Oprah and Brené Brown talk about fear, connection and self-expression

Megastar author, teacher and podcast host Brené Brown and Oprah first sat down in 2013 to explore the courage it takes to be vulnerable. Brené’s revolutionary new book, Heart Atlas, draws on more than 20 years of pioneering research to explore and expand the vocabulary of feelings. Oprah and Brené, who have met several times over the past few years, recently got together to talk about fear, connections, the state of our country and much more.


Oprah: Welcome, Brené! The first conversation you and I had together almost nine years ago was also the first episode in our history. Super soul Podcast. And I’ve heard that the two-part interview has been downloaded 4.2 million times!

Brené Brown: Wow!

OW: It tells me that what you put out in the world is something people are hungry for, and you did it again with Heart Atlas. You open the book with this epigraph from Rumi: “The heart is the sea, the tongue is the shore. »Is this the organizing principle of the book?

BB: Our hearts are seas of expansion, of emotion, of experience. At some point, these emotions and experiences need to be articulated. The tongue is like a life jacket. But often people are not equipped with the words to describe what they are feeling.

OW: You’ve done a lot of research on this.

BB: Yes. About 15 years ago, we surveyed over 7,000 people, asking them to make a list of all the emotions they could recognize and name. Most people could only identify three: happy, mad, and sad. I found myself thinking, What does it mean if we don’t have a vocabulary as broad and deep as the human experience?

OW: Obviously you’ve been thinking about one version of this for a long time. In the book, there is a photo of you from 1984 alongside an essay you wrote. You ask, “Why do we feel the pain that we feel?” It was when you were in your first year in college.

BB: For me, survival growing up was about grasping the connection between emotion, behavior and thought. As the oldest of four children in a volatile home, to protect myself and my siblings, I needed to understand what comments or behaviors were going to trigger something.

OW: You thought you were good at evaluating this, didn’t you?

BB: I learned to refine this ability to the point that I could read the play and say: Uh-oh. We have five minutes before all hell breaks loose. Today my therapist would call it hypervigilance.

OW: Your name is cartographer and the title of your book contains the word atlas. Why this analogy?

BB: I am obsessed with cartography. In my last three books, I told readers that I am a cartographer, which means: I give you my research and my findings to help you find your way. But the truth is, I’m on the road with you. I’m not leading you, I stumble next to you. In this book, I wanted to convey that we are all cartographers, we have to be the cartographers of our own lives.

OW: So true. For this last project, you worked with a team of therapists, educators, researchers, students and community leaders, all sharing experiences around emotion. It had to be powerful.

BB: It all started with you and me several years ago when we took the “Gifts of Imperfection” online course. Over 65,000 people have taken the course, generating hundreds of thousands of data points. The team broke it down to find answers to this question: “What human emotions or experiences do people have trouble naming with precision?” The list was long, but we ultimately narrowed it down to a core group of them – around 87 – which I explored in the book.

OW: Why is it important, for example, that we know the distinction between being stressed and being overwhelmed, or as you say, “in the weeds” versus “blown out”?

BB: I quote the German philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in the book, who said: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world. Language does not only communicate emotions; he shapes them. So when I use a word to describe how I feel, my body will often follow my language. If I use hyperbole and say “I’m stressed” to “I’m overwhelmed”, I often make a self-fulfilling prophecy.

OW: What you’re urging us to do is expand the vocabulary with which we communicate our feelings so that we can better understand ourselves and accurately express what’s going on – the right words provide a gateway to psychosocial well-being. .

BB: Yes. Imagine having severe pain in your shoulder, but when you got to the orthopedist’s office, your mouth was sealed with duct tape and your hands were tied behind your back. You would be unable to tell the doctor what was wrong. Language is a portal to universes of new choices and second chances. I’ve been studying affects and emotions forever, and yet I have a hard time with it, mostly because I have a super sensitive nervous system and can use exaggerated, even reckless, language when I’m scared, which is not a configuration for a successful decision-making.

A 1984 college paper by Brené.

Brène Brown

OW: You talk about a link between shame and perfectionism. It surprised me. Can you explain

BB: I do all of this leadership work in organizations where people don’t have that relationship and are intentionally building perfectionist cultures. And then they say, “There is no innovation or creativity. What’s going on? “Well, shame kills creativity and innovation; perfectionism is a defense mechanism against shame. If I look perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, judgment and blame.

OW: You’ve researched worry and concluded that it’s not a useful coping mechanism. But how can we keep from worrying needlessly? It’s hard!

BB: Those of us who worry excessively often think it’s useful which it doesn’t, on top of that we think we have no control over it. Worry is defined as a chain of negative thoughts about bad things that might happen in the future. When you study people who have overcome their tendency to worry, it’s all about checking reality and taking a step back. In other words, asking ourselves if all worrying is helping or hurting. Do I have enough data to panic? Even if I do, is panicking helpful? The answer is always no.

OW: You write that love and belonging are irreducible needs for everyone. And in their absence, there is suffering. All around us there are people who are suffering, who are unhappy, angry, who feel that they no longer belong. Is that how you see it?

BB: We’re adrift, I think, spiritually, emotionally, physically, cognitively. We are not tied down. The world is moving faster than we, as a social species, can handle, and in a way that leads to separation. We have confused hyper-communication with real human connection.

OW: What is the solution?

BB: We’re desperately trying to find a safe port somewhere out there, but that port is really within us. Meanwhile, a lot of very smart people see that we are lost and have created external ports that offer quick and artificial solutions – really a false sense of place and connection.

OW: And these smart people are exploiting this disconnect?

BB: When vulnerability is not mutual and reciprocal, it can be exploited or, as Anne Lamott says, “aid is the sunny side of control”.

OW: How did we get there? It did not happen overnight.

BB: A lot of people won’t agree with me, but if you don’t turn to your painful story and own it, it owns you. In this country, if we don’t look to our collective history around inequality and own it, it will continue to own us. And if you look at the way the pain has got over us right now, you’ll see that it’s being exploited in truly destructive ways.

OW: To the point where we literally don’t have a shared reality anymore.

BB: Yeah, and that’s by design. There is a school district in Texas that now says that if we are to teach the Holocaust, we have to teach the opposite point of view. The is no opposing point of view. It is a kind of white male power that is maintained using fear. It is to make a last fight, and the last fights are bloody; we are in the middle of it. What you feel is despair.

OW: Our systems and institutions are under threat.

BB: Yes; it is a real daily challenge to democracy, to science, to literature, to history, to education.

OW: How do we reattach and save ourselves?

BB: The only answer I know of is self-awareness.

OW: That’s why Heart Atlas is so important, because what it ultimately offers is a greater awareness of our feelings and the tools to express them. What do you hope readers will leave the book thinking about?

BB: We are emotional beings. Thinking and acting are not a shotgun, they are strapped in the trunk. It is the emotion that is behind the wheel. I did not understand everything before writing this book. If we don’t understand our own emotional landscapes, we cannot build a culture of connection.

OW: In the meantime, who do you turn to for wisdom and perspective?

BB: I come back to the feminist activist and cultural critic bell hooks, who diagnoses many of us as being deprived of “lack of love”. Our lack of abject love, she said, can only be healed through forgiveness, compassion, community.

OW: Oh, this is so good! Thanks, Brené.

BB: Thanks Oprah.

Random penguin house

Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience

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