Book Review of “Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience” by Brene Brown

The heart of “Atlas of the Heart” is a 20+ year research study by a social worker, however, it reads like poetry and looks like art. Any lay person can read this book, understand and benefit from the concepts that are beautifully mapped between the covers. I recommend this as a slow read, to sip and savor, sometimes just one page, or even one sentence at a time.

Brene believes that language, specifically the language of emotion, is crucial to improving relationships. She breaks down 87 emotions into 13 chapters defined as “places we go when…” The places we go include when things aren’t what they seem and when we self-assess. The 87 emotions are listed and explained in a way that pushes both our emotional vocabulary and intelligence. Schadenfreude is pleasure from another’s misfortune. Jealousy and envy are not the same thing. Brene defines, compares, and examines each emotion so the reader sits in the emotion with her. I believe that this sitting, this potent and precise feeling, is a powerful practice for the soul.

Here are a few samples to sit with. I recommend giving each paragraph its own slow digestion:

“The greatest threat to story stewardship is the two near enemies of building narrative trust: narrative takeover and narrative tap-out. Rather than building trust by acknowledging, affirming, and believing, we shut people down when we experience discomfort or disinterest, or when we take over the narrative and make it about our perception of what happened.”

“Power within is defined by an ability to recognize difference and respect others, grounded in a strong foundation of self-worth and self-knowledge.”

“Look people in the eye. Even when their pain is overwhelming. And when your hurting and in pain, find the people who can look you in the eye”.

“Pride is a feeling of pleasure or celebration related to our accomplishments or efforts. Hubris is an inflated sense of one’s own innate abilities that is tied more to the need for dominance than to actual accomplishments. Humility is openness to new learning combined with a balanced and accurate assessment of our contributions, including our strengths, imperfections, and opportunities for growth.”

Brene Brown, the author, doesn’t believe that we can walk in another’s shoes. She doesn’t believe that humans can read each other’s emotions but that we need to utilize precise language to cross that barrier of misunderstanding. What emotion do you think is most commonly misunderstood (please comment below)?

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