Book notes: Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown

Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown book summary review and key ideas.

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Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience by Brené Brown


In her latest book, Brené Brown writes, “If we want to find the way back to ourselves and one another, we need language and the grounded confidence to both tell our stories and to be stewards of the stories that we hear. This is the framework for meaningful connection.”

In Atlas of the Heart, Brown takes us on a journey through 87 of the emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human. As she maps the necessary skills and an actionable framework for meaningful connection, she gives us the language and tools to access a universe of new choices and second chances – a universe where we can share and steward the stories of our bravest and most heartbreaking moments with one another in a way that builds connection.

Over the past two decades, Brown’s extensive research into the experiences that make us who we are has shaped the cultural conversation and helped define what it means to be courageous with our lives. Atlas of the Heart draws on this research, as well as on Brown’s singular skills as a storyteller, to show us how accurately naming an experience doesn’t give the experience more power, it gives us the power of understanding, meaning, and choice.

Brown shares, “I want this book to be an atlas for all of us, because I believe that, with an adventurous heart and the right maps, we can travel anywhere and never fear losing ourselves.”” -Audible

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Opening thoughts:

I love Brené Brown and all of her work is deeply insightful and practical and relevant. I’m curious to see what this book is all about.

Key notes:

Reader’s note: this section is all about how languages is so important in defining our emotions which helps us navigate through them effectively

  • To form meaningful connections with others, we must first connect with ourselves
    • But to do either, we must first establish a common understanding of the language of emotion and human experience

Chapter 1: Places We Go When Things Are Uncertain or Too Much

Stress, Overwhelm, Anxiety, Worry, Avoidance, Excitement, Dread, Fear, Vulnerability
  • Stress: We feel stressed when we evaluate environmental demand as beyond our ability to cope successfully
    • Our body physically reacts to stress, but our emotional reaction is strongly tied to our ability to cope with the situation rather than how our body is reacting
  • Overwhelm means an extreme level of stress
    • An emotional and or cognitive intensity to the point of feeling unable to function
    • Overwhelm can be described as the feeling that our lives are unfolding faster than the human nervous system and psyche are able to manage well
      • Mindful play or no agenda, non-doing time, is the cure for overwhelm
  • Worrying is a chain of negative thoughts about bad things that might happen in the future
    • It is not an emotion
    • We believe it is helpful for coping but it is not
  • It is not fear that stops you from doing the brave and true thing in your life. The problem is avoidance
    • You want to feel comfortable so you avoid doing or saying the thing that will evoke fear and other difficult emotions
    • Avoidance will make you feel less vulnerable in the short run, but it will never make you feel less afraid
  • Anxiety and excitement feel the same, the difference is how you interpret it and label it, which affects how you experience it
    • The labels are important because they help us know what to do next

Chapter 2: Places We Go When We Compare

Comparison, Admiration, Reverence, Envy, Jealousy, Resentment, Schadenfreude, Freudenfreude
  • Comparison is not an emotion but it drives all sorts of feelings that affect our relationships and our self-worth
    • Comparison is a creativity killer
    • Competition is the crush of conformity from one side and competition from the other
      • It’s simultaneously trying to fit in and stand out
        • Comparison says be just like everyone else but better
  • Admiration makes us want to be better versions of ourselves, reverence makes us want to move towards and be in deeper connection with the thing or person we revere
    • Irreverence is tricky, and depends on how we see authority
  • Envy occurs when we want something another person has
  • Jealousy is when we fear losing a relationship or a valued part of a relationship that we already have
    • Jealousy doesn’t seem to be a singular emotion but rather a cognitive evaluation in response to feeling anger, sadness, and our fear
      • In other words, we think of jealousy in response to how we feel
    • People who are more satisfied in their romantic relationships are less likely to be jealous about potential relationship threats but are more likely to react negatively to actual relationship breaches
  • Unwanted identity is the most powerful elicitor of shame
    • If you want to know what’s likely to trigger shame for you, fill in the following sentence: it’s really important for me to not be perceived as blank
  • Resentment isn’t part of the anger family, it’s part of the envy family
    • Ask: What do I need but am afraid to ask for?
      • Resentment is the feeling of frustration, judgment, anger, better than, and or hidden envy related to perceived unfairness or injustice
        • It’s an emotion we often feel when we fail to set boundaries or ask for what we need or when expectations let us down because they were based on things we can’t control
  • Bonding based on finding the joy in someone else’s failure is not authentic and betrays our own values
  • Schadenfreude is an emotion born out of inferiority, not superiority
    • It can also be born out of a sense of fear, powerlessness, and a sense of entitlement
  • Freundenfreude is the enjoyment of another person’s success and also a subset of empathy
    • When others report success to us, they generally hope for an empathic response of shared joy
      • Getting a negative or competitive response will make them feel confusion, disappointment, or irritation
        • An ongoing lack of this will be detrimental to the relationship
    • In turn, this relationship failure often produces depression

Chapter 3: Places We Go When Things Don’t Go as Planned

Boredom, Disappointment, Expectations, Regret, Discouragement, Resignation, Frustration
  • Boredom is the uncomfortable state of wanting to engage in satisfying activity but being unable to do it
    • Boredom is your imagination calling to you
  • We often underestimate the pain that disappointment and regret can cause within us
    • Disappointment is unmet expectations
  • There are two types of expectations: stealth expectations that are unexpressed and unexamined, and expectations that are both examined and expressed
    • If you’re not asking for what’s important to you then maybe you don’t think you’re worth it
  • Examine and express our expectations
    • There are too many people in the world today who decide to live disappointed rather than risk feeling disappointment
  • Regret is when we are disappointed by a negative outcome that we believe was caused by our actions or decisions
    • In the long term, we tend to regret more the actions we didn’t take rather than the actions we did
    • Sometimes what we regret most in life are failures of kindness
      • Those moments when another human being is in front of you suffering and you respond sensibly, reservedly, mildly
    • Sometimes we avoid and don’t like regret because we don’t like the self-accountability it comes with
    • If you try to live your life without regret then you’ll miss out on the power of regret and its ability to teach us 
  • Sometimes the most uncomfortable learning is the most powerful
    • It teaches us to become better than we were before

Chapter 4: Places We Go When It’s Beyond Us

Awe, Wonder, Confusion, Curiosity, Interest, Surprise
  • Awe is something that makes us feel small but also connected to others and everything around us
  • Wonder also makes us feel small and connected, but it also drives us to learn more and be curious
  • Confusion, like many things uncomfortable in life, is necessary for learning
    • Stopping to think, engaging in careful deliberation, and revising old thinking are rare and courageous actions, and they require dealing with a healthy dose of confusion, and that’s uncomfortable

“If you’re not uncomfortable, I’m not teaching well”

  • There is a zone of optimal confusion; there is a desirable difficulty
    • However, too much confusion can lead to frustration and disengagement
  • Curiosity seems to be a trait and a state
  • Interest is more of a state
    • Curiosity is the feeling of deprivation we experience when we identify and focus on a gap in our knowledge
    • That means we have to have some level of knowledge or awareness before we can become curious
      • We are not curious about something we know nothing about or have no awareness of
    • Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable

Chapter 5: Places We Go When Things Aren’t What They Seem

Amusement, Bittersweetness, Nostalgia, Cognitive Dissonance, Paradox, Irony, Sarcasm
  • Complexity can be confusing and uncomfortable, but it can be one of our greatest teachers
  • Acknowledging uncertainty is a function of grounded confidence and it actually feels like humility
  • Amusement is connected to humor and includes elements of unexpectedness, incongruity, and playfulness
  • The bitter-sweet side of appreciating life‘s most precious moments is the unbearable awareness that those moments are passing
  • Nostalgia is also a mixed, bittersweet emotion where we are at the center of a story
    • Nostalgia could be a double edge sword to either connect people or prevent growth and progress
  • Rumination is an involuntary focus on negative and pessimistic thoughts
    • Reflection on the other hand is highly adaptive and psychologically healthy
    • Worry focuses on the future while rumination focuses on the past
  • Human beings engage in all kinds of cognitive gymnastics aimed at justifying their own behavior
    • Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs when a person holds two cognitions that are psychologically inconsistent with each other
    • This produces mental discomfort that ranges from minor pain to deep anguish
  • We need to resist choosing comfort over courage
    • The ability to rethink and unlearn might be an even more important skill set than simply thinking and learning
  • Paradox challenges us to straddle the tension between two conflicting elements and recognize that they can both be true
    • A paradox is the appearance of contradiction between two related components
    • As an example, vulnerability is the first thing we look for in other people but the last thing we want to show about ourselves
    • There is genius in thinking “and” instead of “or” when dealing with contradictory ideas and thoughts, and being able to still function with them
    • Engaging with paradox and accepting the competing elements as both valid can foster creativity, innovation, and productivity
  • Irony and sarcasm are forms of communication in which the literal meaning of the word is different, often opposite, from the intended message
    • Sarcasm is a particular type of irony in which the message is normally meant to ridicule or criticize or tease
    • The successful comprehension of irony depends on the perceiver’s ability to infer other people’s mental states, thoughts, and feelings
    • She reserves sarcasm and irony for playfulness only, not as a means to cover up scary conversations
      • Ask yourself: are you dressing something up as humor that really requires clarity and honesty?

Chapter 6: Places We Go When We’re Hurting

Anguish, Hopelessness, Despair, Sadness, Grief
  • Anguish is an almost unbearable, traumatic swirl of shock, incredulity, grief, and powerlessness
  • Hope is a way of thinking. It is a cognitive process
    • We experience hope when: we have the ability to set realistic goals, when we’re able to figure out how to achieve those goals including how to stay flexible and develop alternative pathways, and have agency where we believe in ourselves
    • Hope is a learned habit we often get from our parents growing up
  • Children need relationships characterized by boundaries, consistency, and support
    • Children with high levels of hopefulness have experience with adversity
      • They’ve been given the opportunity to struggle, and in doing that they know how to believe in themselves and their abilities
    • Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child
  • Hopelessness and despair are both emotions, while hope it’s not
    • Hopelessness arises out of a combination of negative life events and negative thought patterns, particularly self-blame and the perceived inability to change our circumstances
    • Despair is a sense of hopelessness about a person’s entire life and future
  • Setting realistic goals is a skill and a prerequisite for hope
  • Sadness and depression are not the same thing
    • Sadness is sometimes referred to as a depressed mood
    • Depression is a cluster of symptoms that persist over a period of time
  • Sadness and grief are not the same thing
    • Although sadness is a part of grief, grief involves a whole group of emotions and experiences
    • There are positives to sadness such as: being less prone to judge mental errors, being more resistant to eyewitness distortions, sometimes being more motivated, and are more sensitive to social norms, and can act with more generosity
  • We should embrace all of our emotions as each has an essential role to play under the right circumstances
  • Acknowledging and naming our own sadness is critical information of compassion and empathy
  • A central process in grieving is the attempt to reaffirm or reconstruct a world of meaning that has been challenged by loss
    • Three foundational elements of grief: loss, longing, and feeling lost
    • When a person adapts to a loss, grief is not over
    • No matter how people grieve, they share the need for their grief to be witnessed

Chapter 7: Places We Go with Others

Compassion, Pity, Empathy, Sympathy, Boundaries, Comparative Suffering
  • Compassion is a daily practice, and empathy is a skill set that is one of the most powerful tools of compassion
    • The most effective approach to meaningful connection combines compassion with a very specific type of empathy called cognitive empathy
    • Compassion is the daily practice of recognizing and accepting our shared humanity so that we treat ourselves and others with love and kindness, and we take action in the face of suffering
    • Compassion includes action. It’s not just feeling, it’s doing
    • Pity is the near enemy of compassion
    • Near enemies are often far greater threats than far enemies because they are much more difficult to recognize as they appear to be similar but are actually the enemy
    • Pity sees people as different from ourselves and sets up a separation from others to ourselves that is affirming and gratifying to the self
      • Compassion on the other hand recognizes the suffering of another as a reflection of our own pain
    • Compassion is shared suffering
  • Empathy is an emotional skill set that allows us to understand what someone else is experiencing and to reflect back that understanding
    • Cognitive empathy, sometimes called perspective-taking, is the ability to recognize and understand another person’s emotions
    • Affective empathy, often called experience sharing, is one’s own emotional attunement with another person’s experience
    • Sympathy can also be a near enemy of empathy
    • Compassion fatigue occurs when caregivers focus on their own personal distress reaction rather than on the experience of the person they’re caring for
  • Advice-giving and problem-solving are huge empathy misses
  • Boundaries are actually a prerequisite for compassion and empathy
    • We can’t connect with someone unless we’re clear about where we end and they begin
      • If there’s no autonomy between people, then there’s no compassion or empathy. It’s just enmeshment
  • The heart of compassion is really acceptance
    • The better we are at accepting ourselves and others the more compassionate we become
    • It’s difficult to accept people when they are hurting us or taking advantage of us
  • Clear is kind, unclear is unkind
  • Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously
  • Perspective is critical, but sharing how we are feeling it’s OK as long as we complain with a little perspective
    • Hurt is hurt, and every time we honor our own struggle and the struggle of others by responding with empathy and compassion, the healing that results affects all of us

Chapter 8: Places We Go When We Fall Short

Shame, Self-Compassion, Perfectionism, Guilt, Humiliation, Embarrassment

“Science is not the truth, science is finding the truth. When science changes its opinion, it didn’t lie to you, it learned more”

  • Shame is not a driver for positive change
  • Guilt is the focus on behavior and the discomfort we feel when we evaluate what we’ve done or failed to do against our own values
    • It actually can drive positive change and behavior
  • Embarrassment is when you feel uncomfortable but you’re not alone because everyone does it and it’s fleeting and sometimes funny
  • Humiliation is when you’ve been put down and you don’t deserve it, and you feel enraged and hurt
  • Connection, along with love and belonging which are two expressions of connection, is why we are here
    • It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives
    • Shame is simply the fear of disconnection
    • Shame and fear are almost always driving unethical behavior
    • Shame often fuels narcissistic behavior
      • She defines narcissism as the shame-based fear of being ordinary 
  • Where shame exists, empathy is almost always absent
    • The opposite of experiencing shame is experiencing empathy
  • Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: if I look perfect, live perfect, work perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feeling of shame, judgment, and blame
    • Perfectionism is not self-improvement, it is at its core trying to earn approval and acceptance
  • Healthy striving is self-focused: how can I improve?
    • Perfectionism is other-focused: what will they think? 
  • One study suggests that bullying alone does not lead to aggression, instead individuals who are bullied become violent specifically when feelings of humiliation accompany the bullying
    • Humiliation may be the missing link in the root causes of political instability and violent causes
      • Perhaps the most toxic social dynamic in our age
  • Shame and humiliation will never be effective social justice tools. They are tools of oppression
    • Never allow anyone to be humiliated in your presence

Chapter 9: Places We Go When We Search for Connection

Belonging, Fitting In, Connection, Disconnection, Insecurity, Invisibility, Loneliness
  • We have to belong to ourselves as much as we belong to others
    • Any belonging that asks us to betray ourselves isn’t true belonging
  • Love and belonging are irreducible needs for all people
    • We are a social species, we can’t survive without one another
  • Our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance
    • We can only feel belonging when we have the courage to share our authentic selves with other people
    • We can never really belong if we are betraying ourselves and our ideals or values in the process
  • Definitions of belonging and fitting in:
    • Belonging is being somewhere you want to be and they want you
    • Fitting in is being somewhere you want to be but they don’t care either way
      • Belonging is being accepted for you, fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else
        • “If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in”
  • One student said not belonging at school is really hard, but its nothing compared to what it feels like to not belong at home
  • The need for connection in which growth is a priority is the core motivation in people’s lives
    • Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued
      • When they can give and receive without judgment, and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship
  • There are three different types of insecurity:
    • The first is domain-specific insecurity such as resource insecurity
  • Relationship or interpersonal insecurity occurs when we don’t feel like we have a supportive or trusting relationship
  • The third is general or personal insecurity, which occurs when we are overly critical of our weaknesses
    • Because our self-esteem is an assessment of who we are and what we’ve accomplished compared to our values and our goals, even with high self-esteem, we can still feel insecure if we are self-critical
  • Self-security is the opposite of perfectionism because it’s open and nonjudgmental about your own flaws
    • People who are more secure are willing to be more vulnerable with others. If we are more self-secure, we are more likely to be emotionally connected with others and have healthy relationships
  • Invisibility is a function of disconnection and dehumanization where an individual or group’s humanity and relevance are unacknowledged, ignored, and or diminished in value or importance
  • Loneliness is perceived social isolation
    • We experience loneliness when we feel disconnected
      • At the heart of loneliness is the absence of meaningful social interaction
  • Loneliness and being alone are different things
    • Being alone or inhabiting solitude can be a powerful and healing thing. Sometimes some of the most lonely feelings you can have are with other people
  • We don’t find strength from our rugged individualism, but rather from our collective ability to plan, communicate, and work together
  • Unchecked loneliness fuels continued loneliness by keeping us afraid to reach out

Chapter 10: Places We Go When the Heart Is Open

Love, Lovelessness, Heartbreak, Trust, Self-Trust, Betrayal, Defensiveness, Flooding, Hurt
  • We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known. And when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection
    • Love is not something we give or get, it’s something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can be cultivated between two people only when it exists within each one of them
      • We can love others only as much as we love ourselves
  • Heartbreak hurts in a different way from disappointment because it is always connected to love and belonging
    • Heartbreak comes from the loss of love or perceived loss of love
    • It doesn’t grow from disappointments. Your heart can be broken only by someone to whom you’ve given your heart
    • Heartbreak is what happens when love is lost. To love is the loss of love
      • Heartbreak is unavoidable unless we choose not to love at all
    • The broken-hearted are the bravest among us. They dared to love
  • Trust is choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another persons actions
    • Distrust is a general assessment that what’s important to me is not safe with this person in this situation or any situation
  • For there to be betrayal, there would have to have been trust first
    • It’s painful because it’s a violation of trust
    • We feel self-betrayal when we violate self-trust to make someone else happy or gain their acceptance
  • Cover-ups indicate that:
    1. Shame is systemic
    2. Complicity is part of the culture
    3. Money and power trump ethics
    4. Accountability is dead
    5. Control and fear are management tools
    6. There’s a trail of devestation and pain
  • Defensiveness is a way to protect our ego and a fragile self-esteem
    • It is fragile when our failures, mistakes, and imperfections decrease our self-worth
      • The opposite of this is grounded confidence
  • Flooding is a sensation of feeling psychologically and physically overwhelmed during conflict making it virtually impossible to have a productive problem-solving discussion
    • Chronic flooding makes us dread communicating
  • It’s never a bad thing to ask for time/space for a quick break between emotionally high interactions
    • There’s nothing braver than saying “my feelings are hurt”
  • Hurt typically comes from actions that are thoughtless, careless, or insensitive
    • The more intentional the action is perceived, the more hurtful it feels

Chapter 11: Places We Go When Life Is Good

Joy, Happiness, Calm, Contentment, Gratitude, Foreboding Joy, Relief, Tranquility
  • Joy is a sudden, unexpected, short-lasting, high-intensity emotion
    • It’s characterized by a connection with others, or with God, nature, or the universe
      • It expands our thinking and attention, and it fills us with a sense of freedom and abandon
  • Happiness is stable, longer lasting, and normally the result of effort
    • It’s lower in intensity than joy, and more self-focused
    • With happiness we feel a sense of being in control. Unlike joy, which is more internal, happiness seems more external and circumstantial
    • Joy is an intense feeling of deep spiritual connection, pleasure, and appreciation
  • The relationship between joy and gratitude can be described as an intriguing upward spiral
  • Most research defines happiness as a trait
    • Our usual state of happiness is pretty consistent and a large factor is hereditary
  • The state of happiness is defined as feeling pleasure often related to the immediate environment or current circumstances
  • Calm is creating perspective and mindfulness while managing emotional reactivity
    • Calm people can bring perspective to complicated situations and experience their feelings without reacting to heightened emotions 
    • The process of calm is centered on breath, perspective taking, and curiosity
    • Calm is an intention – do we want to heal ourselves and the people around us with calm?
  • Practicing contentment is reminding yourself that you already have everything you need
    • Contentment is about satisfaction
  • Contentment is the feeling of completeness, appreciation, and enoughness that we experience when our needs are satisfied
    • Contentment is positively correlated with greater life satisfaction and well-being, and preliminary studies show that experiences of contentment may reverse the cardiovascular effects of negative emotion
    • All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?
  • Gratitude is good for us physically, emotionally, and mentally
    • Gratitude allows us to participate more in life in that we notice the positives more and that magnifies the pleasures you get from life
      • Instead of adapting to goodness we celebrate goodness
    • Gratitude is an emotion that reflects our deep appreciation for what we value, what brings meaning to our lives, and what makes us feel connected to ourselves and others
    • Gratitude is a practice, it’s tangible
      • An attitude is a way of thinking, a practice is a way of doing, trying, feeling, and trying again
  • Joy is the most vulnerable human emotion
    • When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding
      • No emotion is more frightening than joy because we believe if we allow ourselves to feel joy, we are inviting disaster
  • Relief is feelings of tension leaving the body and being able to breathe more easily
    • Thoughts of the worst being over, and being safe for the moment. Resting and wanting to get onto something else
  • Tranquility is associated with the absence of demand and no pressure to do anything

Chapter 12: Places We Go When We Feel Wronged

Anger, Contempt, Disgust, Dehumanization, Hate, Self-Righteousness
  • Anger is an emotion we feel when something gets in the way of a desired outcome or when we believe there is a violation of the way things should be
    • Anger is an action-emotion, we want to do something when we feel it 
    • Anger is a powerful catalyst but a life-sucking companion
    • Anger often masks emotions that are difficult to name and more difficult to own
      • Anger is a very effective emotional indicator that tells us to pull over and check things out
      • Anger when in response to experiencing injustice can be a powerful catalyst for change, but by definition, a catalyst sparks change but is not the change
  • The presence of contempt is the greatest indicator or predictor of divorce
    • The other three of the four negative communication patterns that predict divorce are: criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling
    • What separates contempt from criticism is the intent to insult and psychologically abuse your partner
    • With your words and body language, you are lobbying insults right into the heart of your partner’s sense of self. Fueling these contemptuous actions are negative thoughts about your partner
    • Contempt, simply put, says “I’m better than you and you are lesser than me”
    • The solution is not to disagree less but to disagree better without contempt or cruelty
  • With disgust, the feeling is physical
    • We want to avoid being poisoned, either literally or figuratively
    • Reactions of disgust can rapidly lead to dehumanizing, othering, and marginalizing individuals or groups of people
  • Dehumanization is a response to conflicting motives. It is a way to subvert inhibitions to harm others
    • Dehumanization is the psychological process of demonizing the enemy, making them seem less than human, and hence not worthy of humane treatment

“Hatred will always motivate people for destructive action”

  • Hate is a combination of various negative emotions including repulsion, discuss, anger, fear, and contempt
    • We feel hate towards people we feel are intentionally malicious and unlikely to change
    • Hate is actually fueled by our need for connection
    • Hate crime victims are terrorized for who they are, not what they’ve done
    • It’s harder to hate people if you understand they are all not so different from you 
  • Self-righteousness is the conviction that one’s beliefs and behaviors are the most correct
    • They tend to see things as black and white, are close-minded, inflexible, intolerant, and less likely to consider others’ opinions

Chapter 13: Places We Go to Self-Assess

Pride, Hubris, Humility
  • Pride is a feeling of pleasure or celebration related to our accomplishments or efforts 
  • Hubris is an inflated sense of one’s own innate abilities that’s tied more to the need for dominance than to actual accomplishments
  • Humility is an openness to new learning combined with a balanced and accurate assessment of our contributions including our strengths, imperfections, and opportunities for growth
    • For the narcissist, positive views of the self are too essential to leave to the whim of actual accomplishments, for they are what prevent the individual from succumbing to shame and low self-esteem
    • Humility says I’m here to get it right, not to be right
    • It’s important to distinguish humility from modesty, meekness, low self-esteem or letting people walk over you
  • Intellectual humility means you’re open to understanding other points of you
    • It is a willingness to consider information that doesn’t fit with our current way of thinking
    • This doesn’t mean they lack confidence or conviction in their current views

Cultivating Meaningful Connection

  • A theory is a set of interrelated concepts, definitions, and propositions, that present a systematic view of something while specifying a relationship between all the variables
    • The purpose of a theory is to explain and predict a phenomenon
  • She defined spirituality as “the deeply held belief that we are inextricably connected to each other by something greater than ourselves
  • Without awareness, near enemies become practices that fuel separation rather than practices that reinforce the inextricable connection of all people
  • A near enemy of love is attachment because it masquerades as love
    • It’s actually clingy and based on fear
  • Three big pieces to cultivating connection: grounded confidence, the courage to walk alongside others, and story stewardship
  • It’s not fear that gets in the way of courage, it’s armor
    • It’s how we self-protect when we feel uncertain or fearful
  • The near enemy of grounded confidence is knowing and proving because grounded confidence is built on learning and improving
    • The far enemy is a fragile self-worth, which drives us to self-protect at all costs
  • The near enemy of practicing humility is confusing modesty and insecurity
    • The far enemy of practicing humility is hustling and hubris 
  • The near enemy of walking alongside is trying to control the path
  • Ask yourself: whose best interest are you protecting?
    • Walking alongside is other-focused. Control is self-focused
  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. defines power as the ability to achieve purpose and effect change
    • Power is not inherently good or bad
    • Many can attest that the lack of power is a very painful experience
    • What makes power dangerous is how it’s used
  • Narrative takeover is about protecting our ego, behavior, or privilege
  • Story stewardship is not walking in someone else’s shoes, it’s being curious and building narrative trust as they tell you about the experience of being in their own shoes
    • It’s about believing people when they tell you what an experience meant to them
  • Our connection with others can only be as deep as our connection with ourselves

Closing thoughts:

Absolutely loved this book! I’ve read a handful of Brene’s other books, but this one knocked it out of the park.

Usually, I find an author’s first breakthrough book has the most impact, but then their subsequent works don’t pack as much of a punch as the first one. However, with this book, I felt like she wasn’t recycling her old ideas but rather approaching our emotional well-being in a completely different way. She set out to define the emotions we feel in the hopes of being able to identify and eventually improve our situations.

I found myself stopping periodically during my listening of this book, not only because it was such a long read, but also because I had to stop and process the different sections I read. There was a lot to unpack but it was worth every minute. I found myself having breakthrough moments when I learned about a new insight I never thought about before.

Overall, I HIGHLY recommend this book. This applies to everyone to cognitively understand the emotions we all go through, which will better equipus to navigate them. This book is definitely going to be one of my top 5 books I’ve read this year.

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

From the moment I finished listening to this book to the writing of this blog, I’ve brought up some of the insights I’ve learned during discussions with friends about 4-5 times already. This is usually a clear indicator that the book had an impact on the way I think.

While this book has so many great takeaways, the one that comes to mind is this:

  • The concept of “near enemies” which is when something seems to be the same as another thing, but is actually the opposite

And example of this is how empathy and sympathy seem similar, but are actually near enemies. Empathy connects us while sympathy distances us.

The same goes for compassion and pity. Compassion is a feeling that stirs us to action to relieve another’s suffering. Pity sees people as different from ourselves, and is affirming and self-gratifying.

Knowing the difference allows us to better connect with others and choose the appropriate response when we’re in these situations.


Brene Brown helps give us the language to define our various emotions and experiences, as well as gives us the tools and frameworks to navigate to more meaningful connection with others.

Similar books:


Rating: 5 out of 5.


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