If you’ve read any of my previous posts, then you know that I’m a huge fan of the work of Brené Brown, a social scientist at the University of Houston. Her newest book, Rising Strong, is the culmination of much of her research on shame, vulnerability, and resiliency. The tagline of the book is, “if we are brave enough, often enough, we will fail. This is a book about what it takes to get back up.” In her manifesto of the brave and brokenhearted, Brown mentions that owning our stories is one of the key elements to living more connected and fulfilled lives.
So what does it mean to “own your story?” In a nutshell, it means to be honest with yourself about the reality of your life: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It means refusing to make up stories to justify mistakes or protect oneself from guilt. It also means accepting responsibility for mistakes without owning things that don’t belong to us, or sinking into shame. It means rather than playing the victim or hero role, allowing ourselves to be human, accept our imperfections, learn from failure and continue becoming more and more of who we were created to be.
I appreciate that she uses the term own because it connotes possession as well as responsibility. Rather than denying or avoiding the fact that there are aspects of ourselves that we are not proud of in an effort to hide or shirk responsibility for them; when we say ‘yes, this is a part of me,’ we bring these things out of the dark, look them in the face and can choose to do something different. We cannot change what we deny or hide.
When we own our stories they take on a redemptive nature. Redemption means paying a price to return something to your possession. The price associated with this type of redemption is the painfulness of looking at your weaknesses or broken places long enough to heal and learn from them. But the reward is that you can then integrate that part of your history back into your personal narrative without letting it haunt you. I believe this is what Brown is referring to when she says, “When we deny our stories, they define us. When we run from struggle, we are never free. So we turn toward truth, and look it in the eye.”
When we attempt to keep our failures or imperfections hidden they become chains around our hearts so that we cannot let others get close for fear that they’ll see what we are hiding. In my nearly ten years of experience as a therapist, I have witnessed over and over the power of this phenomenon. When people are brave enough to acknowledge their weaknesses as opportunities for healing and growth, that is when real vulnerability and connection take place. Once we realize that we have locked our skeleton-laden closet from the inside, we have the power to bring our struggles into the light and pursue wholeness and true connection.
If you are reading this and thinking, “sounds great, but I have no idea where to start or how to do this,” I would encourage you to start small. Find someone trustworthy, maybe a counselor, or a pastor, or a close friend, that you can share some of the aspects of your history that keep you awake at night (or would if you acknowledged them), and allow this safe person to speak the truth and affirmation that comes from a resounding “me too” or “welcome to humanity.” This is not to minimize the significance of the perceived weakness or failing, but to help you experience the freedom of not allowing that choice or event to enslave you any longer. If you know of no such person, please reach out to one of the therapists at Anthology and we would be happy to help you begin this process.