“Close-up of a lion staring off into the distance with rocks in the background” by Jack Cain on Unsplash

Why True Courage Isn’t What You Think It Is — Daring Greatly by Brene Brown (BOOK NOTES)

Daring Greatly (affiliate link)

About Daring Greatly

Brene Brown, shame researcher of TED Talk fame, writes in Daring Greatly about the harm of shame and the courage and necessity of vulnerability. Using stories from her own life and others’ lives, as well as information from her research work, Brown writes of the pain of disconnection and the dangers of shaming others and self, as well as practical strategies for combating shame and developing shame resilience.

INTRODUCTION: My Adventures in the Arena

By middle school, which is the time when most of us begin to wrestle with vulnerability, I began to develop and hone my vulnerability-avoidance skills…each strategy was built on the same premise: Keep everyone at a safe distance and always have an exit strategy.
  • Wholeheartedness: a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.
  • Love and belonging a re irreducible needs of all humans. We’re hardwired for connection
The absence of love, belonging, and connection always leads to suffering.
  • The difference between those who love/belonging and those who struggle for it: the first believe they are worthy of love and belonging
  • Parenting is a shame minefield. It’s not about good or bad parents. Just, “are you engaged and paying attention?”
  • What we know matters, but who we are matters more.
  • Being > knowing = showing up and letting yourself be seen

CHAPTER 1: Scarcity: Looking Inside Our Culture of “Never Enough”

  • Recently researchers found that pop songs statistically trend toward narcissism and hostility
  • The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean Twenge, Keith Campbell: narcissistic personality disorder has more than doubled in the last 10 yrs
  • We instinctively want to cut narcissists down to size, but shame is more likely to CAUSE, not CURE this
  • Nostalgia is a dangerous form of comparison
  • 3 components of scarcity: 1) shame, 2) comparison, 3) disengagement
Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

CHAPTER 2: Debunking the Vulnerability Myths

MYTH 1 — Vulnerability is weakness

  • Vulnerability isn’t good or bad. It’s not dark or light.
  • It is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is vulnerability.
  • Vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, emotional exposure
  • Love is uncertain and leaves us emotionally exposed
  • Social psychologist experiment: people who think they are invulnerable are more susceptible to advertising. The illusion of invulnerability undermines the response that would have genuinely protected them
  • The more people perceive they are vulnerable to something, the more they are likely to adhere to positive health regimens and prevention routines
  • We struggle with vulnerability because we think it’s weakness, yet we admire others’ vulnerability and call it courage
  • We want to experience others’ vulnerability without being vulnerable. We’re drawn to others’ vulnerability but repelled by our own.
  • Ask yourself “What’s worth doing even if you fail?”

MYTH 2 — “I don’t do vulnerability”

To grow is to accept vulnerability. To be alive is to be vulnerable — Madeleine L’Engle
  • We can’t opt out of uncertainty, risk, emotional exposure
  • When we pretend to avoid vulnerability, we behave in ways inconsistent with who we want to be
  • We have no choice over experincing vulnerability, only how to respond

MYTH 3 — Vulnerability is letting it all hang out

  • We can’t have guarantees in place before we risk sharing
  • Vulnerability without boundaries = disconnection, distrust, disengagement
  • Boundaryless disclosure protects us from real vulnerability
  • Chicken-or-egg issue: We have to feel trust to be vulnerable, and need to be vulnerable in order to trust
  • Trust is built one marble at a time (Story: daughter’s teacher awards class for good behavior with a marble jar)
  • John Gottman: foremost couples researcher. The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples
  • One small moment isn’t much, but if you choose to turn away all the time, trust erodes gradually
  • Before ostentatious betrayals happen, there is the betrayal of disengagement, not caring, not devoting time to the relationship
  • The most dangerous betrayal is disengagement. It brings in hurt and makes trust slip away
Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.
  • You can be loved for your vulnerabilities, not despite them.
  • Our first and greatest dare is asking for support
“Older sister gives piggy-back ride to younger brother” by Jenn Evelyn-Ann on Unsplash

CHAPTER 3: Understanding and Combating shame

Shame derives power from being unspeakable, that’s why it loves perfectionists — it’s easy to keep us quiet
  • Shame hates having words wrapped around it. Speaking shame makes it wither.
  • Shame resilience: we can’t let ourselves be seen if we’re terrified by what people think.
  • If we don’t come to terms with our shame, we start believing there’s something wrong with us.
  • When your self-worth is hitched to your product, you won’t likely share it. Or if you do, you’ll strip away your creativity andinnovation to be less risky
  • Even if you succeed, it’s like checking in without being able to leave
  • With shame awareness and strong shame resilience, your self-worth isn’t on the table with your creative products
  • When our self-worth isn’t on the line, we’re more willing to be brave and share our raw talents
  • Sense of worthiness inspires us to be vulnerable, share openly, persevere.
  • Shame makes us small, afraid, resentful
Success and recognition and approval are not the values that drive me. My value is courage and I was just courageous. You can move on shame.
  • WHAT IS SHAME? Shame: fear of disconnection
  • 12 shame categories: appearance/body image, money/work, parenting, family, motherhood/fatherhood, mental/physical health, addiction, sex, aging, religion, surviving trauma, being stereotyped/labeled
  • Shame is literally painful. It hurts in the same way as physical pain, per brain researchers
  • Guilt = I did something bad. Shame = I am bad.
  • Shame causes us to brush aside responsibility. Guilt is the driving force for making amends, apologizing
  • People believe they deserve their shame; they do not believe they deserve their humiliation — Donald Klein
  • Four emotions: humiliation, shame, guilt, embarrassment. They are all different.
  • Shame RESISTANCE is impossible. Aim for shame RESILIENCE.
  • Sharing stories with someone who responds with empathy and understanding = shame can’t survive
  • Because shame is a social concept, so it heals best between people. Social wounds need social balms = empathy.
  • Shame resilience:
  1. Recognize shame and understand its triggers: what does your body feel like?
  2. Practice critical awareness: reality-check expectations
  3. Reaching out: own and share your story, connect
  4. Speaking shame: talk about how you feel
  • Resilience requires cognition, but shame hijacks the limbic system
  • Incognito, David Eagleman: the brain is a team of rivals
“Woman with long hair covered with a blue blindfold in Scarborough” by Oscar Keys on Unsplash
  • How people deal with shame: 1) move away (withdraw, hide, silence, secrets) 2) move toward (try to appease and please) 3) move against (aggressive, shame to fight shame)
  • Brene Brown’s story of cultivating/practicing shame resilience: a man sent a mean email, and she accidentally sent back a mean email. He called her out for hypocrisy, but after talking to her husband and friend, she emailed back and never heard from the guy again.
  • Technique that can help deal with shame: Say aloud “pain, pain, pain, pain” to help pull your prefrontal cortex back.
  • Shame resilience process:
  1. Practice courage and reach out
  2. Talk to yourself as you’d talk to someone you love and are trying to comfort
  3. Own the story, don’t bury it and l et it fester or define you. If you own the story, you get to write the ending.
  • Empathy is connection, a ladder out of the shame hole.
  • There’s no right/wrong way to do empathy. Just listen, withhold judgment, emotionally connect, communicate “you’re not alone.”
  • Shame thrives on secret keeping. And “You’re only sick as your secrets.”
  • Not discussing trauma can be more damaging than the actual trauma.
  • Writing to Heal by Pennebaker: Act of writing can produce measurable changes in physical/mental health
  • Men and shame: women would rather see them die on the white horse than watch them fall off. Do not be perceived as weak.
  • Women and shame: looks are still the primary shame trigger. Second, motherhood. We’re expected to look perfect, but not look like we’re working for it.
  • Men’s responses: pissed off or shut down.
Fear and vulnerability are powerful emotions. You can’t just wish them away. You have to do something with them.
  • We are hard on others because we’re hard on ourselves. We judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame.
  • Shame is universal but messages/expectations that drive shame are organized by gender.

CHAPTER 4: The Vulnerability Armory

  • Persona: greek for “stage mask”
Masks make us feel safer even when they become suffocating.
  • Ironically, we don’t want to be vulnerable, but we want others to be vulnerable, and we feel frustrated/disconnected when they aren’t.
  • Our masks/armor are as individualized as we are, and our vulnerability, discomfort, pain
  • Believing we are “enough” gives us permission to take off the mask
  • 3 forms of common shields we use:
  1. FOREBODING JOY: Without vulnerability, joy feels like a setup, we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. Perpetual-disappointment folks expect the worst so they won’t be caught off-guard. But expecting the worst does NOT prepare you for the worst. 
    Antidote: PRACTICE GRATITUDE: joy and gratitude go together. Joy comes in ordinary moments. Don’t squander joy, celebrate it!
  2. PERFECTIONISM: not the same as striving for excellence. It’s a defensive move where we believe we can minimize/avoid pain of judgment/blame/shame by making things “perfect,” trying to earn approval, linking our identity to our accomplishments. Perfectionism hampers achievement. It’s a form of shame.
    Antidote: APPRECIATE IMPERFECTIONS: We’re all hustling a bit to hide our flaws, but we need to learn self-compassion. Remember everyone goes through suffering. And art is perfectly imperfect.
  3. NUMBING: One example — being crazy busy. Numbing doesn’t just deaden pain, it also deadens love/joy/belonging/creativity/empathy. We can’t selectively numb emotion. Disconnection leads to isolation, which is a real danger — psychological isolation is the most terrifying, destructive feeling a person can have.
    Antidote: SET BOUNDARIES, FIND TRUE COMFORT, CULTIVATE SPIRIT: Learn to feel your feelings, be mindful of numbing behaviors, lean into the discomfort of difficult emotions.
“A picture memory is a picture I take in my mind when I’m really, really happy. I close my eyes and take a picture, so when I’m feeling sad or scared or lonely, I can look at my picture memories.” — Ellie (Brene Brown’s daughter)
“black and white portrait of a man in Medieval armor, getting ready to swing a sword.” by Henry Hustava on Unsplash
  • 2 ways of dealing with anxiety:
  1. try to manage/soothe the anxiety
  2. change the behaviors that lead to anxiety
  • The second way works better. It addresses the root of anxiety, aligns lives with values, and sets boundaries.
  • Re: boundaries: You have to believe you are enough to say “Enough!”
  • Two most powerful forms of connection: love + belonging
  • You must believe you are worthy of love/belonging to get it.
  • Belonging = desire to be part of something bigger than us.
  • A connected life: set boundaries, spend less time/energy trying to win people who don’t matter, cultivate connections with family/friends
  • Jennifer Louden calls numbing “shadow comforts”: They can be anything. It’s not the WHAT that matters, but WHY you do it. Are you eating because you’re hungry/you like it, or because it takes away bad feelings? If the latter, that’s a “shadow comfort.”
  • Think: is this diminishing or nourishing my spirit? Also, how does my numbing behavior affect those around me?
  • Some people have a viking (aggressor) or victim (helpless) mentality. Then, some people choose to be victims because they don’t want to be the only other alternative — vikings.
  • But there aren’t only two options. Don’t reduce life options to limited/extreme roles. There’s no room for meaningful transformation.
  • How do you define success? Are you willing to reach out and connect?
  • But vulnerability is NOT oversharing (another kind of armor). 2 kinds of oversharing:
  1. FLOODLIGHTING: When people share TMI in order to test loyalty, hotwire a new connection, soothe their own pain. The response? Others recoil, increasing our shame/disconnection. 
    Instead: Think of vulnerability as little twinkle lights — share a little bit of yourself at a time with people who earn the right to hear them, creating small sparks of connection. Over time, many twinkle lights create beauty.
  2. SMASH & GRAB: a fake performance of vulnerability, usually due to attention-seeking.
    Instead: Question your own intentions. Am I trying to connect with someone, truly? Is this the best way to do it?
  3. SERPENTING: spending enormous energy trying to dodge vulnerability when it would take less energy facing it head on. (Ex: pretending something isn’t happening/isn’t there)
    Instead: Be present. A touch of humor helps.
  4. CYNICISM/CRITICISM/COOL/CRUELTY: Other peoples’ vulnerabilities threaten our own fears. Some people try to say vulnerability looks gullible/lame (“I am too cool to care!”) But when we stop caring about what other people think, we lose our capacity for connection. When we become defined by what people think, we lose our willingness to be vulnerable.
    Instead: Balance. If you don’t feel comfortable owning it, don’t say it. None of this anonymous attack stuff.
Don’t try to win over the haters; you’re not the jackass whisperer — Scott Stratten, UnMarketing
Photo by Jordan Butler on Unsplash

CHAPTER 5: Mind the Gap: Cultivating Change and Closing the Disengagement Divide

  • Strategy: the game plan. What do we want and how do we get there?
  • Culture: less “what we want to achieve,” more “who we are.”
  • Disengagement is underlying most problems in families and groups.
We disengage when we feel like the people who are leading us (boss, clergy, parents) aren’t living up to their end of the social contract.
  • Why religion is an example of social contract disengagement: In an uncertain world, we often feel desperate for absolutes. But turning faith into “compliance + consequences” rather than wrestling with the unknown, embracing mystery is bankrupt.
Faith minus vulnerability equals politics, or worse, extremism. Spiritual connection and engagement is not built on compliance, it’s the product of love, belonging, and vulnerability.
We can’t give people what we don’t have. Who we are matters immeasurably more than what we know or who we want to be.
  • If our practiced values are often in conflict with cultural expectations, disengagement is inevitable.
  • Mind the gap: the space between where we are and where we want to be (in terms of living our values)

CHAPTER 6: Disruptive Engagement: Daring to Rehumanize Education and Work

Make no mistake: honest conversations about vulnerability and shame are disruptive.
  • Biggest barrier to creativity and innovation: fear of sounding crazy and failing and being laughed at. People want guarantees, but there’s never enough certainty.
  • Creativity scars: Most people can recall a school incident so shaming it changed how they thought of themselves as learners
Shame can only rise so far in any system before people disengage to protect themselves. When we’re disengaged, we don’t show up, we don’t contribute, and we stop caring…disengagement [also] allows people to rationalize all kinds of unethical behavior including lying, stealing, and cheating.
  • If blame is driving, shame is riding shotgun. Cover-up culture relies on shame.
  • A “daring greatly culture”: honest, constructive, engaged feedback
  • People want feedback, we all want to grow.
  • Normalize discomfort: Expect to be uncomfortable. Remind people it’s normal, and why it’s important. That will reduce anxiety, fear, shame.
  • If you’re not willing to receive feedback, you’ll be bad at giving it.
  • Sales is about relationships. B.S.ing is the deathblow to relationships.
Photo by Patrick Baum on Unsplash

CHAPTER 7: Wholehearted Parenting: Daring to be the Adults We Want our Children to Be

  • There’s no such thing as perfect parenting and there are no guarantees
  • Our stories of worthiness begin in our first families
  • Our sense of love, belonging, worthiness, are most radically shaped by our families of origin
Don’t ask “are you parenting right?” but “are you the adult you want your child to grow up to be?”
What we are teaches our children more than what we say, so we must BE what we want our children to become — Joseph Chilton Pearce
  • If you want your kids to love and accept themselves, we can’t use fear/shame/blame/judgment in our own lives
Compassion and connection — the very things that give purpose and meaning to our lives — can only be learned if they are experienced.
  • For most of us, the greatest struggles/challenges come in midlife and later
  • Wholeheartedness: Like the North Star, we don’t arrive, but we know if we’re headed in the right direction
  • Worthiness has no prerequisites (No: once I lose weight, if I get promoted, if no one finds out, etc)
  • Perfectionism is contagious, like the flu.
  • There’s a huge difference between “you are bad” and “you did something bad.”
  • “She told a lie” = she can change that behavior. “She is a liar” = no potential for change.
  • Shame hurts little kids because itmakes them feel unlovable, and that’s a threat to their survival. It’s traumatic.
  • Shame makes us feel childlike and small, brings back our early shame traumas.
  • Childhood shames change who we are, how we think about ourselves, our self-worth
  • We can’t raise kids more shame-resilient than we are.
  • Normalizing is the most powerful shame-resilience tool. (Ex: Don’t be ashamed, it happened to me too!)
  • You can’t teach shame-resilience to your kids if you’re shaming other parents.
  • Difference between belonging and fitting in:
  • BELONGING: being somewhere you want to be, and they want you too. Being accepted for you.
  • FITTING IN: being somewhere you want to be, and they don’t care one way or the other. Being accepted for being like everyone else.
  • Let your kids know they belong, and the belonging is unconditional.
Engagement means investing time and energy. It means sitting down with our children and understanding their worlds, their interests, and their stories.
  • Sometimes the bravest, most important thing you can do it just show up.
Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.
“A little boy wearing a printed black and white shirt with ice cream all over his face and an ice cream cone in his hand in Bentonville” by Jared Sluyter on Unsplash

Final Thoughts

  • Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage.
  • Roosevelt: There is no effort without error and shortcoming, no triumph without vulnerability.

APPENDIX: Trust in Emergence: Grounded Theory and My Research Process

  • basic tenet of grounded theory: all is data.

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