At a Glance
- "Brene Brown shows that by confronting our frightening emotions of vulnerability, fear, and shame with resilience, we can lead a more wholehearted life."
The Gifts Of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are is Brene Brown’s self-help book to cultivate our self-worth by accepting our imperfections. It is a guide to living an authentic life by overcoming the scarier emotions of vulnerability, fear, and shame. Brown guides us to live an imperfect life by her “ten guideposts”.
The book provides practical instructions to face our insecurities with an open and proactive approach. Being vulnerable in the face of the loss of a job, a loved one, or a relationship is no mean feat. Without facing our vulnerabilities and walking through them we don’t change, grow, and move forward. Failures and disappointments tend to provoke our defences and we are tempted to run away from our fears. We cannot live our wholehearted lives by escapism. We need to be more open about our weaknesses and receive the gifts of our imperfections which are compassion, courage, and connection. “Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to skip over the hard stuff, but it just doesn’t work,” she writes in The Gifts Of Imperfections.
What Is Shame Resilience?
Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging”. Shame is the hardest obstacle in confronting our vulnerabilities.
A Biological response:
Shame activates our parasympathetic nervous system’s protective response. It is a biological response that shuts us down rather than opening up. We are inherently programmed not to talk about shame. Brown warns us that the less we talk about it, the more control it has over our lives.
Can we Overcome Shame?
In her research, Brown encounters people who have developed “shame resilience”. It is an ability to recognize shame when it engulfs us, and move through it by confronting it with an open heart which allows us to maintain our authenticity and grow from our experiences. No one can conquer or overcome shame in their lives. But we can learn to be more shame resilient if we know how it works its reptile impulses.
According to Brown, we can learn this trait by showing our willingness to reach out precisely when we want to shut down. This ability requires active cognition because when shame descends, we almost always are hijacked by the limbic system. The limbic system is the part of the brain involved in our behavioural and emotional responses which get activated in survival situations like feeding, reproduction, and fight or flight responses.
In order to live a wholehearted life Brown suggests cultivating ten habits that we will discuss in the rest of the summary.
10 Guideposts To A Wholehearted Living:
Brown suggests that anyone can learn the skill of wholeheartedness. She was able to embrace her vulnerability after a difficult personal journey. She amusingly calls this journey a “mini-breakdown, slash, and a spiritual awakening.”
She admits that living a life worthy of love and belonging despite insecurities is a tall order. It is a slow and painful process but worth it in the end. Each of the guideposts is a practice in itself and offers a chance to develop a skill to engage in our lives from a place of worthiness. Brown writes, “It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, no matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.”
1. Practice Authenticity:
To live wholeheartedly one must practice courage to be imperfect and vulnerable. When serpents of shame descend on us we succumb to people-pleasing or aggressive posturing. Favourable outcomes are not dependent on other people’s views or judgments. We have to be unapologetic about our true selves. We need to practice authenticity by setting boundaries and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.
2. Find Self-Compassion:
Brown holds perfectionism as an obstacle to authenticity. Perfectionism means trying to earn the approval of others to feel good about ourselves. She describes herself as a recovering perfectionist and an aspiring good-enough. To practice self-compassion and self-love, we have to let go of our urge to be perfect. It drives us into a false belief that if we look, say, and do everything perfectly, we might evade shame and the pain of others’ judgments. Brown recommends getting objective feedback on our current level of self-compassion.
For people running low on self-compassion, Brown’s morning resolution might help which says, “Today, I’m going to believe that showing up is enough”
3. Cultivate Resilience:
Resilient people do not endure hardships stoically. They face adversity without submitting to hopelessness and numbing practices like alcoholism, shopping binges, or emotional eating that take the edge off.
When we numb the negative emotions we also numb the positive ones. It was an unexpected discovery for Brown that there was no such thing as selective numbing.
It is about consciously checking in when adversity hits us, instead of checking out. It is about believing in our capability of handling our own challenges which Brown refers to as “agency”. The concept of agency means a sensibly hopeful attitude that depends on “I can do this” rather than “I deserve this”. It also requires us to maintain a healthy critical distance from the negativity society throws at us.
4. Build Gratitude and Joy:
Brown observed during her interviews with shame-resilient people that they remained joyful and grateful in times of adversity. She makes a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness results in our satisfaction with circumstances, whereas joy is about the “good mood of the soul”. An act of gratitude also acts in favour of the good mood of the soul. A sense of sufficiency in the face of scarcity is a positive attitude that enhances our self-worthiness.
5. Trust Your Intuition and Faith:
We live in an uncertain world. We try to protect ourselves by clinging to rigid beliefs, but by doing so we cut ourselves off from the complexity of people and experiences — a high price to pay for security. A better approach, in Brown’s view, is to gradually build your tolerance to the vulnerability that uncertainty produces. In other words, cultivate a stronger faith in your ability to remain open and connected when hard times hit.
Favorite Quote From Author
“Faith is essential when we decide to live and love with our whole hearts in a world where most of us want assurances before we risk being vulnerable and getting hurt,” Brown writes.
“To say ‘I’m going to engage wholeheartedly in my life’ requires believing without seeing.”