As human beings, we have a fundamental need for connection, love, and belonging. Yet, we fear rejection and are afraid we’re not good enough. We try to hide our vulnerabilities, only to create a greater disconnect with our families, communities, and work. Based on 12 years of research, Dr. Brené Brown explains the concept of vulnerability, and how embracing it can change how we live, love, lead and interact with others, to bring wholehearted living and fulfilling connections. In this free version of Daring Greatly summary, you’ll get an overview of these key ideas.
Having worked and researched widely about human connection, Dr. Brené Brown found that vulnerability is one of the most powerful explanations for human behaviours. Daring Greatly is about embracing vulnerability and imperfection, to live wholeheartedly and engage courageously. We’ve consolidated the ideas into 4 parts, and here’s a quick overview.
Most of us live in cultures of scarcity or “never enough”. We’re constantly measuring and comparing what we have, against what we want, what we don’t have, what others have, or even how things used to be. We long for connection and belonging, yet we’re afraid of being unworthy if we don’t live up to a standard or ideal. Many of our deepest insecurities involve being not smart enough, not loveable enough, not successful enough, not slim enough, etc.
Dr Brené Brown explains the 3 components of scarcity (shame, comparison, and disengagement), as well as 5 myths about vulnerability. You can get more details on each of these elements in our full Daring Greatly summary. When you take a closer look at these concepts, you’d realize that the opposite of scarcity is not abundance, but being “enough”. When you feel you’re good enough regardless of what you do (or don’t do), you’ll dare to engage despite uncertainty and emotional risks. Brown calls this “wholeheartedness”.
Understanding and Managing Shame
Shame is the agonizing feeling that we’re flawed and hence unworthy of love and belonging. All of us experience shame, everyone is afraid to talk about it, and our silence only gives it even more power. In our full book summary, we explain the difference between shame and related concepts like guilt, humiliation and embarrassment – in a nutshell, shame is the most harmful because we see the flaw as a part of who we are.
We can’t avoid or remove shame from our lives, but we can become more resilient to it. These are the 4 key elements of shame resilience:
While shame affects both genders equally, social-cultural expectations create different shame triggers and responses for men vs women:
- Women expect themselves to look naturally beautiful, slim, be good at everything (especially motherhood), and to seem to achieve all these effortlessly. They feel shame when they’re not beautiful enough, can’t multi-task well enough, etc. When shamed, women intuitively respond by criticizing or putting others down, in an unconscious attempt to draw attention away from their inadequacies.
- Men, on the other hand, must never be weak – they must control their feelings, earn more, take charge, and succeed in their careers. When they feel shame, men naturally get angry or shut down.
- Men and women also attach shame differently to sex and body image. Women are conscious of their bodies, and interpret men’s lack of interest to mean they’re not slim, attractive or experienced enough. Men, on the other hand, are more concerned if their partners care about them, and see rejection as a form of masculine shame that they’re not wanted, or not good enough.
Shame can tear a relationship apart, and gender differences amplify the strain. For example, when women feel invalidated, they start criticizing, which triggers men’s feeling of inadequacy. The men get angry or shut down, causing women to provoke them even more (“why won’t you talk to me!”).
In the book, Brown shares many eye-opening excerpts of her interviews with men, women, their oft-unspoken insecurities and pain. She also addresses how these gender expectations shape our behaviors, and how we can cultivate self-worth and wholeheartedness using the 4 elements of shame resilience above. You can get some of these key highlights in our complete book summary.
Removing the Armour
Everyone struggles with vulnerability (including Brown), and we put on different persona or masks to protect ourselves. Even children put on masks, though these are more fleeting and easier to detect. The school bully could simply be masking his need to belong, while the mean girl could be hiding the pain from her parents’ divorce.
Since shame is the feeling of not being enough, simply believing that we’re “enough” helps us to remove our masks. Do check out our full book summary for more details on the various forms of Vulnerability Shields (e.g. foreboding joy, perfectionism, numbing with busy-ness, letting loose, “serpenting”) and how to remove them.
Closing the Gap
We all experience “disengagement divides” when there’s a gap between our aspired values (what we want to do, think and feel) and our practiced values (what we actually do, think and feel). For instance, children perceive a gap when their parents preach about honesty and respect, but lie or put each other down. As humans, we can’t avoid such gaps; the key is become aware of them, and seek to close the gaps.
Shame is a major barrier to creativity, innovation and learning in our education institutions and workplace. When shame is prevalent, people dare not speak up, try new things or persevere in face of failure. The book addresses various ways to start rehumanizing education and work, e.g., and supporting change agents, building awareness, “normalizing” shame, and training employees.
Great parenting isn’t about having the best strategies and techniques; it’s about being the best-possible role models, given our own imperfections, i.e. being the adults we want our children to be. Do learn more from our complete Daring Greatly summary on the concept of Wholehearted Parenting and what it entails.
Getting the Most from Daring Greatly
If you’d like to trump shame and vulnerability, do check out our Daring Greatly summary bundle. This includes an infographic, 12-page text summary, and a 28-minute audio summary.
Besides sharing the findings from her research and interviews, Brown re-enacts many of her exchanges with her audiences and interviewees, as well as her personal experiences and vulnerable moments. These help us to understand the often-unspoken vulnerabilities, insecurities and feelings that everyone has in one form or another. In the book, Brown also includes her complete definitions of many concepts like love, connection, shame, as well as resources, checklists and manifestoes. You can purchase the book here, or check out brenebrown.com for more resources and details!
You may also enjoy our Dare to Lead summary to learn how to develop brave leadership and courageous cultures.
About the Author of Daring Greatly
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead is written by Dr. Brené Brown–a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent more than a decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Dr Brown is a nationally renowned speaker and has won numerous teaching awards, including the College’s Outstanding Faculty Award. Besides this book, she is also the author of The Gifts of Imperfection and I Thought It Was Just Me. In 2007, Brené developed Connections, a psychoeducational shame resilience curriculum that is being facilitated across the nation by mental health and addiction professionals. The Connections Certification process was launched in 2012.
Daring Greatly Quotes
“Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful experiences.”
“If we’re willing to dare greatly and risk vulnerability with each other, worthiness has the power to set us free.”
“The one thing we have in common is that we’re sick of being afraid. We all want to be brave. We want to dare greatly.”
“We’ve confused feeling with failing and emotions with liabilities.”
“Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
“We love seeing raw truth and openness in other people, but we’re afraid to let them see it in us.”