This quotation is the inspiration of Brené Brown’s new book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly… who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt
Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. Her TED talks on shame and wholehearted living have been viewed nearly 10 million times. See the reference list for two earlier PPND articles that I wrote about her work. I recently attended her national training certification program for helping professionals called Connections. Brown intends not only to study shame resilience, but to train a cadre of counselors, social workers, certified coaches, educators, and clergy to apply her research findings in the field.
What is Grounded Theory?
Those who are accustomed to quantitative research and the use of statistics to confirm validity may be uncertain about Brown’s qualitative methods. She uses a rigorous form of qualitative research called grounded theory. So let me begin with the book’s appendix wherein Brown explains grounded theory and her research process.According to Brown, grounded theory does not start with a hypothesis or literature review. Instead, the research starts with a topic. Through interviews, participants define their main concern about the topic. The researcher then develops a theory, and fits the theory into existing literature. The theory is altered based on continuing interviews until the research reaches theoretical saturation—the point at which the researcher is not generating any new conceptual insights and has provided repeated evidence for the theory.
The advantage to this approach is that the theory emerges from the interviews. Brown started her research by seeking to learn more about the anatomy of connection. What emerged from the research was a theory on shame. Brown then turned to her interviews of people who were shame resilient and developed a theory on what she calls wholeheartedness. Finally she focused more deeply on vulnerability, the topic of Daring Greatly.
In the process, she conducted more than 1,200 interviews and coded about 11,000 phrases and sentences from original field notes and secondary data. The appendix contains additional details attesting to the rigor of her research approach. Brown is completing academic research articles that will cover the topics of her last two books.
What the Theory Reveals: Vulnerability Shields
Daring Greatly is wide-ranging, making it difficult to summarize in a review. So I will focus on a chapter of the book called The Vulnerability Armory. Brown asserts that we learned to protect ourselves from vulnerability—from being hurt, diminished, or disappointed—by putting on emotional armor and acting invulnerable when we were children. Now as adults we must learn to dare greatly by taking the risk of removing our armor and being vulnerable for the sake of connection. She identifies a paradox: “Shame is the last thing I want you to see in me, but the first thing I look for in you.”
Brown finds three main “vulnerability shields” and several less-frequently used shields in her research. Here are the three main shields and how we can dare greatly to put down our shields and reveal ourselves:
- Shield = Foreboding instead of Joy. When we start to feel joy, we wait for the other shoe to drop. We believe that when things are going well, disaster must be right around the corner.
Daring Greatly = Practicing Gratitude. Joy is an invitation to acknowledge how truly grateful we are. Research participants consistently linked joy with gratitude, and saw gratitude as a spiritual practice that they associated to a belief in human connectedness and a greater power.
- Shield = Perfectionism. Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system. We think that if we are perfect, we can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.
Daring Greatly = Appreciating the Beauty of Cracks. We must transform our thoughts from “What will people think?” to “I am enough.” We must practice self-compassion. Brown refers to researcher Kristin Neff’s work on self-compassion. (See my earlier review of Neff’s book.)
- Shield = Numbing. We numb ourselves emotionally. The need for numbing comes from our intolerable feelings of shame, anxiety, and disconnection.
Daring Greatly = Setting Boundaries, Finding True Comfort, and Cultivating Spirit. Shame-resilient research participants consistently showed the following behaviors: They learned how to actually feel their feelings. They stayed mindful about numbing behaviors even as they struggled with them. They learned how to lean into the discomfort of hard emotions. Finally, they learned to change the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that created anxiety.
Daring Greatly is part biographical and part research findings. Brown recaps the topics of her prior books on shame and wholeheartedness, and then explores the myths and realities of vulnerability. She applies her findings to areas such as education, work, and being a good parent. In the process, she recounts personal experiences from her own life, such as the vulnerability she felt after presenting her TED talks and lessons from raising her children. What emerges is a deeply personal book that mirrors the vulnerability she shows in her public speaking and facilitation.
Brown, B. (2006). Shame Resilience Theory: A Grounded Theory Study on Women and Shame. Families in Society, 87, 43-52.
Brown, B. (2007). I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power. Gotham.
Brown, B. (2007/2009). Connections Curriculum: A 12 Session Psycho-educational Shame Resilience Curriculum. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
Brown, B. (2010a). The Power of Vulnerability. TED Talk.
Brown, B. (2010b). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, MN: Hazelden Publishing.
Brown, B. (2012a). Listening to Shame. TED Talk.
Brown, B. (2012b). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York: Gotham Books.
Glaser, B. & Strauss, A. (1967). The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. Aldine Press.
Neff, K. D. (2011). Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. New York: HarperCollins.
Safigan, S. (2010). Self-Kindness: A Healthier Alternative to Self-Esteem? Positive Psychology News Daily.
Safigan, S. (2011). Whole-Hearted Living. Positive Psychology News Daily.
Safigan, S. (2012). Shame Resilience Theory. Positive Psychology News Daily.
Stained glass shield courtesy of Vince Alongi