There amid the 100 books that Amazon.com book editors believe should be read in a lifetime, among the Orwell and Hawking, the Dickens and Dahl, is a small tome called “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead,” by Brené Brown.
The book takes its title from Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech delivered in Paris in 1910, the speech which famously dismissed critics who serve only to point out others’ stumbles and instead extolled those “in the arena,” who despite risk of failure, give it their all, and when they do fail, at least fail “while daring greatly.”
Brown’s book draws on that theme as she shows — thanks in part to more than 12 years of research and 13,000 subject interviews — how shame and the fear of “not being good enough” keep people from living and parenting the way they really want to, and how shame is linked to all sorts of societal ills, from depression to addiction, bullying to aggression.
“Daring Greatly,” published in September 2012, remains a bestseller in multiple Amazon book categories today, including business and money, religion and spirituality, and self-help.
And Brown, a professor and researcher at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has become a celebrity of sorts herself: Her 2010 TEDx Houston talk on the power of vulnerability remains one of the most-watched talks on TED.com, with more than 16 million views since. http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability
Now, Brown has turned her many years of research on the concepts of vulnerability, worthiness and shame — as well as the importance of shame resilience — into a teaching and certification program.
“The Daring Way” curriculum explores topics like vulnerability and shame; examines the thoughts, emotions and behaviors that hold people back; and helps identify new choices and practices. The primary focus is on developing shame resilience skills.
The program has certainly resonated among professionals on the front lines, including three Davis therapists, who despite their disparate practice areas, find Brown’s research on shame underlies many of the issues they see in their clients.
Of particular resonance, they say, is Brown’s concept of a culture of “scarcity”; of so many people feeling “not enough.”
“When I heard about that, it fit,” said Sharon Skelton, a licensed marriage and family therapist.
Skelton — a former teacher at Birch Lane Elementary School — now has a practice based in mid-town Sacramento, where she works with individuals who have experienced traumas or traumatic losses, and also focuses on mothers, including those whose own mothers were not always physically or emotionally available.
A common issue she sees, Skelton said, “is moms not feeling good enough.”
In her group program, “Mothering Ourselves,” Skelton said, “our mantra is ‘I’m good enough and my kid is good enough.’ ”
Her clients are not alone in their shame. According to Brown’s research, motherhood is second only to physical appearance as the primary shame trigger for women.
“Parenting is a shame and judgment minefield,” she writes, “precisely because most of us are wading through uncertainty and self-doubt when it comes to raising our children…. somewhere buried deep inside our hopes and fears for our children is the terrifying truth that there is no such thing as perfect parenting and there are no guarantees.”
But there is this truth, she says: “Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.
“In terms of teaching our children to dare greatly in the ‘never enough’ culture, the question isn’t so much, ‘Are you parenting the right way?’ as it is: ‘Are you the adult that you want your child to grow up to be?’ ”
Interestingly, when Brown burst on the scene with that TEDxHouston talk, leading to articles and coverage on various news websites, the anonymous comments, when negative, tended to be directed at two things: her appearance and motherhood — “two kill shots taken straight from the list of feminine norms,” Brown writes in “Daring Greatly.” “They didn’t go after my intellect or my arguments. That wouldn’t hurt enough.
“The only reason I’m still standing (and sitting here writing this book),” she said, “is because I’ve cultivated some pretty fierce shame resilience skills… I also stopped reading anonymous comments. If you’re not in the arena with the rest of us, fighting and getting your ass kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in your feedback.”
Meanwhile, that top shame trigger for women — physical appearance — well, Debbie Glander sees that on a regular basis in her Davis-based practice.
Also a licensed marriage and family therapist, Glander specializes in eating disorders and substance abuse, where the underlying issues of not feeling “thin enough or beautiful enough or good enough” are so prevalent, just manifested in different ways.
She often works with young female athletes who have been unintentionally shamed over their body weight because of the culture of comparison in athleticism, as well as the perfectionism. Now, with Brown’s program, Glander uses a different approach for dealing with that shame: helping her clients become shame-resilient.
And while both Skelton and Glander have incorporated elements of Brown’s work in their private practices, they also have teamed up with a third Davis therapist — Karina Knight, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in relationship counseling — to bring The Daring Way program to Davis in the form of workshops. All three have been formally trained as Daring Way facilitators and have already hosted workshops locally.
The response, they said, has been very positive, with those participating ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s, both male and female.
Men, of course, are not immune to shame, but their triggers are different, Brown found in her research.
“When I asked men to define shame,” she writes in “Daring Greatly,” “here’s what I heard: ‘Shame is failure. At work. On the football field. In your marriage. In bed. With money. With your children. It doesn’t matter — shame is failure.'”
Also: “Showing fear is shameful.”
“Basically, men live under the pressure of one unrelenting message,” Brown writes. “Do not be perceived as weak.”
Unaddressed, shame can become unbearable, Brown writes.
And at some point, many people turn to numbing agents.
“Americans today are more debt-ridden, obese, medicated and addicted than we ever have been,” Brown notes. “Clearly there’s a problem. We’re desperate to feel less or more of something — to make something go away or to have more of something else.”
Teens, meanwhile, experience their own shame and shame triggers, something Knight and Glander plan to address with a Daring Way workshop specifically for teens in the fall.
They also plan a couples workshop.
In all of their workshops, the facilitators teach participants to understand their shame responses, to recognize them, and to recognize that empathy is an antidote to shame in others.
“We really teach empathy,” Skelton said.
That is one of the key tools for parents, the women said: to learn how to respond to your child’s shame without triggering your own shame and increasing theirs.
“If your son or daughter gets a C- or a D, what are you going to do?” Skelton asked. “If your kid comes home and say, ‘I have no friends… no one will sit with me at lunch,’ how do you respond?”
“One of the keys is creating a culture of empathy,” she added.
Another key — especially for parents — is to recognize that failure is OK.
If your initial response was shame-provoking, Glander said, “we can circle back and repair. We can say, ‘Sorry, that wasn’t helpful.’ ”
Because even in parenting, daring greatly requires trying again and again, something Brown touches on as well.
“Just like Roosevelt advised, when we dare greatly we will err and we will come up short again and again. There will be failures and mistakes and criticisms,” she writes.
“Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. And in a world where scarcity and shame dominate and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. Uncomfortable. It’s even a little dangerous at times,” Brown writes.
“But as I look back on my own life and what Daring Greatly has meant to me, I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.”
To learn more about Daring Way workshops in Davis, visit http://www.authenticityworkshops.com.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy.