Daring, Not Shaming, Greatly

by Naomi Watkins

I recently finished reading Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. I first became familiar with Brown’s work when I watched her TED Talk about vulnerability and found it insightful. And her book? It was gut-wrenching, like I’m on the ground, gasping after attempting a gazillion push-ups—good for me in the long run, but so painful in the moment.

I’m still re-reading and wrapping my mind and heart around the concepts Brown discusses, and I’m convinced that implementing these concepts in my life will be a lifetime effort. Brown’s overall point is that in order for us to dare greatly, or to be truly vulnerable, we must combat our feelings of shame, feelings that are supported and contributed to by our shame-prone society. She explains that shame is an “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging” (p. 69).

Mormon culture adds an additional layer to shame heaping—one that sometimes competes with expectations set by mainstream culture. Our LDS cultural expectations are often tied to supposed levels of righteousness. Married in the temple at a respectable (young) age? Doing well! Give birth to lots of children? Excellent! Husband works a good-paying job that allows you to stay home? Even better! High-profile leadership calling (for your husband)? Super righteous! Skinny and hot, but modest? Perfection! Super clean house and nurturing personality? Celestial kingdom!

I am quite aware that in reality none of these things equate to levels of righteousness (or vice versa) and that our doctrine actually defies this line of reasoning. However, LDS cultural expectations present a one-size-fits-all narrative for both women and men. And sometimes, we incorrectly confuse these cultural markers as signs of our self-worth. In turn, we sometimes use these cultural markers as a way to measure the worth of others.

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Brown shares that self-worth is not what we have produced or created or achieved. “If you’re wondering what happens if you attach your self-worth to your art or your product…You’ve handed your self-worth to what people think” (p. 64). I know that I personally struggle with this, especially as one whose life has not followed the cultural script.

I feel shame surface when I think that there is something wrong with me because I am not married or because I may never have children. I see shame manifested by mothers who work (outside the home) and those who are stay-at-home moms because both groups feel they don’t measure up. I see it take hold when women who are returning to school or work after time away feel that they are inadequate to the task. Have we confused our self-worth with our achievements? Are we using the yardstick of others as our measure? Brown explains that “when our self-worth isn’t on the line, we are far more willing to be courageous and risk sharing our raw talents and gifts” (p. 64). Our doctrine teaches us in whom our self-worth should be centered. We are daughters of our Heavenly Parents. But as Nan shared earlier this week, sometimes it’s difficult to really comprehend the scope of our divine nature in tangible terms and so we use these substitutes to gauge our worthiness and that of others.

Brown shares, “When we feel good about the choices we’re making and when we’re engaging with the world from a place of worthiness rather than scarcity, we feel no need to judge or attack” (p. 230). I know that the shame I direct towards myself and others is minimized when I am grounded and firm in my personal choices and decisions, and when I have spiritual confirmation that I am enough. One of the truly awesome aspects of being a child of Heavenly Parents is that They operate from a paradigm of abundance. We are more than enough—believing and living that truth for ourselves—and in regards to how we treat others—is the challenge. While we can’t control the shame heaped on us by others, by their comments or impolite questions, we can minimize the shame we heap on ourselves.

It may be one of the best life skills we learn.

7 Comments on “Daring, Not Shaming, Greatly

  1. Oh my. I have this book and can’t wait to read it. When I heard Brene Brown on her TED talk on Shame I thought—this is what I see on the faces of so many people! The singles arriving at the singles activity, the sister coming back to church after being gone for some time, the single woman (lots of those) who are in that age where most people are married, but they aren’t, divorced women…and even me, someone who is a widow but who never really fit in to what was culturally expected of her in many ways. I have such a desire to help people feel accepted as a counselor in the Relief Society and was only talking about this last night at our meeting. You have hit the nail on the head. Maybe I’ll ask everyone to read this. 🙂

  2. This book is on my top 10 list. We can talk ab0ut how society and our culture shames us – which is a challenge, but we can also learn how to accept our best and vulnerable selves. Brene’s website is a great resource.

  3. This is part of what I struggle with when I move into new areas. They see someone who has been divorced and remarried to a nonmember who joined the church, but is vocal in his discomfort about priesthood authority in the church. They see my wheelchair and walker, and I am suddenly less likely to be included in things.

    I have been here almost a year, and am still waiting to even have discussions about a calling. No one has been curious about what skills I might contribute. So, I find ways to contribute where I can, and while a few are church connected, the ones that make the best use of my skills, are in organizations where I fill positions that I couldn’t fill at church because of my gender, or because I decided to leave an abusive marriage. (When I first left just was released from the Primary Presidency and told that my name had been withdrawn from consideration for a stake calling that had already been discussed as a possibility. )

    I think it is absolutely vital to find multiple outlets for our talents. When I read history, I understand both the attraction of starting over, and the double attractions of starting over with a community built on faith. Early Relief Society and church functions filled way more roles in people’s lives then. Now, many of those things still need to be done, and still vitally needed no matter who performs them. I just find that I need to be open to a large variety of possibilities, about how to use my time and energy.

    My mom always told me that knowing and understanding your role and position is the key to making change happen. Once you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your current space, it is then possible to figure out how to make both large and small changes in organizations.

    At one time I considered writing an advice column that helped people figure out, from their roll and position, what might be useful. Not sure if who would be excited to publish it, but I think that too often, low self worth comes from being “struck” in multiple small areas. It really is vital not be stingy with creative energy and only use it for small projects. Although I have been trying to get the inspiration for a radio show, maybe I can combine these. Hmmmmmm…. Anyone wiling to be interviewed?

  4. Thank you so much for this! This website and this article in particular, are gifts. I am grateful for women like you who have refined their ability to write and communicate such deep, tender, important things so eloquently.

  5. I really wish we would talk about the debilitating effects of shame much more in the church. This article is a great start.

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