Book Report: Atlas of the Heart

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Here’s the review of Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience, by Brené Brown (2021) that I promised recently. I think I am growing tired of self-help books or something, because this one didn’t impress me as much as some others I’ve read.

Pretty cover.

There were good parts to this book, which consists mostly of a discussion of a wide range of human emotions, which it turns out there is no agreed-upon number of nor many firm definitions. I enjoyed learning the difference between envy and jealousy, as well as pride versus hubris. Pride can be good. Hubris is not a good thing to have. You think you’re great, people think you’re awful, but you don’t care. Sound familiar?

I was disappointed that some of the emotions didn’t get much discussion. I would have liked more information on many of the complex ones. It felt like Brown just stopped at random points, inconclusively.

I liked this one. P. 244.

Anyway, the last part of the book is about a new grounded theory of meaningful connection. I’m all for meaningful connection. Combined with her concept of “near enemies,” Brown defines how to develop grounded confidence, the courage to walk alongside others, and practice story stewardship. The last is interesting to me, as it has to do with listening, believing and acknowledging, without giving advice, taking over people’s stories, or putting others down.

I think this is useful, but not as earth-shattering as it has been made out to be. A lot is common sense. Oh well, it’s helpful information, but it came across like a PowerPoint presentation not a full-fledged explanation. I’m being nit-picky.

And I’ll be eternally grateful for the concept of foreboding joy.

And one more thing. A whole lot of the book is quotes from her earlier books. It seemed a bit like padding. But hey, it’s on really nice paper and has lots of colors. I like colors.

Feeling a New Feeling

Two things have happened that are a fortuitous coincidence. One is my son and his partner moving nearby. The other is reading Brené Brown’s latest book, Atlas of the Heart.

The book has pretty quotes. This one fit in with my current ambivalence about expectations.

The book seems sorta silly in concept. It’s a list of definitions of human emotions. Apparently many people can only identify three emotions: happy, sad, and angry. So, perhaps at atlas is useful after all.

My son in 2019, by Rollie

I learned some interesting nuances about emotions, such as how jealousy and envy differ. But I also learned a new one that explained how I’ve been feeling about the possibility of having some of my family nearby.

I feel like I can’t be happy and look forward to fun times and what the future might bring. It’s called foreboding joy. Brown says it’s a nearly universal experience, especially for parents. Yeah. What a term. Foreboding joy. You can’t let yourself enjoy good things because you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Page 216 of Atlas of the Heart

That’s it. I’ll try to slide some real joy in the next few weeks. I need some goodness, strength, and courage! And I’ll write more about the book later. I’m pleased to have words to describe the weird feeling I’ve had lately. Hmm.

What’s This about Toxic Positivity?

I live around people who focus a lot on the good in their lives and strive to present themselves as happy. I respect that very much and love them for it. Everyone in my household has a gratitude practice, and two of them write about it in their journals every day. These are all very admirable things to do. I’m glad these practices are good for their mental well being.

Happy happy, joy joy! So what if it’s windy and my hair hurts!

I spend my “gratitude time” noticing what is going on right now that brings me joy. Yesterday I saw a coyote cross the road, then a bluebird flew by. Happiness! Today I smelled some lotion that brought happy memories to me. Living in the moment is also healing for the soul.

But sometimes, lately often, I notice people who simply don’t allow themselves to pay heed to or allow themselves react outwardly to the challenging parts of their lives. Some people close to me seem to want to force away anything that would cause pain, worry or stress to present a very cheerful persona. What I’m having trouble with is when people judge themselves and others (say, me) for not always being happy. Taken to an extreme, that’s toxic positivity.

Sometimes I just can’t do it. Like, hey, I’m annoyed by that backwards apostrophe.

I’m not the only person to notice it. I read this article recently, and it helped me see why I was feeling uncomfortable with the pressure to always present myself as happy. It’s why I’d practically growl at people who’d chirp “Smile!” at me if I was presenting myself as neutral or concerned. “Look, I’m thinking about my dead dog. I don’t want to smile.” Here’s how it feels to me:

A lot of us feel pressure to come across as though we are living our best lives. And I’m not saying everyone who says they are happy is actually not, or people who try to push “positive vibes” onto you don’t have your best interests at heart – but covering up your true feelings with layers of fake happiness is really not it.

Welcome to the world of toxic positivity: The trend which is ruining our lives, by Hayley Green

Especially right now, I have started to feel like I let my family down if I admit that I’m stressed at work, or had a bad experience, or even just feel a bit grumpy. I’m not negative all the time; in fact, I’m not positive all the time. I think my base is sort of neutral, so I’m not a little ray of sunshine nor do I walk under a dark cloud. I just experience what’s going on right now, which can be good, bad, or in between. It’s me. It’s how I am.

Carlton would rather hide from negativity.

I’m not alone, thankfully. One of my friends, who thinks about mortality a lot, wrote her own obituary today, and in it she said:

She spent her life resisting toxic positivity. Not because she didn’t see goodness in the world but because she saw all of it and didn’t deny the whole story.

JD, her obituary, Facebook

That’s okay with me. In fact, it made me happy to read what my friend said!

I found this handy example of how you can validate someone’s feelings without making them feel like they have to fake being happy with everything:

Image from sitswithwhit on Instagram

We’re All Different

This is NOT my message to my readers!

Look, I’m not knocking people who have found that focusing on the positive has improved their lives. I’m pleased for them, and encourage them to keep up that practice, because it works for them. I just hope that they can allow other emotions when they truly are valid.

It seems to me that it takes a lot of effort to push down anything that’s not 100% cheerful. It probably takes as much effort to be endlessly negative (I do know some of those folks, too, the ones who can take anything you say and find the down side).

So please, do what works for you to cope with the challenges you are facing every day. But consider that not everyone is cut out for being happy at all times, and that some of us don’t even want to. Let’s enjoy our differences and be patient with our friends and family who cope differently than we do. Then we can have some genuinely non-toxic positivity in our lives.

As a donkey, I make people happy, but I’m sort of an Eeyore. I can’t change.

Don’t Cry Now

Yeah. Don’t listen to that advice. It is perfectly appropriate to cry now. It’s just that when I saw that today’s UU Lent prompt was cry, the first thing I thought of was this Linda Rondstadt song.

I don’t cry anymore. Right around the time I started feeling better about myself, I stopped crying almost completely. I’ve teared up a couple of times, both from happiness and sadness, but I’ve only really cried twice that I can remember in the past year.

My good buddy Brody in 2018.

When my precious Brody got hit by a car and died, I certainly cried, as one does when they lose a family member. I found out that another heeler I know got hit and killed on the same road last week. Just punches you in the gut. You try to keep them in the fence, but they sure have a drive to chase.

My constant companion, at least for a long time. I think he’s standing in the same spot as Brody in the previous picture.

The last time I cried was just before we left on that ill-timed recent vacation. Once again, Penney had chased Vlassic off my bed. He’d already spent a couple of nights at my brother-in-law’s RV, and I’d missed him. I completely broke down at the thought of losing my little best friend, and a huge wave of grief took over for a while. I do still have issues with feeling deserted, especially when I’m feeling weaker. Having the hole in my soul from being deserted by the radiant Kynan (as his spouse calls him), I was vulnerable.

I’m okay now. I think Vlassic is safer and happier next door in the RV, and I get to see him nearly every day when we feed chickens and horses together. Jim needs a little friend, too. My generous higher self is dealing with it now.

Why Don’t I Cry?

I wish I knew. as a child and young adult, I had a very quick crying trigger. I was a “sensitive” one, and very easily hurt by name calling, bullying, and criticism (deserved or not). It’s one reason I tried to be so good as a child. If I was good, no one would yell at me or criticize me, and I wouldn’t start to cry, which would lead to more name-calling and being laughed at.

Stinging tears, like a thistle.

I’d always cry during difficult conversations or when I was feeling strongly about something. It made me so angry at myself when I wanted to be rational and strong, but I’d start to cry, even when the rest of me was trying to make a point or be articulate. No doubt I drove my romantic partners crazy with that. And that’s why I tried to avoid confrontation so much, because if I started crying, I’d always look weak.

I may have cried enough for a lifetime during the years surrounding my divorce from my kids’ dad. Maybe I used up all my tears on all my personal drama, much of which I made for myself, I now admit.

She cried a lot.

One thing’s for sure, crying at the drop of a hat was one of my least favorite habits/traits. It was harder for me to forgive myself for crying the times I was “let go” at jobs than over losing the jobs themselves. I am still pissed off at myself for letting that awful man who was jargoning and biz-speaking his way through running La Leche League into the ground see me cry, and for letting that absolutely horrid Dean at UT see me beg to keep a job I hated (because I thought I’d lose my kids with no income). Blech.

But, I don’t cry now. I occasionally get sad and I get angry, but I don’t cry, not even healing tears, like Vicki refers to above. I think crying when appropriate (say you have had just about enough of a certain pandemic) is healthy, but I just don’t. My only guess is that the antidepressant I take has muted my crying trigger.

Has that happened to any of you who admit to taking an antidepressant? I’m curious. I can still feel quite happy and quite annoyed (ask the people who live at my house about the annoyed part).

Thanks to the 100+ people who reacted to this post, and all of you who commented.

Please, if things get to be too much for you, let out those tears. If you need to vent, please do so, and don’t beat yourself up for venting about things that are trivial. No one will judge you for it, certainly not me. I’m happy to be there to listen, too, and hope that there are those of you out there who would listen non-judgmentally to me, too.

We’ll be together at our Austin house again, my friend.

Let’s muddle through together! And wipe those tears (on your own mask or tissue, please).

I Don't Want to Write about Justice

Nope. Don’t want to write about the next extra-PC concept the UU Lent folks brought forth, justice. My Instagram says it all. I got a rock.

Rocks are grounding, though. This is my grounding rock.

I’ve never seen a lot of justice out in the world. Luckily I do see small amounts of mercy, which I find more important, anyway. Creepy people do well. Good people fail and suffer. The wrong people get punished. Whatever. Just keep moving forward one day at a time and see what you learn, but don’t expect to learn a lot about justice.

Ugh

One of my friends on Facebook said it best yesterday:

Today I hit a wall.

FB Friend

I did, too. I was trying to work on my perky email newsletter for friends of LLL, and I just didn’t have any perky in me. I read too many articles on predicted deaths, people doing unsafe things, and tragedies. I always wondered how I’d cope with one of these weird times. I guess, like many, I’ll have good and bad days.

Folks, we are allowed to have bad days, to be sad, to miss things from our previous life, and to worry like crazy about people we care about (and people we don’t know who have it worse off than us). Let’s be gentle with each other and support the people who have a hard time, even while doing our best to keep our own spirits up.

Where I spent yesterday. My ridiculous bedroom would make a great isolation area.

So yep, I spent a lot of time in bed with the dogs, reading a book. It helped. The rest of the family all worked until late in the evening. I’m worried about them, too. But, we are all doing our best and trying to do self care!

We’re entertaining.

I’m glad I have the horses and chickens, who make me go outside even when the weather is awful (we have flooding today, which means the chicken food is a mess). I’m glad the dogs can run around and play, even when it’s raining.

Playing in the wildflowers.
I like the stripe colors, anyway.

I’m glad other people are finding stuff to do. I looked on Amazon just to see what books are popular right now. Best sellers were all preschool math, for some reason, I guess homeschooling. I looked in the crafts section. I had to chuckle, because I never saw so many adult coloring books in my life. My favorite was the obscene one. Maybe I’ll get it.

I shall try to be cheered by the basement office’s art and fake flowers.

Keep in touch with me, and with those you care about. I like hearing from everyone. It helps. Now to go be perky.

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