Authenticity, Self Compassion, Mindfulness, and the “Gifts of Imperfection”: Book Review

By Tahani Al-Salem, Intern Social Worker

Last year, I went on a Brené Brown kick, as I like to call it. Her TED talk- “The Power of Vulnerability” was a viral hit, reaching more than 1 million hits on youtube.  I read several of her books, watched her TED Talk, and went to see her speak when she came to Seattle. I couldn’t get enough of what she had to say, it resonated deeply with me. There were so many ways I was sabotaging myself and preventing myself from being entirely authentic with others and myself.

I can tell you that even after my “Brené kick”, it’s still not something I have entirely figured out, but I’m certainly much closer. Living our lives authentically and embracing the unknown is difficult for a lot of us, and is something we have to actively be working on, a daily practice.

We are really good at shaming ourselves when we do things wrong, but we need to get better about being self compassionate in those moments-- pushing away the shame and embracing  it as a moment of growth.

Her book “The Gifts of Imperfection”, appears to be a short book, but it’s  so full of huge concepts- things that force us to look at ourselves, and at times can make the book seem very long. But it’s worth it. She works to normalize how many of us feel, explores our avoidance of vulnerability, and shares with us how we could be living quite differently if we choose to embrace the discomfort instead of pushing it away.

At one point she states:  “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.”  Read that again- letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be, and embracing who we ARE…

Choosing authenticity means to

  • Cultivate the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
  • Exercise the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle.
  • Nurture the connection and sense of belonging that can only happen when we believe that we are “enough”.

All of that sounds great, but it asks us to dig deep, which is not always easy, especially when we are really good at shaming ourselves. One way she argues that we can bring about authenticity is by having self -compassion.

According to her book self-compassion has three elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

  • Self kindness: Being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or beating ourselves up with self-criticism
  • Common humanity: suffering and feelings of personal inadequacy are part of the shared human experience-something we all go through rather than something that happens to “me” alone
  • Mindfulness: Taking a balanced approach to the negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated. We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time. Mindfulness requires that we not “over identify” with thoughts and feelings, so that we are caught up and swept away by negativity.

I am a planner, but in reality, planning out life is an impossible task. We can’t possibly calculate every situation and control it, so that we maintain control, avoiding vulnerability.  I’ve really had to work on trying to accept uncertainty and not knowing, and that is so very tough for me. I want to anticipate painful moments, and guard myself from them, because vulnerability and feeling shame are scary and out of control feelings.

In avoiding vulnerability and pain, we often block ourselves from opportunities. We do this out of fear of how we will feel if it doesn’t work out, if we're rejected, if we get hurt in the end. These are barriers to what Brené describes as living an authentic and vulnerable life, but if we learn to push away that negative self- talk, and be gentle with our imperfect selves, we may just start opening ourselves up.

Her book isn’t about a quick fix, because this is life work. It’s a good place to start to dig deep and get really personal with yourself.  There will be times when you want to shut the book.  I encourage you to lean into that fear, and push yourself away from that place of needing to know.

Tahani Al-Salem is an intern social worker at Mindful Therapy Group. She offers low cost counseling to folks in need. Schedule an appointment with her today and start your journey to a more authentic self.