It’s been some time since a book truly opened my mind. Where it made me realise that the basics of what I thought I knew, and what I thought was universally known wasn’t entirely correct at all. Brene Brown’s ‘Atlas of the Heart’ is a phenomenal book backed with science, and portrayed through storytelling that delves into the nitty-gritty of what it means to be a conscious being dealing with complex emotions. In a world where mindfulness has become a marketing tool, and mental health awareness has been widely embraced, it is easy to believe that we are moving toward being more awake to the human condition.
However, after reading this book, I realised how limited my own knowledge of the complexity of emotions was. I had mistaken sympathy for empathy. I was oblivious to the fact that anger is not a primary feeling, but a catalyst steaming from feelings including, but not limited to frustration, grief, and hopelessness. And I had an “OMG. My mind is blown!” moment when Brene explained that "Vulnerability is the first thing we look for in other people, and the last thing we want to show about ourselves."
Here are just three of the many lessons I learned from this book (the first time around at least – you bet I’ll be referring to this book for the rest of time!).
Practice accurately naming your emotions
I know this sounds trivial, but Brene highlights how limited we tend to be when describing our feelings. You may be thinking; "Really, I'm not in grade 1" - but our limited vocabulary, and ability to specially unearth the core feeling we are experiencing has a detriment to how we deal with said situation. This can have serious impacts on our actions moving forward and has real consequences on our personal and professional relationships, not to mention the relationship we have with ourselves.
So next time you feel sad, try to break it down. Are you really feeling grief from the loss of a job? Perhaps you are feeling dismissed by your significant others? Or, maybe you're experiencing hopelessness as you believe you are unable to change your current circumstances?
"Hope is a function of struggle - we develop hope not during the easy or comfortable times, but through adversity and discomfort." - Brene Brown
Where is this coming from?
Do you ever ask yourself; "where is this coming from?". I know I do! Brene does an amazing job of breaking down the "Places we go", when we experience complex emotions. I love this concept because emotions are forever a navigation - whether you're attempting to pinpoint what exactly it is you're feeling, or navigate your way through your emotions. I enjoy the metaphor as dealing with emotions is in fact a journey and I appreciate the transient nature between the two.
Chapter 3: Places We Go When We Compare, I found most intriguing!
In this chapter Brene identifies the following emotions; comparison, admiration, reverence, envy, jealousy, resentment, schadenfreude (pronounced sha-din-froy-da), and freudenfreude... no those last two aren't typos, these are compound German words, and super fun to say!
"Schadenfreude", it simply means pleasure or joy derived from someone else's suffering or misfortune" - Brene Brown
On a positive note freudenfreude is the opposite of this, "it's the enjoyment of another's success. it's also a subset of empathy." Let's do more of this!
Places we go when thing aren't what they seem.
Ok, I had to pop this one on the list. Nostalgia! Oh, such a great word; just hearing it makes you feel nostalgic. And we often associate Nostalgia with the good old days. Well, did you know that Nostalgia was considered a mental illness before the 21st century after a philosopher identified patterns in symptoms and behaviours of his student studying away from home. They were homesick!
Over time the term has been romanticised. Correlated with the feeling of bittersweetness, through the joy of reminiscing about happy times past, with the underlying feeling of sadden due to loss.
"The bittersweet side of appreciating life's most precious moments is the unbearable awareness that those moments are passing." - Marc Parent
The best thing about this experience is that I shared it with others. ‘Atlas of the Heart’ was our MADI Book Club book of the month for January, and discussing it with others was invaluable. The best thing about it was we all had several “ah-ha” moments. We laughed as we agreed it was the cheapest therapy session ever had. But most importantly, we all came to the consensus that it would be a book we would reach for in time of need, refer to friends and family, and be a staple source to find answers when we just don’t have the words for what we were going through and how we're feeling.
Now, I didn’t want this to sound like I was selling the book (although if you want to sponsor me, Brene Brown, I won’t say no!), but I genuinely believe this is a book for everyone!
So next time you’re overcome with emotion trying to name it, examine it, then name it again… is the answer still the same? If not, will your approach to dealing with it change too?
If you're into reading great books and discussing them with a fantastic bunch of people, then you may want to consider joining our (free) MADI Book Club. You can learn more about it here! ✨