"I dwell in possibility" ~Emily Dickinson

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Posted on: 11.29.2012

If I learned anything in college, I learned not to take information hook-line-and-sinker style.  I feel that the process of using discernment in my search for knowledge is a skill that my time in higher education fine-tuned. Although I’m sure this skill will continue to develop as I pursue knowledge throughout my life, I hope my studies thus far have helped me to grow in discernment and wisdom in the learning process.

With that said, I want to introduce to you a book that I’ve been reading.  It is called “The Gifts of Imperfection” written by BrenĂ© Brown, a writer and research professor at the University Of Houston Graduate College Of Social Work. (Click here to read her blog!) Though I am only about halfway through the book, I feel that Brown has already imparted many practical and actionable tips for living wholeheartedly.  It’s funny because as a Christian, I see how many of these tips are in-line with Christ-like living – but from what I can tell, the author does not hold the same faith as I do.  (Although, overall, I still recommend the book.)
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If you remember, last month I wrote a series on recognizing intrinsic value. Though I only made it through 18 of the 31 days of writing, I still haven’t forgotten the topic: it is still one that is close to my heart and finds its way into my thoughts on a regular basis. In addition, I wrote yesterday about friendship, the connection I feel to a few close friends and the sense of security, and belonging that those relationships bring to my life. With those two topics in my most recent writing history, I was happy to find such wisdom in Brown’s way of approaching these topics.

Brown (who has researched this for at least a decade) writes a lot about shame and the intense vulnerability a “shame-storm” causes.  At first, I thought a shame storm included only that highly emotional state one experiences after a traumatic event. (Think, bombed presentation, an unnecessary fight, embarrassing moment, or basically anything else that causes feelings of mortification to arise.) But after reading further I discovered Brown's full definition of shame: "...the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging." She advocates talking to the right person when experiencing a shame-storm.  Choosing the right person is the key. “We definitely want to avoid the following:

1. The friend who hears the story and actually feels shame for you.  She gasps and confirms how horrified you should be.  Then there is awkward silence.  Then you have to make her feel better.

2. The friend who responds with sympathy (I feel so sorry for you) rather than empathy (I get it, I feel with you, and I've been there).  If you want to see a shame cyclone turn deadly, throw one of these at it: ‘Oh, you poor thing.’ Or, the incredibly passive-aggressive southern version of sympathy: ‘Bless your heart.’

3. The friend who needs you to be the pillar of worthiness and authenticity. She can’t help because she’s too disappointed in your imperfections.  You've let her down.

4. The friend who is so uncomfortable with vulnerability that she scolds you: ‘How did you let this happen? What were you thinking?’ Or she looks for someone to blame: ‘Who was that guy? We’ll kick his ass.’

5. The friend who is all about making it better and, out of her own discomfort, refuses to acknowledge that you can actually be crazy and make terrible choices: ‘You’re exaggerating. It wasn't that bad. You rock. You’re perfect. Everyone loves you.’

6. The friend who confuses ‘connection’ with the opportunity to one-up you: ‘That’s nothing. Listen to what happened to me one time!’”

After giving these six funny, but true examples of a friend who is not helping ease the shame-storm, Brown continues with this:

            “Of course, we’re all capable of being ‘these friends’ – especially if someone tells us a story that gets right up in our own shame grill.  We’re human, imperfect, and vulnerable. It’s hard to practice compassion when we’re struggling with our own authenticity or when our own worthiness is off balance.”  (These quotes were taken from pages 10-11, and were not altered by me in anyway—unless there is a typo I don’t see.)

I have been pleasantly surprised that a book that offers advice for recognizing my own value can also provide actionable hints for becoming a truly compassionate and empathetic friend. I want to be fully known, and truly loved, but I also want those around me to have the same sense of security and belonging in my friendship.

So, I’d love to hear, have you read any enlightening books recently? Would you be interested in reading this one? 


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