Thursday, August 11, 2016

Rising Strong.

I just finished reading Rising Strong by Brené Brown. I’d seen Brené on Oprah a few times, but I was especially drawn to her Super Soul Sunday episode where she talked about her book, and specifically about shame.

There are things that bugged me about Rising Strong. Mainly the language she uses to list steps to dealing with your emotional processes. I find it too cutesy and it irritates me. Overall her work on emotional intelligence and effective communication is great, I just think it’s done a disservice by over simplification in order for it to be approachable. I feel like the book needs more meat.

Her work is interesting though, as are some of the points she brings up. 

The following quote had me add Alias Grace to my goodreads list:
When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.

- Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace
There's something about narration these days. I find myself narrating section of my life, or internally describing myself and situations in lyrical language. It's odd. I have found though, that the blog has helped me a lot. It's been successful for what it was initially meant for, as a record of sorts. As a way of externalizing my frustrations and fears. But it's also been more than that. It's been a little part of me. I've written from memory, I've chronicled, essayed, some of what I do is part book review and lit review from what crosses my path, but it's also had creative pieces. It's had free thought word associations. It's had dreams cast out onto paper - where I can get them out of my head. Stories and patterns help.
Robert Burton, a neurologist and novelist, explains that our brains reward us with dopamine when we recognize and complete patterns. Stories and patterns. The brain recognizes the familiar beginning-middle-end structure of a story and rewards us for clearing up the ambiguity. Unfortunately, we don’t need to be accurate, just certain. (79)
It's the satisfaction of a film like Momento. It's the satisfaction of a job well done. A period. milestone. A benchmark. A check-list. Boy do I love a check-list.
Jonathan Gottschall examines the human need for story in his book The Storytelling Animal. He explains that there’s growing evidence that “ordinary, mentally healthy people are strikingly prone to confabulate in everyday situations.” Social workers always use the term confabulate when talking about how dementia or a brain injury sometimes causes people to replace missing information with something false that they believe to be true. (81)
Gottschall argues that conspiratorial thinking “is not limited to the stupid, the ignorant, or the crazy. It is a reflex of the storytelling mind’s compulsive need for meaningful experience.” (83)
One of the many ways we can dip out of the norm and into too much. What is it about narrative? What is it about wanting an explanation to everything, wanting to understand it all? We stand guilty of it as an entire race! 

What part does the ego play in understanding, or thinking we understand something to our satisfaction? What kind of entitlement comes with that? Why does it comfort us so much? Does getting lost in trying to explain and understand help?
James Pennebaker, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin and author of Writing to Heal, has done some of the most important and fascinating research I’ve seen on the power of expressive writing in the healing process. In an interview posted on the University of Texas’ website, Pennebaker explains, “Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives. You don't just lose a job, you don’t just get divorced. These things affect all aspects of who we are - our financial situation, our relationships with others, our views of ourselves, our issues of life and death. Writing helps us focus and organize the experience.” Pennebaker believes that because our minds are designed to try and understand things that happen to us, translating messy, difficult experience into language essentially makes them “graspable.” (87)
Language is indeed a mold in-which to smush the complex ingredients of our ego, our id, our dreams, our context, and ultimately our intangible experiences. So much happens to us in a moment, in a day, in a lifetime. If what any of us want is to minimize discomfort and pain while we're here, it makes sense that we'd want to understand what it is that causes us pain and discomfort, in order to possibly avoid it in the future.
If there is one thing that failure has taught me, it is the value of regret. Regret is one of the most powerful emotional reminders that change and growth are necessary. In fact, I’ve come to believe that regret is a kind of package deal: a function of empathy, it’s a call to courage and a path toward wisdom. Like all emotions, regret can be used constructively or destructively, but the wholesale dismissal of regret is wrongheaded and dangerous. “No regrets” doesn’t mean living with courage, it means living without reflection. 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. (210)
This section of Brown's work I appreciated significantly. For a while in the 90's there was a lot of "no regrets"- t-shirts and pop culture paraphernalia. As I got older, I got increasingly irritated by them. I've always felt regrets weren't necessarily negative, as long as you understood them. Brown expresses what I feel well here, since reflection is a large part of the last few years of my life. I do regret situations where I was shitty, or blind, or disconnected, but I am also able to look at those times and understand why I did what I did or said what I said. She quotes George Saunders, in a 2013 commencement address at Syracuse University:
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded. . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.” (211)
Brown goes on:
I believe that what we regret most are our failures of courage, whether it’s the courage to be kinder, to show up, to say how we feel, to set boundaries, to be good to ourselves. For that reason, regret can be the birthplace of empathy. (212)
I think regret can indeed lead to empathy. As can most difficult, painful emotions. Courage can be hard. Even little pieces of courage. It seems some days all I can do is just minimize my interaction with the world in order to hold on to what little energy I have. For some, just getting out of bed is courage. I've had those days. I've had years of my life, lost to a cloud of disinterest and introversion. 

Brown also has a few paragraphs on nostalgia I found interesting. For a while, during the worst parts of my depression, nostalgia was a big part of my shame triggers. It was a lie though. It seemed glossy and young, happy and energetic, but there was also frantic bits, bits I feel in my guts when I sit with too long. 

It's so easy to romanticize youth. Perky tits. Hormones. The energy. I had so much god damn energy. So much naive hope about - everything.  

I can understand why nostalgia has become such a cultural cliché - the prom king and queen, the "good old days" - because it's an easy place to go to - a memory. And if we aren't careful, of course we could re-visit that place with rose-tinted glasses, but if you do have the propensity to look a little longer than is comfortable or to dig a little deeper than is (seemingly) necessary you revisit those memories and you notice the little things. The discomfort here and there. The limitations. The assumptions we made. How we didn't know any better. How dumb we maybe were. How much hormones made him seem greater than he actually was. How location and context made friendships happen. How much you had to learn. How naive you all were. But we now know better, don't we? 

Brown quotes The Great Beauty, a film by Paolo Sorrentino:
"What’s wrong with feeling nostalgic? It’s the only distraction left for those who have no faith in the future.” Nostalgia can be a dangerous distraction, and it can underpin a feeling of resignation and hopelessness after a fall. (243)
I think this actually further compliments what I was saying about my own experiences. I was deeply depressed, and a nostalgia trap made sense. I had no hope for myself or the future, and if what I was feeling was shame and frustration, it makes sense to then explain that shame and pain through blaming myself for how much I fucked up what was.

I think Brown's work could be helpful to a lot of people, and in a lot of different situations. She discusses her work with corporate spaces and teams. Implementing effective communication strategies can really revolutionize a corporate culture. It's an ongoing issue in nearly every place I've worked. To varying degrees of shittyness. 

She talks about the stories we tell ourselves, and how we interpret situations in ways that are often skewed in just an infinite amount of ways. How our interpretations of any given situation can be totally different than that of our partner in that situation. 

Throughout her examples, honesty and a conversation work wonders. This isn't news to me, but I can understand how her research can be considered revolutionary to those less feely, especially in a corporate culture. 

It's a lot of work, to be aware of how you're feeling, your reactions (both verbal and non-verbal) and your interpretations. I guess it's through practice that these things become habit. And I hope more comes of this kind of research because I'd like the terminology of emotional intelligence to become part of our everyday vernacular. Effective communication changes everything. It can diffuse so much.

I walk away from Brown's book with something she uses often throughout Rising Strong. She uses specific language to talk about interpretation: The story I am making up is ...

This acts as a took to facilitate conversation with a friend or loved one, openly. It's not accusatory, it's a peak into someone's brain. She uses personal examples, as well as professional ones.

In my experience, being direct about these things, in a loving way, has totally diffused situations that were uncomfortable or potentially unpleasant. Especially when it comes to my mother, who tends to be passive-aggressive and huff loudly instead of using words. I've yet to use it with friends, since we see each other so little these days it's not been an issue. Overall my friends are pretty supportive and great anyway, we're like, pretty emotionally intelligent (ie: depressed). lol. 

It becomes difficult when processes are so different. Someone needs to cool off where someone else needs to think about things where someone else wants to mind-vomit all over you. Being a person is weird. It's hard you guys! Why are we so neurotic! 

Anyway, check out Brene's Brown interview with Oprah on Super Soul Sunday if you can (OWN shows are hard to get online), if you're into it, check out her book. 

No comments:

Post a Comment