2017 Reading List: Rising Strong by Brene Brown

I guess you could say I was on a small “self-help” kick there for a bit. After The Happiness Project, I read Rising Strong, by Brene Brown. I had read her book Daring Greatly a few years ago and liked it, so I was anxious to read this one too. I like these “self-help” -ish books that are more motivational and inspiring.

I’m not sure that this was the right time for me to read Rising Strong. I think this book would have more impact for someone who needed it, someone who had fallen and was struggling. The book is, obviously, about how to rise strong, but in order to rise strong you have to have fallen; you have to have been defeated.

Brene Brown outlines a process, in which she coins her own terms to talk about working through your emotions. She called it Reckoning, Rumble, and Revolution. It seemed like a complicated way to work through some things that take only seconds to get over. 

Maybe since I’m not “facedown in the arena” as she puts it, I found it hard to connect to her concepts. It just seemed overdramatic. It seemed like she was over-analyzing emotions that may not have been that significant. She was trying to pull life-changing significance out of a petty comment from a stranger.

There was a time while I was reading the book that I wondered if I should be analyzing my emotions. Should I be paying more attention to whether I am angry or afraid or disappointed? I feel that if I ever do have negative emotions, I try to just roll with it, let it go, and move on. I find there isn’t much good that comes out of dwelling on fear, anxiety or anger. Is is worth my time to analyze and really think about how I feel?

By the end of the book, I decided, in general, that the answer is no. At least not in the way that she describes in the book.

I feel like I was very emotional and reflective as a teenager. I wrote dark, sad poems, I found meaning in song lyrics, I dramatized my life in notes to friends. All that led to was teenage angst that I eventually (luckily) grew out of. I had felt hurt, betrayed, sad and angry more often than I felt light, happy, satisfied and joyful. In the years since high school and college, I’ve decided to choose joy and love. Then I don’t have to dwell on those negative emotions. I haven’t seen any good come from that.

But Brene says to feel those negative feelings and to get curious about them. Ask questions about why you feel that way and dig into what the real issues are. The way that she describes this process actually seemed fairly complicated to me. I think that, without a psychology degree or social work background, it’s difficult to confront and analyze your emotions.

As the book went on, I was less and less inclined to follow her process to rise strong. I did like her as a person a little bit better than Gretchen Rubin. And she has a good thing going with her shame and vulnerability research, particularly what she talks about in Daring Greatly. But this book, in general, I felt was too dramatic. I thought that it was making a mountain out of a molehill, so to speak.

She kept saying that when we feel disappointed or annoyed or upset or ashamed, that we should start with “the shitty first draft” of the “story we’re telling ourselves.” Which, to me, sounds like a complicated way to just say what you’re feeling and what you think. One of her examples is that she moves an agenda item from the middle to the end during a work meeting. And her colleague says “Let’s go back a minute. The story I’m telling myself is that this item is less important.” Hold up. Why can’t he just SAY, “So Brene, do you think this item is less important?” I feel like she made this into a “process” that makes it more complicated than just saying what you think. But when you boil it down, that’s all it is. You’re just saying what you think.

She had another example where she was talking to her husband. She thought he would respond a certain way and when he didn’t, she said she got nervous that he didn’t think she looked good anymore or that he thought she was being silly. So she’s like, “Steve, the story I’m telling myself is that you don’t like me…” And I’m thinking to myself, really? He’s your husband, just tell him what you think. Just talk.

She acts like people all just shut down when they are hurt or upset and that’s not true. She acts as if no one in the world knows how to communicate. I can’t imagine a situation where I wouldn’t just ask Jim, hey what’s up, or what’s wrong, or what are you thinking about? I don’t just shut down and start thinking the worst without even saying what I’m thinking.

In this process, there’s just too much emphasis on the bad and not enough hope or focus on the good. I could choose to “get curious” about all my negative emotions and “rumble” with my shame and anxiety, but I believe that would just make me unhappy.

Brene chose to get upset and worked up over someone she met at a conference who was rude to her. She had to go to her therapist to sort out her emotions about a stupid comment. She was about to send a nasty email that may have destroyed this person’s career and would have ruined her own reputation in the process, because she allowed herself to get so angry. How could she have wasted so much time and negative energy on something that didn’t even matter, just because she was feeling “vulnerable” and she wanted to “work through those problems?”

If you just drop it and move on, you can shift your focus to something positive. I don’t think a lot of people can afford the time and mental capacity it takes to dig in an evaluate their emotions. This author is a writer. She writes her thoughts all day long and gets paid to do it. Not only that, but she is also a social worker and a researcher. She is actually being paid to overanalyze her life and others’ lives. We normal folks have work and families and pets and houses and friends and other troubles to worry about and take care of. We don’t have time to sit and ponder why we feel vulnerable or ashamed when someone emails us.

Personally, I do think there are times when I could be a little more contemplative. There are benefits to thinking your life, your goals, your ambitions, your emotions. But I don’t think there is value in picking at every little negative thought and making yourself miserable trying to figure out what’s wrong with you and how you can rise strong from something that’s not even worth the time of day.

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