The impertinence of a white woman to have a name with an accent when she’s neither Latino nor European! These website generating software systems don’t come with an easy way to add the accents. So, this is how I’m starting this review. My copy of The Gifts of Imperfection was published in 2020; it’s the tenth-anniversary edition with a new note from Brené and some pages to make notes at the end. I began stress eating carrots before starting this review, and I realized that reviewing such a widely-liked TED speaker was very anxiety-inducing for me.
But when the same truth keeps repeating itself, it’s hard to pretend that it’s just a coincidence (xx).
Reading this book was like a mini-therapy session, for better or for worse. Some parts make you go: hmm, yeah, I totally do that, kuddos to me. Other parts make you cringe: ooh, ouch! In Dr. Brown’s defense, she does warn readers about the subject(s) she researches. One of the first subjects she focuses on is wholehearted living. It does sound a little like new-age hocus pocus, but I kept reading. Sounds like a healthy way of coping with life’s struggles. She makes note of the things wholehearted people do when they reach a point of exhaustion and overwhelm; they get: (1) Deliberate in their thoughts and behaviors or set intentions, (2) Inspired to make new and different choices, (3) Going or take action (7). Why would this interest anyone? I want to say because that special thing we notice in others or that we sometimes wish we had is not some mysterious gift bestowed upon us by faeries at birth. These are qualities we can cultivate within ourselves if we really want them or aspire to have them. Being a wholehearted person is something within our control that relies very little on anyone else but ourselves, which I think is key for those of us who struggle with social anxiety or self-worth in community. Even then, though, some of us might still get that who do you think you are? look at least a few times (10).
It was clear from the data that we cannot give our children what we don’t have (xxiv).
One mental note that I made to myself recently was that it seemed like individuals tend to conflate charity with compassion a lot. For example, if you are a compassionate person, then you are a charitable person. I had the thought when I decided that I wanted to be more giving this year, but I wanted to be discerning with how and why I was giving even if it was a minor $10 for a cause. When Dr. Brown talked about compassion, I realized that I wanted to be a compassionate giver. I did not want to give out of guilt or obligation; that defeated the purpose for me, so I have a mental criteria for giving. It hit home when Dr. Brown notes that “Compassionate people are boundaried people” (25). Trespassing on our own boundaries hurts just as much as allowing others to trespass or disregard them. My mental criteria for giving is a type of boundary whether it be with money or time.
Shame loves secrecy (15).
Disclaimer: read this book before you get a therapist just to double check some of your issues are easily resolved. On secrecy, I had the thought that I don’t mind having my secrets. I like the idea that some secrets are a form of cultivating your inner garden. Not everyone needs to know everything about you, and somethings about you can and will be on the edgier side of life. I like knowing me better than anyone else knows me and that requires some secrecy, thank you. I did cringe when Dr. Brown mentioned a few things to avoid. Specifically, the judgmental “he/she should be ashamed of him/herself” and the comparing/competing “it could be worse, wait until you hear this” (16-17). Guilty as charged! This is an example of where a little psychological education and mental hygiene comes in handy. I don’t think I’m the last person to realize that emotional dumping is not a healthy relational habit or what that looks like in conversation. Being mindful of it is tough, but once you catch yourself doing it then the work turns to resisting the fall into shame. If these things don’t get modeled to us growing up, then we don’t know them as adults until we take an active stance to learn them.
Incongruent living is exhausting (39).
“Incongruent living is exhausting,” she says (39). Where were you when I ended up crying my eyes out at the therapist in 2016-2017? It’s another way of saying that gas-lighting is exceedingly harmful for your health. Some contradiction in life is inevitable. But, when your constantly bombarded with intentional contradiction, it makes living and making life choices impossible; it’s crippling. We have to foster hope. Dr. Brown says, “I was shocked to discover that hope is not an emotion; it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process” (87). Yes, gurl! You can teach people this little secret. As an educator, there is an entire field of academics that model their teaching pedagogies around the cultivation of hope. My own is a mix of this and narratology given that I’m a life-long writer. So much more I could say and comment about this book. In many ways, I think what Dr. Brown is getting at with The Gifts of Imperfection is that our biggest personal gifts are actually rather imperfect, revolutionary and rebellious in fact, for our modern, squared world.
Brown, Brené. The Gifts of Imperfection. New York, New York: Random House, 2020. Print.
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