Wellbeing Wednesdays: Brené Brown’s ‘Atlas of the Heart’ – a book review by Imogen Bowden

Our Wellbeing Wednesday post this week features a book review by Community and Wellbeing Rural Representative, Imogen Bowden. Here, she elegantly intertwines her thoughts on Brené Brown’s Atlas of the Heart with her own observations about emotion. Happy reading!

Cover of Brené Brown’s Atlas of the Heart

Emotions are the most powerful, beautiful, and deadly creatures in existence as far as I am aware. They build us up and bring us down, accompany every moment of life and occasionally leave us to the abyss of life without them to stew on their importance. This is how I have always perceived emotion – their own entity, a power unto themselves. I have loved to picture emotions as creatures, acting on us all and puppeteering us in their own puppet show. If you have not noticed, I am a slight fan of metaphor and personification. It has always allowed me to see and understand the mechanisms of the world – to bestow it all my qualities. But at the end of the day, emotions are not otherworldly beasts; emotions are simply apart of us in the most integral and intangible sense (also a bit of a fan of oxymoron (sorry)).

Recently I have been reading Brené Brown’s new masterpiece – Atlas of the Heart. When I say the pieces of the puzzle of my emotional life started to click into place, I mean I could hear the resounding thud as each sentence struck a chord of my life story. She has written this book in such a way that it can make clear to all their individual experience of emotion. But now I want to put my personal biases aside (or try to) and explain why it is I am driven to write this piece.

I have loved to picture emotions as creatures, acting on us all and puppeteering us in their own puppet shows.”

We all need to talk/write/read/sing/scream more about emotion.  

Because, at the end of the day, we need to try to describe our experiences of emotion and create a shared language that permits us to share these experiences with ourselves and with others.

This is possibly what struck me most about Brown’s writing – that I had such a limited understanding of my own emotions because I did not have the words to explain to myself what my own experiences are. And if we are unable to express and clearly understand our emotions and their effects on ourselves, there is no possibility of sharing our experience with others. In the beautiful words of Brown “Language shows us that naming an experience doesn’t give the experience more power, it gives us the power of understanding and meaning.”

In reading this book I have realised that I have always tried and turmoiled in my attempts to describe emotion but with the aim to distance myself from the emotion rather than to bridge the distance. I have always wanted to describe emotion as a way to finalise the experience, weighing down the emotion with fancy words so that it may be caged and controlled. Brown has taught me that language is the weapon of understanding emotion, not a weapon to neutralise.

This book also catalysed my epiphany that describing emotion to myself and creating that understanding for myself is not enough. Sharing experience and emotion with others through a discourse to create communal understanding is pivotal in the fight to end the human war against emotion. Brown calls us all to be …. Vulnerable. I cringe at the word; at the very emotion it evokes. But let me try to be vulnerable now and share with you the words that capture my vulnerability.

My chest is a locked cabinet, I unlock the doors and swing them wide. There sits my heart, visible to all; for some reason a wind is always blowing and the heart shivers. Why is it frightening. I used to believe that it was a trust issue. My heart is too exposed, and anyone may walk by and steal it, hurt it, break it. But maybe the bigger problem is that I do not believe that anyone really cares or will even bother to look/listen. Unlocking the door and having that vulnerability make no difference at all is perhaps what scares me most.

That is what vulnerability feels like to me.

I cannot recommend this book enough and whilst all I have said does near to no justice of Browns work, I hope that you are inspired to start some ponderance of emotion; that you take just a moment to think what language you use to describe emotion to yourself and how you can best share this with others.

Imogen Bowden is the Rural Representative for MUMUS Community and Wellbeing.

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