By Brené Brown
Spiegel & Grau, 267 pp., 2015
It is almost impossible to tell how a person is actually feeling at a given moment unless they tell you. Most of the time, they don’t want anyone to know. We tend to take our emotions and bury them deep inside us, pretending that they don’t exist and will go away in time. That’s what many of us were taught growing up that emotions are a sign of weakness and we definitely are not allowed to show them if we want to be considered a “strong-willed” person. As this perception is embedded into our minds that is how we tend to live our lives; an emotionless shell too afraid to open up to anyone. Showing emotion was taught to be wrong and a trait of the incapable and unsuccessful.
Part of growing up includes being able to rise up strong from our failures and find the strength to get back up. According to the book Rising Strong by University of Houston research professor, Dr. Brené Brown, we are able to accomplish this difficult process using three steps: The Reckoning, The Rumble, and The Revolution.
The Reckoning is being able to discover our emotions and the meaning behind them; the beginning of our story. It’s all about the emotions we are about to face when a heartbreak or disappointment becomes known. Feeling our emotions is much more difficult than it may seem, because we first have to know what they are before we have any chance of breaking them down and understanding their significance. Once this first step is complete, we can move onto The Rumble.
It is human nature to exaggerate or create stories to make times seem more bearable or to capture the interest of other people. Right now we live in a world with a set of certain expectations that need to be followed in order to be seen as successful. Those expectations and the stereotypes that go along with them can drive a person to construct the “perfect” image even if the stories they tell are anything but the truth. Often the real story is too embarrassing to disclose and it would have the potential to ruin everything that was worked so hard for. The fabricated stories are for our own self-protection, so the world isn’t able to see the person that we really are.
The Rumble is being able to say enough is enough with the lies and have the courage to let the true story come out. This is where we own everything we’ve ever done. Brown’s main point of The Rumble is to give ourselves a reality-check and look for narratives such as: boundaries, shame, blame, resentment, heartbreak, generosity, and forgiveness. She believes discovering these will allow us to realize who we are and set out on the path of change.
All of this leads up to the final step, The Revolution. There are many ways a revolution can take place. In this instance it is all about when the process of rising strong stops being a process and transforms into a practice. Coming this far is an accomplishment in itself. It changes everything, including the way we view the world, each other, and most importantly ourselves. One seemingly small practice has the ability to re-route our entire life, because if we made it this far we have the ability to transform and create the future we desire.
Rising Strong brings the process to a practice and perfectly illustrates how this change can impact our lives forever, but it isn’t so easy for everyone. There is a different story for each person in the world. This means each person has a different problem and potential solution to it. The whole process faces a series of problems including vulnerability being seen as a characteristic of the weak, the fact that our society is becoming more desensitized, keeping keep our lives on track even when someone else close to us is de-railing, dealing with the thought that we are all going to fail at some point in our lives, and learning to accept the emotions we experience during our journey. These problems can appear at The Reckoning, The Rumble, or The Revolution, it all depends on the person, but once the problem can be worked out and you have the ability to continue with the practice, whole-heartedness is sure to come.
Brown focuses on this process in terms of being vulnerable; something everyone has to deal with at some time in their life, but never really wants to. Vulnerability tends to be associated with terms of weakness and fragility. It is understandable why most choose to avoid vulnerability at all costs.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of the word vulnerable is, “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded.” No one I have ever met has intentionally wanted to feel physically or emotionally wounded. The only way to begin to grow and mature is to have the courage to tear down some of the walls built to keep everyone out, and that is becoming vulnerable.
Becoming vulnerable can be difficult now a days, because it seems like as a society we are becoming more and more emotionally numb to all the events that are occurring around us. This is in part due to the fact that the TV shows, movies, and music we listen to advocate behaviors that require little or no emotional stability. Most children and adults tend to mimic the actions of singers, actors, and actresses, even if their actions aren’t realistic for present day society.
According to “The Impact of Electronic Media Violence: Scientific Theory and Research,” an article in the United States National Library of Medicine, these violent movies, TV shows, and videogames have increased the risk of adolescent violence and have desensitized the children watching and playing them. It is important that this does not happen. If we become disoriented from our own emotions, then there is absolutely no way to understand and learn from them. This increased desensitization will no doubt have consequences, because we make sure we are always self-protected and safe from the emotions associated with feelings. This has to stop. We need to be able to feel everything that happens to us or the world will become a ghastly place.
All of the interviewees that Brown acknowledges in Rising Strong have gone through a phase of self-protection and one of trying to discover what they are feeling and why it is happening. Many people struggle with The Reckoning because it is the first obstacle they have to overcome, and it is easy to give up after a couple tries of not being able to work a problem out. The Reckoning is all about becoming curious about our emotions. Curiosity is a huge step in The Reckoning process, because curiosity requires vulnerability due to our uncertainty of what is at hand. There is always a reason for everything; our curiosity will serve its purpose. Brown’s research shows that countless people decide to select, “certainty over curiosity, armor over vulnerability, and knowing over learning.” This can prove to be difficult with long-term consequences, usually ones that never come to mind when we are trying to dig ourselves out of a very agonizing situation. The majority tend to opt for a quick and simple solution to the problem they find themselves in. In hindsight isn’t always the best or most effective it is the one that is going to cause the least amount of pain.
We, as a society, need to be tougher and take the pain head on. This is the only way to know the true strength of the condition we may find ourselves in. At times it is going to hurt, but everyone has to go through a little pain to find the strength to get back up after it knocks us down a couple of times. Lying down may be relaxing for a little while, but soon it will become quite boring and time to get up and move on to the next chapter of our lives.
During the Rumble we need to become honest with the stories we are telling ourselves and others, and not allow outsiders to influence the truth. In doing so, relationships can be salvaged and friendships can stay intact. One single person cannot have the ability to throw our lives off its course, just because they are going through a rough patch. It is necessary to take control of our own lives and not have others play with them like we’re puppets.
An example from Brown would be Claudia. She was a woman in her mid-thirties was struggling with a major family dilemma when she went to Brown for help. Claudia’s sister Amy who had always had problems with alcoholism asked her and her sister Anna to come to dinner during the Thanksgiving holiday, which she was extremely hesitant to do. It didn’t help that her husband had gone away with his family during the holiday break. When they arrived, they found Amy in an abandoned warehouse full of trash and rats, and Amy was extremely dirty with large bags under her eyes. Anna, outraged at her sister’s appearance and living conditions took a cab home, but Claudia was too frozen to move. All she wanted to do was run far away from Amy, which brought her guilt and grief. As Claudia questioned why Amy couldn’t be normal and why it had to be her family that was being affected, she realized that distancing herself from the situation wouldn’t change the fact that it had happened. It will continue affecting her and her family’s lives.
She can’t run away from her sisters problems as that would show them controlling her life. They are going to apart of her family, even if they aren’t wanted. Instead of running in the opposite direction, Claudia and her family should sit down and work out a plan before the disaster destroys everything that’s left and they’re working on it.
Claudia is still in The Rumbling part of the process of struggling with her boundaries of how to be a good sister and still be able to live her own life. She faced her problem and is working on figuring out her emotions towards Amy’s situation and how to deal with them. And with that, according to Brown, Claudia said one of the best and most powerful examples of the rising strong process, “It’s so hard to be face-down on the arena floor, but if you open your eyes when you’re down there and take a minute to look around, you get a completely new perspective on the world. You see things that you don’t see when you’re standing tall. You see more struggle- more conflict and suffering. It can make you more compassionate if you open your eyes and look around while you’re down there.” We should all take a lesson from Claudia and when we find ourselves face-down on the arena floor, we shouldn’t be afraid to open our eyes, because who knows, we may surprise ourselves with what we uncover.
We are all bound to fail at some point in our lives. It’s a fact of life. Yes, even the “perfect” people out there will fail, because in truth no one is absolutely perfect. It is all about how we get up from the tumble that defines us as a person and builds character. Sometimes when we fail we look at it as we are a failure, not ‘I failed’ which can make us stay down when we should be trying to get up. That is what happened to another one of Brown’s interviewees, Andrew, who was the ‘it-guy’ around his office and everyone valued his opinion.
His thoughts and expertise were sought out by others and he was very successful at advertising. There was a belief that Andrew couldn’t screw up a single job, until the time when he did. There came a time when Andrew and his team took on too much, and rash decisions were made that could have potentially hurt the future of the company. It was Andrew’s job to oversee everything that was happening and he got so caught up in all the projects at hand, that he didn’t see the way the clients were treating his team. He came to the realization that he had screwed up in accepting the job and hoped to regain the trust of his team back. This was when Andrew had to confront his wrong-doing and rumble with his emotions. For him it turned out pretty well and his failure taught him a valuable lesson, but that isn’t always the case for everyone.
Sometimes things don’t always play out how we want it to. We are all going to fail because it is inevitable, but it is how we respond to that failure that shows who we are as a person. With the failure that we go through, comes regret. As Brown said, “Regret is a tough but fair teacher. To live without regret is to believe you have nothing to learn, no amends to make, and no opportunity to be braver with your life.” There are trade-offs to consider, but it is impossible to know without trying. The opportunities that were missed are often the ones that we regret most in the end when it really matters. So, take advantage of those opportunities when they arise, because they may end up being the best decisions ever made.
Ah, The Revolution. It is the last step, where the process turns into a practice. It is our place to write the future, one we can live with and accept. It is our accomplishment. A new perspective of life doesn’t just happen with the snap of our fingers, a lot of work is involved. It is about being able to get back up from the hurt we experienced. When that is done, our process becomes a practice and our vision for the future can be written. No one but us has the ability or power to change our lives. It is up to us and only us.
When humans harness their true power they can do anything.
Completing the rising strong practice may prove to be problematic, because it is quite easy to get stuck in one of the three steps. You can see that Claudia was having troubles with The Rumble. Every person will experience their own story and some steps may be less complicated for some than for others.
The quicker we can learn to acknowledge and accept the emotions we feel, the better off our lives will be. Emotions aren’t something that will just go away in due time, they stay forever until we decide we want to confront them or are told to confront them. They love sitting and waiting for us to suffer enough, and get to the point where their presence becomes known. As much as we would love to forget about their existence, we can’t. The only thing that can be done is to figure out an effective way to deal with emotions, one that will have a positive outcome and make life 100x easier than choosing to wait until the last minute to figure everything out.
Drilling into someone’s head that emotions are a sign of weakness is the absolute worst idea. It will just end up making them suffer even more as they grow and mature, because they won’t know be capable of dealing with their emotional problems. Instead, in following the rising strong practice we need to ask ourselves, “Can we lean in to the vulnerability of emotion and stand in our truth? Are we willing to lean in to the initial discomfort of curiosity and creativity so we can be braver with our lives? Do we have the courage to rumble with our story?” After completing this practice and coming face-to-face with our emotions, we should be able to answer a strong yes to all of these questions, with little to no doubt in our minds, and that is how it should be.
Emotions allow us to stand tall and face the world with a confident smile on our face. A smile that tells everyone within miles that we can do anything we put our minds to. It is the little man or woman on our shoulders whispering to keep going, even when we believe it isn’t worth it. The rising strong process becoming a practice may not be easy, and actually it most definitely won’t be. Finding who we are never is easy, but in the end it will definitely be worth it.