Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Gifts of Imperfection

I came across a link on Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project Blog for Brené Brown’s TEDx video.  I’m a big fan of TED videos so I watched it and thought it fit into the category of appropriate readings for my happiness project so I bought her book The Gifts of Imperfection and read it. 

I find myself drawn to books in which the author has done the work for me.  I really liked reading the Happiness Project because Gretchen is an overachiever researcher type and did all the leg work to get the facts and compare the studies and presented me with a nice summarized version of her findings on a dozen different topics.  I’m not really interested in reading 15 books on relationships, I’d rather read one or two that sum things up nicely.  So, when I saw in Brené’s video that she began as a perfectionist, skeptic, researcher who discovered through her work that she wasn’t living a “wholehearted life” and proceeded to change her ways I thought it would be interesting.  I mean, doesn’t everyone like a good skeptic become believer story?

As I’m reading I like to highlight select phrases that resonate with me.

  • to believe in myself and the possibility of living a different life
  • to begin by always thinking of love as an action rather than a feeling
  • incongruent living is exhausting
  • we can only love others as much as we love ourselves
  • the opposite of play is not work

She says she posted the discussion on her blog about only being able to love others as much as you love yourself and got a lot of angry responses by people who claimed to love others more, like parents who claimed to love their children more than themselves.  One woman, who works with women with addiction said that many mothers with addiction hate themselves but love their kids.  I thought that was kind of bullshit. Maybe it’s not a perfect balance but to say that you can hate yourself and love your kids is a lie.  If you’re a addict, that probably means you’re sucking at life somehow.  If you’re a drunk you’re probably not being the best mom since you are both physically and mentally unavailable most of the time.  Your kid probably feels abandoned, has no role model on how to grow up and be well balanced, confident and able to deal with problems in a healthy way.  OH but you love your kid.  If you hate yourself, one way or another that’s going picked up and internalized by your child.  To say that addicts or people suffering from depression or whatever are incapable of love is not the point I’m trying to make.  I simply believe that you have a greater capacity for love when you do love yourself.  I think it can happen in a reverse order in which learning to love someone else helps your learn to love yourself. 

Brené has done a lot of research on shame.  Shame isn’t something I think about very often.  Whenever I think of negative emotions I never think of the word shame. Brené describes it as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.  The more I thought about it the more I realized how powerful the word shame is and that it’s had a big impact on me.  I grew up in an environment where criticism came quick and often and praise came…rarely.  I think I adapted the feeling of not being good enough early and it’s made it difficult for me to deal with tough situations in life because they confirm some deep rooted belief that I’m not good enough.  On an intellectual level I know this isn’t true, but sometimes knowing and believing don’t go hand in hand.  Thinking about moments in my life that I once thought of as rejection, embarrassment, humiliation in terms of worthiness and shame has allowed me to look at them in a different way.

I think there’s lots of good stuff in this book, but it was a challenge for me to get through and it’s not very long.  I struggled with it because there is a strong researcher textbook quality about it.  The most interesting parts of the book were the ones in which she described some of her findings by telling stories from her life.  There are very few of these examples but I think they are the best parts of the book.  I wish she’d written the entire thing as her journey to come to terms with and embody her research findings as opposed to describing her research and the definitions she’d come up with as a result.  I’d even be interested in individual interviews with people she spoke with for her research.  Making the story a personal journey would have been a more interesting and relatable read.

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