Brené Brown

The Midlife Unraveling

Caerphilly Castle, Wales

Excerpt from "Brené Brown on Vulnerability," On Being, November 21, 2012:

Krista Tippett: I also see an upside of aging. When I see people aging badly in a sad way, it seems to me that the common denominator is they have not faced their demons and they just get smaller. It's like they just get eaten alive from the inside. And that's about being vulnerable and, you know, claiming what's gone wrong and the imperfection. But there's a way in which getting older, especially kind of getting into your 40s, you know, it kind of pushes you to finally do this if you haven't done it. You know, that's in your story. I just wonder if you think that, you know, this is something we can lean into almost as a gift.

Brené Brown: I think what you're describing is what I have found as a very critical developmental milestone for us. Some people call it the midlife crisis. I call it the midlife unraveling. I think there is a place and time in our lives where we realize that growing up — when we felt pain, when we felt small, when we felt unseen — we constructed walls and moats and we protected ourselves and we shut down parts of ourselves. Then I think this happens in midlife where we realize, oh, God, to be the person we want to be, to be the partner, to be the parent, we have to take down everything we put up that was supposed to be keeping us safe.

We Become What We Do

Excerpt from "5 (Doable) Ways to Increase the Love in Your Life," by Brené Brown, as told to Leigh Newman, Oprah.com, March 5, 2012:

Practicing Calm

None of us get calmer by telling ourselves to calm down. We get it by understanding what calm is: being able to see clearly because we are not overreacting to a situation. We're listening and understanding. We are letting ourselves feel the vulnerability of the moment (the call from the doctor, the meeting with the angry boss) and then managing that feeling.

Calm participants in my studies all have a few things in common. They breathe when they're feeling vulnerable. They ask questions before they weigh in, including the three most important questions—ones that changed my own life. The first is, Do I have enough information to freak out? (Ninety percent of the time, the answer is no.) The second is, Where did you hear the upsetting news? (Down the hall? From a trusted source?) The third is, If I do have enough reliable information to freak out, and if I do that, will it be helpful?

When my daughter, Ellen, comes home and says, "Oh my God, Mom, the school moved my locker, and now I can't reach it!" I stop. I remember what I used to say: "Oh that's it! I'm furious! I'm going off to school tomorrow, and you're going to get your locker back!" Now I say, "Tell me more about it." And 15 minutes later, I find out that the guy she likes has a locker down at the other end of the hall; what she really wants is to have a locker nearer to him.

This is real change. Four or five years ago, I was the least calm person you have ever met. And when people describe me today—people like my co-workers, friends and family—they say, "You're the calmest person I know." Well, it's because I practice it, the same way you practice the violin. We become what we do.

Losing Our Tolerance for Vulnerability

“In our anxious world, we often protect ourselves by closing off parts of our lives that leave us feeling most vulnerable. Yet invulnerability has a price. When we knowingly or unknowingly numb ourselves to what we sense threatens us, we sacrifice an essential tool for navigating uncertain times — joy. This talk [explores] how and why fear and collective scarcity has profoundly dangerous consequences on how we live, love, parent, work and engage in relationships — and how simple acts can restore our sense of purpose and meaning.”

~ Brené BrownTEDxKC, August 2010

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work where she has spent the past 10 years studying courage, shame and authenticity. She is the Behavioral Health Scholar-in-Residence at the Council on Alcohol and Drugs and has written several books on her research.

Excruciating Vulnerability

“When you ask people about love, they tell you about heartbreak. When you ask people about belonging, they’ll tell you their most excruciating experiences of being excluded. And when you ask people about connection, the stories they told me were about disconnection.”

~ Brené Brown, from “The Power of VulnerabilityTED Talks, June 2010