I recently got a chance to read Brene Brown’s “The gift of imperfections”, for a book forum as a panelist. Brene Brown is a renowned author, researcher and professor who has spent over two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy. As a psychologist whose vocabulary predominantly consists of the above four words, I couldn’t wait to delve into this book. Now, what I am presenting here is not a review of the book or a summary or a conclusion of any sort, what I am in fact presenting are some of those important points, that stood out for me, which play a huge role in helping us accept our imperfections and make the best out of who we are.
Imperfection, it’s a word we associate with shame rather than acceptance. For example, when you complete a task with the belief that you have done a good job only to be berated later for not being sufficient, the immediate thought in your head would most probably be, “This wouldn’t have happened if I had done a perfect job, I suck!”, rather than “It’s ok, I am only human, I will try to do better the next time”. I have attended my fair share of interviews for the post of a Software Engineer and I need not be the first to say that under the list of both strengths and weaknesses we were trained to mention “Perfectionist”. It was a strength because even if perfection is not achievable we will nevertheless bend over backwards trying and weakness because it will never let us rest in peace. As daunting as that sounds we still strive to achieve perfection like it’s the light at the end of the tunnel.
The book talks about accepting our imperfections instead of being riddled with shame for not being perfect. The idea of perfection is like an unachievable dream, it’s like promising a child happiness for the rest of their lives without a taint of sadness, it’s neither possible nor moral.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy-the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of light within.”
Vulnerability is what we fear. Being perfect means we are indestructible but if not, then, we are subject to humiliation, ridicule, insufficiency, helplessness, worthlessness and so on. Brown talks about three things which help us accept our insufficiency and cultivate worthiness: Courage, Compassion and Connection.
• Courage to speak one’s mind, courage to be authentic and courage to accept our imperfections. Accepting another’s views or trying to win over someone or keeping quiet for a fear of being ridiculed is only a silent way for us to be more ashamed of ourselves and to lose who we really are.
• Compassion is not about being the healer and healing the wounded. It is a relationship of equals. Understanding our darkness and accepting it helps us understand other’s darkness and accept them. Compassion doesn’t only mean being kind and forgiving to people but it can also mean holding people accountable for what they have done. It is better to hold someone accountable for their actions than to wean off of our self-worth by blaming or judging them. It’s about having healthy boundaries.
“I think this rage-blame-too-tired-and busy-to-follow-through mind-set is why we’re so heavy on self-righteous anger and so low on compassion”.
• Connection is reaching out and being vulnerable to ask for help. In a society where independence and sufficiency is appended with the ability to never ask for help, it becomes evident that people who do are considered weak. An imbalance of power is created between those who seek for help and those who provide. This imbalance in power is what stops us from accepting help. By considering that each one of us are both (the helper and the helped) it becomes easier to accept that asking for help is not a sign of weakness but in fact an attempt at making connections and feeling connected.
Shame is what comes in the way of us being accepting of ourselves. It is that feeling of not being good enough, of being small and flawed. It is a feeling we want to run away from, it arises out of our assumption, "Only I am flawed." Three things to remember when it comes to shame:
1. Everybody is shameful.
2. Everybody is afraid to talk about it for the fear of being judged and being slighted.
3. The less we talk about shame the more power it has.
Brown says the best thing we can do to overcome shame is to talk about it. She specifically mentions that sharing does not mean telling everybody, it means disclosing it to somebody who understands and listens without judgment, somebody who has earned the right to hear our story.
“If we share our shame story with the wrong person, they can easily become one more piece of flying debris in an already dangerous storm.”
Developing the ability to recognize shame and then taking the right steps to overcome it is what is shame resiliency and it is exactly what we need, to curb it at its roots. Below are some points which help us understand how shame resiliency can be cultivated.
1. Being authentic. The ability to express our self just as we are, with no facades or omissions. The courage to tell our true story without being immune to the reactions but in fact being vulnerable. This show, of vulnerability, breeds compassion and also helps in connecting with others.
2. Cultivating self-compassion. Being kind to self, accepting that imperfection is common to humanity and being mindful when we experience this negative emotion there by combating it effectively.
3. Building resilience by
A. Cultivating hope – not just as an emotion but by setting realistic goals, achieving those goals and believing in self to achieve those goals.
B. Being critically aware – Consciously and critically checking the messages or expectations that are constantly being set for us to remind us that we are never good enough. This sets us up for failure from the get go. Examples include advertisements, movies, magazines etc.
C. Staying away from numbing – Taking the edge off of negative emotions is a quick fix but will have serious consequences later. The fear of vulnerability and pain make us resort to behaviors such as over working, keeping busy, substance abuse, planning etc., which helps us escape thereby ignore our emotions. This only means bottling up of emotions, so, instead what Brown suggests is to lean into the emotions and feel through it. Experiencing them completely as one with it. This helps the emotions to traverse through us instead of getting stuck and clogging other emotions as well.
4. Cultivating joy and gratitude – “Joy is a light that fills you with hope and faith and love.” – Adela Rogers St. Johns. Joy and gratitude coexist. Brown suggests that to be joyful it helps by cultivating gratitude. Reminding ourselves by using phrases such as, “I am grateful for….”helps practice gratitude which in turn leads to an influx of joy into our lives. Joy and gratitude is what is needed to sustain us during difficult times.
5. Trusting our intuition, whether it is telling us its sure about something or it is telling us to gather more information before making a decision, both these instance means trusting it. Giving up during a time when you need to be collecting information and saying “Hey what happens, happens” is what leads to us losing faith in our gut.
“Intuition isn’t always about accessing the answers from within. Sometimes when we’ve tapped into our inner wisdom, it tells us that we don’t know enough to make a decision without more investigation.”
6. Letting go of comparison by cultivating creativity. Brown explains how comparison is all about conforming and competing, although this seems mutually exclusive, when we compare we want to see who is best out of a collection of similar things. Then what happens to creativity? When we make something, even the silliest of things, it’s unique, it’s original, and it’s us.
“The comparison mandate becomes this crushing paradox of “fit in and stand out!” It’s not cultivate self acceptance, belonging and authenticity; it’s be just like everyone else, but better.”
Being creative gives us meaning as it is the only unique contribution that we will ever make to the world.
7. Play – Brown proposes that play is essential to be joyful and satisfied. Although play is apparently purposeless, it is playing for the sake of playing, it is fun. But, a stark reminder is that play invokes shame or fear because it is doing something purposeless while we could have essentially been productive. In Brown’s words, it’s an anxiety attack waiting to happen. But we need to question ourselves; does work really exist without play?
8. Being calm– “creating perspective and mindfulness while managing reactive emotions.” Being mindful and gaining perspective before giving a response.
9. Doing meaningful work – It’s a tale as old as times. Doing work which gives meaning to us, which gives us a purpose, without letting someone force their opinions into making us question our choices. It is believing that the self is good enough and worthy enough.
10. Laughter, song and dance – Breaking down into laughter or a song or dance, at random moments, when filled with joy, just to express how we feel, is the purest form of expression. We get so caught up in wanting to be perceived as being “cool” that we give up on these small joys and opt to be controlled and in form just to be accepted.
While to some of you it might seem like a broken record, I know for a fact that these are the lessons that I am taking away from reading this book. What’s the guarantee you ask, that the information is dependable? The answer is simple, its two decades of research.
If this read peeked your curiosity then do read the book “The gift of imperfections” –Brene Brown for a detailed more expanded version. So go ahead sing, dance, laugh and play, if work gives us purpose then joy will give us meaning.