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Book Review: Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

When I discovered Brené Brown, I had a sneaking suspicion I was about to become a huge fan. So, I ordered Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. It arrived at my doorstep a month ago. Now, I have read it through... twice. Trust me, it's good.

For anyone who is not familiar with Dr. Brené Brown, she is a research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington Foundation Chair at The Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is the author of four #1 New York Times bestsellers – The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness. Her TED talk – The Power of Vulnerability – is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world with over 30 million views.

Brené has such an easy-to-understand writing style, as I was reading it really felt like I could've been sitting across from her in a coffee shop chatting about her research findings. I loved that! I also appreciate that this book was the result of ten years of research she conducted- she didn't just decide to write about how she thinks people interact with vulnerability and shame, she writes about what she has learned through her research. She studies real people living real lives.

I am drawn toward Brené and her research because I am huge on vulnerability; in my life, if I can't be vulnerable with someone, we're not going to be very close. At the same time, our lives are greatly affected by shame. I feel shame and I want to know what to do with it, how to manage feeling it, and how to avoid passing shame onto others. Maybe you're wondering if this book is only for people with shame and vulnerability issues. My gut instinct is to say that there isn't anyone who shouldn't read this book- it's so good and so eye-opening. But, at the same time, I am aware that I am a thinker. I like to understand emotions and I enjoy finding answers for some of the most complex things we encounter in life. I am someone who wants to know myself through and through, I want to understand who I am, why I am the way I am, who I am striving to become, and why I do the things I do. I want to understand who others are and why they are that way. This book helped me a lot with that. I would say this book is for you if:

  • You struggle with worthiness and belonging

  • You struggle with shame

  • You shame people to get them to cooperate (this happens a lot at home, at school, and at work)

  • You have difficulty opening up to others

  • You open up to the wrong people and end up getting yourself hurt

  • You don't understand why people open up to you and it emotionally exhausts you

  • You are a parent trying to raise a strong, successful child

  • You are a parent trying to connect with your child

  • You struggle with being a perfectionist

  • You feel like you are never enough, life is never enough

  • You are repelled by the idea of being vulnerable

  • You constantly anticipate bad things happening- you expect the worst

  • You cannot feel joy without feeling nervous

  • You feel like you're living on the outside of your life, looking in

  • You are scared of failing, making mistakes, or appearing as "too much"

  • You find yourself measuring your worth by your acquisitions and accomplishments

Daring Greatly challenged me to be more aware of the ways

that I shame the people around me; it also made me more aware of the ways that I shame myself. I beat myself up a lot over things, often times inconsequential things. The past few weeks I've definitely had to remind myself of this idea when I've thought things like "I'm so ____": I am a smart person who sometimes does dumb things. I am a strong person who sometimes falls apart. I am a hard worker that sometimes fails. Reminding myself of these things is so much better than berating myself for messing up, doing something foolish, or having an emotional breakdown. We are all human. None of us are perfect.

Different people do vulnerability differently. Some people practice vulnerability, others use vulnerability. We all know people who overshare- they tell anyone and everyone all the details of their personal life. Brené calls it floodlighting: using vulnerability as a way to sooth one's personal pain, test the loyalty and tolerance in the relationship, and/or hot-wire a new relationship (page 159, Daring Greatly). "Vulnerability is based on mutuality and requires boundaries and trust.... [It's] about sharing our feelings and our experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them.... sharing appropriately, with boundaries, means sharing with people with whom we've developed relationships that can bear the weight of our story.... Vulnerability without boundaries leads to disconnection, distrust, and disengagement" (pages 45 & 46, Daring Greatly).

Something we see a lot of today is disengagement. On page 51, Brené describes it as betrayal, not caring, letting connection go, being unwilling to devote time and effort to a relationship. The type of betrayal that emerged most often in her research was disengagement. It triggers shame and our deepest fears; it is extremely detrimental to trust and connection.

People protect themselves from vulnerability in many ways, but one of the "shields" I found most interesting was disappointment. "It's easier to live disappointed than it is to feel disappointed. It feels more vulnerable to dip in and out of disappointment than to just set up camp there. You sacrifice joy, but you suffer less pain" (page 121, Daring Greatly). I think we all know people that live with the "worst-case-scenario" mentality; it's scary to hope, because disappointment does happen. But you cannot experience joy, true delight, if your fear of disappointment constantly holds you back.

Lastly, I want to touch on what Brené has to say about perfectionism. "Perfectionism is a form of shame. Where we struggle with perfectionism, we struggle with shame." (page 130, Daring Greatly). I am such a perfectionist; I like things done my way because I know and understand my way and if we do things another way I freak out. I like everything in its place; I'm organized, I make lists, I plan-plan-plan. But why? Why do I do that? Why am I a perfectionist? Because, if I know my way works, everything turns out well; if I'm organized and something pops up unexpected, I can take care of it efficiently and I look prepared; I make lists because I like to check things off- it makes me feel accomplished; I plan because I want things to go well so I have a nice time. I do these things to protect myself from disappointment, either my own disappointment or my fear of disappointing others.

Later today, I'm going to write this quote from Daring Greatly on a sheet of paper and tack it on a wall someplace where I will see it every day: "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good". I need that reminder.

So friends, I highly recommend this book. I can't wait to get my hands on another Brené Brown book, hopefully The Gifts of Imperfection, but I hear she has a new book coming out in October so I may just have to wait for that! It sounds dramatic, but I'm not joking when I say that I think this book has influenced how I'm going to live my life everyday. It's already influenced the way I talk to and criticize myself as well as making me think twice about the judgement and criticism that I pass onto others. I want to dare greatly. I want to be all in, to experience true, deep connection with others. Does that mean that every relationship in my life is going to be deep? No. Brené says you're lucky if you have two or three people in your life that you can be vulnerable with. But it's time to be brave, to foster that connection and to build those boundaries so that when the time comes and my friend needs someone to hear them, I'm there and I know I can do the same with them when I'm the one needing. It's real-life stuff: never easy, but totally necessary.

Chapter-by-chapter summaries:


1. What drives our fear of being vulnerable?

2. How are we protecting ourselves from vulnerability?

3. What price are we paying when we shut down and disengage?

4. How do we own and engage with vulnerability so we can start transforming the way we live, love, parent, and lead?


In chapter one, Brené discusses the issues of comparison & narcissism. She describes narcissism as the fear of never feeling extraordinary enough to be noticed, to be lovable, to belong, or to cultivate a sense of purpose. She explains that an attitude of scarcity (constant assessing and comparing) thrives in shame-prone cultures. In this chapter, three habits are laid out in sequential order: when a person feels SHAME, they being to practice COMPARISON, and cope by practicing DISENGAGEMENT. Shame leads to comparison which causes disengagement.


Myth #1. Vulnerability is weakness

Myth #2. I don't do vulnerability

Myth #3. Vulnerability is letting it all hang out

Myth #4. We can go it alone

As humans, we try to dismiss vulnerability as weakness because we've misinterpreted feeling as failing and emotions as liabilities.

How does vulnerability feel? It feels scary. It's being all in. It's summoning the courage to be completely yourself while battling the fear of being a disappointment. It is achingly necessary. Letting go of control.

In this chapter, Brené explains that we love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we're afraid to let others see it in us; essentially, "I want to experience your vulnerability but I don't want to be vulnerable with you. Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me. I'm drawn to your vulnerability but repelled by mine."


Shame. No one wants it, no one wants to discuss it, but everyone has it. In order to understand shame, we have to understand guilt. Shame says "I am bad" whereas guilt says "I did something bad". In her research, Brené found that shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we can change and do better. Later in the chapter, she explains how men and women experience shame differently. Her research has led her to believe that both genders are equally affected by shame but that the messages and expectations that fuel shame are very different for men and women. One of my big take-aways: as women, we do the most destructive shaming. For women, shame revolves around conflicting and competing expectations that dictate exactly who we should be, what we should be, and how we should be. Most often these expectations are aimed at our relationship status, parenting style, and body image. Meanwhile, men describe shame as failure, being wrong, being "soft", revealing any weakness, showing fear, being criticized or ridiculed. Women experience shame when they don't feel heard or validated and often resort to pushing and provoking with criticism. Men experience shame when they feel criticized for being inadequate and respond by shutting down or coming back with anger. There is no intimacy without vulnerability... in order to find a way out of shame and back to connection, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light to see the way.


In chapter 4, Brené asks three questions:

1. How do we protect ourselves?

2. When and how did we start using these defense mechanisms?

3. What would it take to make us put the armor away?

Brené explains that we cannot selectively numb the emotions we dislike; if we numb the dark, we also numb the light. If we numb the disappointment, we numb the joy.


All about disengagement, chapter 5 is where Brené asks three critical questions:

1. How does the culture of "never-enough" affect our schools, organizations, and families?

2. How do we recognize and combat shame at work, school, and home?

3. What do "minding the gap" and "daring greatly" look like in schools, organizations, and families?

From her research, Brené has discovered disengagement to be the underlying issue in the majority of the problems seen in families, schools, communities, and organizations.


The simple and honest process of letting people know that discomfort is normal, it's going to happen, why it happens, and why it's important. Disruptive engagement is not easy, but it reduces anxiety, shame, and fear while opening the door to creativity, innovation, productivity, and trust. When you shut down vulnerability, you shut down opportunity.


"Our stories of worthiness- of being enough- begin in our first families" (page 216, Daring Greatly). Perfectionism plagues families; it passes from the parents down to the children silently. Perfectionism doesn't teach children how to strive for excellence or to be their best selves... it teaches them to perform, please, and prove. In order to protect children from shame and perfectionism, parents need to separate their children from their behaviors. When they shame and label their children, they take away the child's opportunity to grow and try new behaviors. Shame is incredibly painful to children because it is inextricably linked to a fear of being unlovable.... it's trauma. So, how do parents combat shame and perfectionism? Create in your home a culture or worthiness. Put down the measuring stick and stop using acquisitions and accomplishments to assess worth.


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