Researcher, social worker and writer Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection is a wonderful work. Its subtitle “Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are” is an accurate description of the message in this book. In it, Brown introduces her idea of wholehearted living – a style of living in which you are fully yourself in everything that you do, in a way that you feel worthy (of respect, of belonging etc.) Brené Brown is also the author of I Thought it Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), Daring Greatly and Connections (a psychoeducational shame-resilience curriculum. She is also a sought-after speaker and has been featured on TED.
The book is centered on ten guideposts that Brown believes are essential to her idea of wholehearted living. You’ll notice that they are about cultivating something, rather than achieving it. I really like that idea in the area of introspection and self-improvement as I believe this is a continuous process or way of life rather than some goal that can actually be reached and mastered completely.
Cultivating Authenticity The idea of cultivating authenticity is achieved by letting go of what other people think. This is an important concept for those with eating disorders as they often must let go of how they believe other people and/or society see them.
Cultivating Self-Compassion Research has clearly linked perfectionism with eating disorders. This chapter deals with changing the way you think of yourself, from a stance of self-criticism to one of self-compassion.
Cultivating a Resilient Spirit The idea of resilience in the face of adversity is a concept that psychologists, therapists and people the world over have been contemplating for some time. This chapter is about what Brown’s research has shown to help people cultivate resilience and strength.
Cultivating Gratitude and Joy Who doesn’t need to cultivate gratitude and joy? This is a wonderful chapter that describes both gratitude and joy as a spiritual practice rather than a state of being. I think that for those who suffer from depressive symptoms will find this to be especially helpful.
Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith So many people need or want to know if something will turn out well before they will change. I know many of my clients have had a hard time trusting the idea that recovery can work or that life without their eating disorder is a life they are interested in. Sometimes we have to take risks and let go of certainty.
Cultivating Creativity Brown comments that there are many adults who haven’t done anything that would be considered purely creative since they were children. I can attest that although I enjoy craft projects and creative endeavors there is a part of me that thinks “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m not a real painter.” This chapter is about letting go of those comparisons and just enjoying acts of creativity.
Cultivating Play and Rest I love the subtitle in this chapter “Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth.” How are you prioritizing your life? Do play and rest have an important place on your to-do list?
Cultivating Calm and Stillness We all need space in our lives for quiet reflection and meditation. This means actively letting go of anxiety rather than getting caught up in. What would your life be like if you weren’t anxious?
Cultivating Meaningful Work Even as exhaustion and productivity should not be our goal, Brown does acknowledge the important of having meaningful work in our lives in order to gain self-worth. However, this is more about what you find meaning in, rather than what society or other people tell you to find meaning in.
Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance This is probably the most fun chapter and I love that it is included. Having fun with people we love builds relationships and let’s us see each other when we aren’t always “in control.” Have you laughed today?
Who is this book appropriate for?
This book is quite honestly appropriate for anyone who is interested in living a life congruent with their values and with themselves. For people with eating disorders (and their loved ones) it tackles topics that many struggle with such as self-worth, self-respect and shame.
Even if you don’t struggle with every topic addressed in the guideposts, the format of the book does allow you to read individual chapters and address specific concepts. This is also great if you want to go back to re-read a specific chapter.
Brown, B. (2010). The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden.