going to be perceived, whether that’s with family, friends or random people on the street, that I’ve been holding myself back for years.
Not only have I not been addressing shame, trauma and fear – feelings that we’d all rather not deal with – but I’ve also be numbing the ‘good’ stuff too.
Instead of allowing myself to connect wholeheartedly with people, I’ve always been a step removed. Instead of expressing joy and gratitude for my wonderful, loving relationship with my partner I would play down these feelings to make them seem less important.
And that’s what breaks my heart most of all.
Feeling vulnerable seems to be something I want to avoid at all costs, to the point where I didn’t even recognise this emotion.
Daring Greatly explores a range of topics, including the way we manage our emotions.
Dr. Brene Brown talks candidly and openly about her own experiences of numbing emotions, many of which I related to, as well as using research to provide a wider perspective.
Realising that I, like the rest of the human race, have emotions has honestly changed my life in so many ways. Which may sound daft, obviously I knew I felt things but I never knew what they were or how to cope with them. And when you’ve gotten so used to living a certain way, it’s really bloody hard to imagine anything else let alone act on it.
Accepting that I, again like the rest of the human race, need to be able to feel these emotions – really sit in any kind of feeling that I have and work out where it comes from – has been difficult.
Vulnerability is a kicker, but I’m realising that I literally cannot do the work I want to do and the work I feel like I should be doing or even live the life I want without it.
As Brene says, without vulnerability we cannot be creative. I’m learning that this means much more than ‘feeling the fear and doing it anyway’, pushing past the inner critic that says I’m not good enough to publish work, and trying to design a career for myself.
Vulnerability and creativity are fundamental parts of life. Every single aspect of it.
Without either of these things we cannot love, cry, be happy, have goals, be excited, fear, work hard, have desires, experience happiness, feel joy, handle jealousy, communicate, make connections, be honest, hold on to friendships, learn… or just generally be a human being.
What I love most about this book, despite the life-changing epiphanies/existential crisis’s it’s trigger, is the fact it has given me a language when it comes to emotions and vulnerability.
I can now talk to myself and loved ones about the way I’m feeling. With this new language, I can express what I want and build deeper connections with those who really matter.
This is such a weird time to be living in right now and I hadn’t really allowed myself to feel it until now.
Perhaps it because of the madness, or simply because I have a lot of time to fill up but I’m basically working on what I like to call ‘self-therapy’.
I’m trying to learn who I am and how I operate. What feelings I have and why, what behaviours I hold onto, what goals I have for myself, where I want to go in life, and how I can become better.
That has always been the inspiration behind this blog, but despite the fact I’ve been writing about these topics officially since 2014, I’m only just starting to scratch the surface on what they really mean.
Brene Brown is just the first part of the process.