Brené Brown on How to Reckon with Emotion and Change Your Narrative
The most powerful stories may be the ones we tell ourselves, says Brené Brown. But beware—they're usually fiction.
Brené Brown on How to Reckon with Emotion and Change Your Narrative
By Brené Brown / oprah.com

My husband, Steve, and I were having one of those days. That morning, we'd overslept. Charlie couldn't find his backpack, and Ellen had to drag herself out of bed because she'd been up late studying. Then at work I had five back-to-back meetings, and Steve, a pediatrician, was dealing with cold-and-flu season. By dinnertime, we were practically in tears.

Steve opened the refrigerator and sighed. "We have no groceries. Not even lunch meat." I shot back, "I'm doing the best I can. You can shop, too!" "I know," he said in a measured voice. "I do it every week. What's going on?"

I knew exactly what was going on: I had turned his comment into a story about how I'm a disorganized, unreliable partner and mother. I apologized and started my next sentence with the phrase that's become a lifesaver in my marriage, parenting and professional life: "The story I'm making up is that you were blaming me for not having groceries, that I was screwing up."

Steve said, "No, I was going to shop yesterday, but I didn't have time. I'm not blaming you. I'm hungry."

Storytelling helps us all impose order on chaos—including emotional chaos. When we're in pain, we create a narrative to help us make sense of it. This story doesn't have to be based on any real information. One dismissive glance from a coworker can instantly turn into I knew she didn't like me. I responded to Steve so defensively because when I'm in doubt, the "I'm not enough" explanation is often the first thing I grab. It's like my comfy jeans—may not be flattering, but familiar.

Our stories are also about self-protection. I told myself Steve was blaming me so I could be mad instead of admitting that I was vulnerable or afraid of feeling inadequate. I could disengage from the tougher stuff. That's what human beings tend to do: When we're under threat, we run. If we feel exposed or hurt, we find someone to blame, or blame ourselves before anyone else can, or pretend we don't care.

But this unconscious storytelling leaves us stuck. We keep tripping over the same issues, and after we fall, we find it hard to get back up again. But in my research on shame and vulnerability, I've also learned a lot about resilience. For my book Rising Strong, I spent time with many amazing people—from Fortune 500 leaders to long-married couples—who are skilled at recovering from setbacks, and they have one common characteristic: They can recognize their own confabulations and challenge them. The good news is that we can rewrite these stories. We just have to be brave enough to reckon with our deepest emotions.

In navigation, dead reckoning is how you calculate your location. It involved knowing where you've been and how you got there—speed, route, wind conditions. It's the same with life: We can't chart a new course until we find out where we are, how we came to that point and where we want to go. Reckon comes from the Old English recenian, meaning "to narrate." When you reckon with emotion, you can change your narrative. You have to acknowledge your feelings and get curious about the story behind them. Then you can challenge those confabulations and get to the truth.

I'll walk you through it. The next time you're in a situation that pushes your buttons—from a breakup to a setback at work—and you're overwhelmed by anger, disappointment or embarrassment, try this practice.

Engage with your feelings.

Your body may offer the first clue that you're having an emotional reaction: for instance, your boss assigns the project you wanted to a colleague, and your face begins to feel hot. Or your response may involve racing thoughts or replaying the event in slow motion. You don't need to know exactly where the feelings are coming from: you just have to acknowledge them.

My stomach is in knots.
I want to punch a wall.
I need Oreos. Lots of them.


Get curious about the story behind the feelings.

Now you're going to ask yourself a few questions. Again, it's not necessary to answer them right off the bat.

Why am I being so hard on everyone?
What happened right before this Oreo craving set in?
I'm obsessing over what my sister said. Why?


This step can be surprisingly difficult. You're furious because Todd got the project, but it may feel easier to steamroll over your anger with contempt: Todd's a brownnoser. This company's a joke. Getting curious about your feelings may lead to some discoveries: What if you're more hurt than you realized? Or what if your attitude could have played a part? But pushing through discomfort is how we get to the truth.

Write it down.

The most effective way to become truly aware of our stories is to write them down, so get your thoughts on paper. Nothing fancy—you can just finish these sentences:

The story I'm making up...
My emotions...
My thinking...
My body...
My beliefs...
My actions...


For instance, you might write, I'm so peeved. I feel like I'm having a heatstroke. She thinks I'm incapable. I want to hurl a stapler.

You can be mad, self-righteous, confused. A story driven by emotion and self-protection probably doesn't involve accuracy, logic or civility. If your story contains those things, it's likely that you're not being fully honest.

Get ready to rumble.

It's time to poke and prod at your findings, exploring the ins and outs. The first questions may be the simplest:

1. What are the facts, and what are my assumptions?

I really don't know why my boss picked Todd. And I didn't tell her I was interested in the project—I figured she knew.


2. What do I need to know about the others involved?

Maybe Todd has some special skill or she has me in mind for something else.


Now we get to the more difficult questions:

3. What am I really feeling? What part did I play?

I feel so worthless. I'm failing in my career. And I don't want to ask for anything because someone might say no.


You may learn that you've been masking shame with cynicism, or that being vulnerable and asking for what you want is preferable to stewing in resentment. These truths may be uncomfortable, but they can be the basis of meaningful change.

Figuring out your own story could take 20 minutes or 20 years. And you may not make one big transformation; maybe it's a series of incremental changes. You just have to feel your way through.

If you're thinking this sounds too hard, I get it. The reckoning can feel dangerous because you're confronting yourself—the fear, aggression, shame and blame. Facing our stories takes courage. But owning our stories is the only way we get to write a brave new ending.


Rising StrongBrené Brown, PhD, is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and the author of Daring Greatly. This essay is adapted from her new book, Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.

4.4 ·
4
What's Next
Trending Today
Who Are You? Watching This Breathtaking Video Could Be the Moment You Change Your Life
2 min · 15,204 views today · "Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work, driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for, in order to get to a job that you need so you can...
Welcome to Marinaleda: The Spanish Anti-Capitalist Town With Equal Wage Full Employment and $19 Housing
Jade Small · 12,465 views today · With virtually no police, crime or unemployment, meet the Spanish town described as a democratic, socialist utopia. Unemployment is non-existent in Marinaleda, an Andalusian...
When You Kill Ten Million Africans You Aren't Called 'Hitler'
Liam O'Ceallaigh · 11,609 views today · Take a look at this picture. Do you know who it is? Most people haven’t heard of him. But you should have. When you see his face or hear his name you should get as sick in...
How a Trump Presidency Would Unleash a Torrent of Racist Violence-And Devastate the Left
Arun Gupta · 11,503 views today · The Left should take the Trump threat very seriously.
Forest Man
16 min · 7,275 views today · Since the 1970's Majuli islander Jadav Payeng has been planting trees in order to save his island. To date he has single handedly planted a forest larger than Central Park NYC...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 7,006 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
How to Criticize with Kindness: Philosopher Daniel Dennett on the Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently
Maria Popova · 6,504 views today · “Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”
Maya Angelou's 3-Word Secret to Living Your Best Life
3 min · 6,468 views today · Dr. Maya Angelou says that in order to be the best human being you can be, you must follow one simple directive: "Just do right." Watch as Dr. Angelou reveals how you can never...
Alan Watts: What If Money Was No Object?
3 min · 4,698 views today · How do you like to spend your life? What do you desire? What if money didn't matter? What if money was no object? What would you like to do if money were no object? Spoken...
10 Shocking Facts About Society That We Absurdly Accept As Normal
Joe Martino · 4,193 views today · When you take a moment and look around at the world, things can appear pretty messed up. Take 5 or 10 minutes and watch the 6 o’clock news. Chances are, the entire time, all...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 3,855 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
What It Really Means to Hold Space for Someone
Heather Plett · 3,535 views today · How to be there for the people who need you most
Do You Have Time to Love?
Thich Nhat Hanh · 3,215 views today · The greatest gift you can offer loved ones is your true presence.
Capitalism Is Just a Story - Rise Up and Create a New One
6 min · 3,002 views today · How many of us have a sneaking suspicion that something pretty fundamental is going wrong in the world? We keep hearing about the potentially devastating consequences of...
11 Traits of People With High Emotional Intelligence
Raven Fon · 2,679 views today · Lately, new ways to describe human interactions, social behaviours, and many facets of psychology have emerged on the social network scene. One of those descriptions is “high...
Doctors Response to Daily Mail Bigotry is Beautiful
Neil Tiwari · 2,628 views today · A poetic open letter to the Daily Mail newspaper from Dr. Neil Tiwari, in response to a bigoted attack on his colleagues, is going viral and it's beautiful.
Caitlin Moran's Posthumous Advice for Her Daughter
Caitlin Moran · 2,175 views today · My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to...
Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children
Jan Hunt · 2,074 views today · 1. We expect children to be able to do things before they are ready. We ask an infant to keep quiet. We ask a 2-year-old to sit still. We ask a 3-year-old to clean his room...
Better, Not More
5 min · 2,053 views today · As we assess the current state of our world and consider together the elements that are essential to a ‘just transition’, and ultimately, a just economy, we are called to...
Real Change in Democracy Comes Not in the Voting Booth but Activism at the Grass-Roots
Ilze Peterson · 1,594 views today · Many years ago, the late Judy Guay, a low-income woman from Bangor, founded the Maine Association of Interdependent Neighborhoods in order to advocate for the neediest in our...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Brené Brown on How to Reckon with Emotion and Change Your Narrative