The Gifts of Imperfection - A Reader's Response

I recently finished Brené Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.  I was drawn to the book because of these two Ted Talks. Go ahead and watch them.  I'll wait.

I've watched those two videos multiple times. I find Brene a charming and authentic storyteller.  As her talk moves from the academic to the personal, as she lets the audience into the vulnerable areas of her life, I am amazed at her courage.  I don't think I could stand in front of an auditorium full of strangers and admit I had a breakdown spiritual awakening.  Fear of being judged, of being vulnerable to attack, would prevent me from admitting such a personal weakness.  Yet, Brene does so with humor and grace. She appears powerful, not weak.  Her time on stage is riveting because her revelation brings with it keen insights into the human condition.

Her talks left me wanting to know more about the power of vulnerability, fear, shame, and guilt.  The reason isn't hard to figure out: I am human and I suffer from all these afflictions.  I fear vulnerability.  I feel guilt.  I struggle with shame.  Finding ways to recognize these patterns of behavior or emotional responses seemed to offer some hope of gaining control over them.  At least, that's what I hoped Brene's book would say.  And it did.  It also told me the dragons of fear, shame, and guilt  are immortal and cannot be slain, only bannished to the borderlands.  Again and again.  After all, if a vulnerability expert with years of research in her toolkit was still vulnerable to their attacks, how could I or anyone else expect to be otherwise?  

As I read the book, I liberally highlighted passages that resonated with me. I found myself - and so many others that I recognized - lurking in those pages.  There were moments when I wanted to pick up the phone and read a passage to my cousin, to my sister, to my husband.  I wanted to share my Kindle highlights - I still do - but Amazon hasn't quite gotten that feature rolled out yet, so I'm left with this blog post and the quotes that have been added to Goodreads.  

One of the sections of the book that really struck me has a lot to do with this quote: 

“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.” 

I like to think I'm a fairly positive and upbeat person, but I have dark moments, too.  I struggle with anger and hurt and pain. I am sometimes easily frustrated and quick to anger.  I rage.  I curse and cuss, I think bad thoughts, and indulge in unkind thoughts.  My heart has been broken and walls have been erected to help numb the pain. 

It's a normal reaction, this tendency to numb.  Yet, it can be detrimental.  Here's a longer passage from the book that addresses this very thing. 

For many of us, our first response to vulnerability and pain of these sharp points is not to lean into the discomfort and feel our way through but rather to make it go away. We do that by numbing and taking the edge off the pain with whatever provides the quickest relief. We can anesthetize with a whole bunch of stuff, including alcohol, drugs, food, sex, relationships, money, work, caretaking, gambling, staying busy, affairs, chaos, shopping, planning, perfectionism, constant change, and the Internet.

That list of numbing agents got me thinking.  I will admit that I sometimes use alcohol as a means of "taking off the edge".  If I've had a rough day at work, I look forward to putting my feet up and sipping on a glass or two of wine.  What do I do, though, if I'm still at work when the need to take the edge off appears?  I eat.  I seek out caffeine. I check Facebook or search Amazon for free books that I'll likely never have the time to read. Sometimes my favorite numbing agents are books.  Sometimes, though, a book seems like too much effort and I need something even less challenging: television. 

This list of items made me think of the other people in my life.  I know a couple of people who can't stand being idle; they need to keep moving, to do something.  I know others who treat their personal discomforts with routine shopping.  I may even know a few perfectionists.  I won't presume to guess what underlying issue drives each person, but as I read through this list and saw the ways in which we numb ourselves, I wanted to show each of these people this book and tell them there is a high probability that what they assume is a simple personality trait may be a means of coping with whatever negative influence is at work in their lives. 

I guess that desire is the reason for this post.  There are a lot of interesting observations and insights in Brene's work, and I think they're worth sharing.