Whole-Hearted. Photo by Nick Fewings @ Unsplash

Being Whole-Hearted

A few years ago, I embarked on a journey of authenticity. Often, it can confused it with vulnerability. Whilst the two are connected, they don’t always go hand in hand. I guess you can be authentic selectively, but not always throw yourself in the arena. Yes, I read yet another book by Brene Brown. And yet another one that makes me want to take action. And actually, I read it twice in a row.

The resistance

No one says vulnerability is easy. In fact, for one reason or the other, even writing this article has not come easy. I started jt over 2 months ago (while I usually write any article in 30 minutes or less). I broke my once a week rule. I found different excuses. I found different things to do instead. Because I usually start without a set view of what I am going to write, was I afraid of what it would be? I am cool with being authentic, not a problem there. That is how this blog started. Authenticity can be rational. Even if it should not. I am not so cool with being vulnerable. There are a lot of feelings involved there.

A culture of disengagement

It is hard to deny we live in a culture of disengagement. If we can avoid feelings of discomfort, we will, even if that means avoiding the joy as well. I have been experimenting quite a bit to stay in uncomfortable places. I easily accommodate, change course or go rational when I feel emotional discomfort. That is my standard. In a way, I emotionally disengage. But through therapy and with some nudges from reading this book, I know I need to be more in the “arena”.

There are a group of people that are ‘whole-hearted’. Through research, Brene has identified the key characteristics of whole-hearted people. Funny enough, she was doing that to prove she was a whole-hearted person and that she had all of these characteristics. That did not quite work out the way she hoped for.

So what do these whole-hearted people do that many (most) people don’t?

Love and belonging has been shown to be a key part. For years, she refused to talk about love in her research. In fact, I think she went through 2 books without even a mention to it. Researchers avoid it because they can’t measure it. But as she went through the data and built her folder on whole-hearted people, love and belonging were unavoidable.

We can only love another as much as we love ourselves’

Brene Brown


Brene describes herself as a shame researcher. You can’t imagine that being a great ice breaker can you? It can be used in an effective manner though, when you DON’T want to make conversation!

But going back to shame. Shame is a strong feeling we are ashamed to have. We are ashamed of being ashamed. Which means we feed it just what it needs to thrive: Silence, Secrecy and Judgement. When we feel ashamed, we often stay silent, we often try to keep it secret and we are judging ourselves at all times. And that is the perfect growing ground for more shame.

Whole-hearted people seem to be better at shame than common mortals. They reality check and shed light on it. They talk about it. In the light of day. Shame, as a gremlin, can’t survive. It suddenly gains perspective and is no longer real. Or not as important. It’s like you say it out loud and suddenly realize how it is much smaller than it feels.


Whole-hearted people have a whole lot of empathy as well. But let’s be clear to not confuse empathy with sympathy. If you feel sympathy, you are sorry for someone, you are not there with them. The other day a colleague told me about one of those not-so-good mother moments. I smiled with her. I looked her in the eye and said:

‘Oh my, I feel you and I am sorry. That could totally happen to me.”

Empathy means you go in the hole your friend is in and stay there until it is time to come out together (hopefully). You don’t wave from the top of your flawless greatness wishing them well. And judging them for something you would think yourself uncapable of doing.

There is no judgement in empathy. Gosh, that is a hard one. I always thought myself empathic. But I am also quite the judging kind. I am working on unticking this box!

These 3 were the ones I chose to remember from the research on whole-hearted people. I am not here to give you a full faithful account of the book. That is why the book exists. Go get it, take a chance.

And next time, I will talk about vulnerability , cause yes, I avoided that pretty well this time round! 

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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