I started reading Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection earlier today, and I have to say that even a few pages in, her topic really resonates with me. It seems to be largely about learning to feel comfortable in our own skin and not judging other people for things we have done ourselves. As someone who has been struggling with mental illness- and inferiority issues – for a long time, that really hits home with me.
One of the hardest parts about learning to manage my depression, from a therapy standpoint, was realizing that I, as a person, am worthwhile. I have to find worth in myself, because placing all that I find worthy outside of myself means that it can be easily lost – a friend I place worth in might leave, items I value might be lost or stolen. But my own worth is internal. Now, this was a problem for me, because, being depressed, I didn’t feel like I was worth anything – to myself or to anyone else. It’s why I tried to commit suicide, in part.
The Gifts of Imperfection speaks to that; it says, at least to me, that one of the bravest, most courageous things we can do is place that worth in ourselves. And not in a way that places us above other people – but in a way that lets us realize that we are worthwhile, much m=like them, and that we are capable of the same successes and failures that they are, and vice versa. And the way we find this worthiness – at least according to Dr. Brown – is threefold: courage, compassion, and connection.
Courage is important because it takes courage to express that we are afraid we might screw up. It’s hard to admit to others that we might have moments of weakness – especially if we have worked hard to give the impression that we have no weaknesses. But that courage to show others that we are capable of error – that we are human – creates the possibility of a connection between us. In a similar manner, it takes courage not to judge others; that feeling of superiority that we get from thinking we’re better than others is nice, but fleeting.
The judgement part, for me, was actually one of the easier things to learn. I’ve screwed up a lot over the years, and I’ve hurt a lot of people and let a lot of people down. I know exactly how fallible I am, and so I don’t judge anyone else for their actions. In Menninger, there was one woman who was terrified to speak up in one of our groups because, as it turns out, she had tried to commit suicide once – and she thought that was such a horrible thing that we would ostracize her. When I heard her say that, I just looked at her, smiled, and said, “I’ve tried twice. That woman over there has tried four times. Nobody’s going to judge you here.” That makes it sound like I’m some sort of saintly character, but I’m not; I’ve lied to my friends and family before, I’ve manipulated people, and I’ve done plenty of bad stuff.
I think that doing that, and being in a place like Menninger, really showed me the dangers of judging other people, and how much being judged hurts. And so I’ve made an effort since then to avoid laying judgement on people. It’s a process, and it’s something I have to work at; like it says at the beginning of The Gifts of Imperfection‘s first chapter: “Practicing courage, compassion, and connection in our daily lives is how we cultivate worthiness. The key word is practice.” So, I practice.
More on the book as I move through it.