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How whole-hearted living can help us combat shame

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Whole-hearted living, the short version

Research shows how many, if not most of us, live with shame that obstructs our well-being. Wholehearted living is the antidote to shame. It is about living life from a place of worthiness, courage, and vulnerability and in doing so, better connecting with others and developing a sense of purpose and wholeness.

Whole-hearted living, the longer version

The work of Dr. Brené Brown and others has given us better insight into how shame rules many, if not most, of our lives. Nearly all of us, since childhood, have internalized a belief that we are broken, of little to any value, unworthy of acceptance and belonging.

Shame causes us to move through our lives concealing and limiting ourselves unnecessarily. Believing we are ugly or unworthy, we hide our true selves and behave how we believe others want us to believe. We keep ourselves from pursuing things that make us happy or filled with purpose because we believe we are not capable of or deserve them. We lash out at and put down others who do display confidence and self-worth because they shine a light on our own deficiencies. Shame puts a stopper on everything that allows us to move toward the lives we imagine for ourselves. Instead, it often pushes us toward our most destructive behaviors – depression, anxiety, addiction, and more.

Brown has put forth the concept of wholehearted living as the antidote to shame. As Brown put its:

“Wholehearted living is about engaging with our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.’ It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

You might also simply think of wholehearted living as a life of authenticity and vulnerability. Rather than acting how we believe others want us to act or hiding the parts of ourselves that we don’t believe will be accepted, we instead live our true selves, whether or not it is readily accepted by everyone. Through wholehearted living, we are better able to live a life of purpose and form meaningful, lasting relationships with others.

Brown stresses that wholehearted living is not a quality some of us are born with, but a learned practice. Basically everyone develops shame. Only some are able to overcome that shame, making the choice on a daily basis to take another path. While the road is longer and steeper for some, especially those who have faced acute trauma in their lives, everyone is able to begin down the road of wholehearted living.

According to Brown’s research, those living wholehearted lives typically have ten core qualities:

  1. Cultivating authenticity
  2. Cultivating self-compassion
  3. Cultivating a resilient spirit
  4. Cultivating gratitude and joy
  5. Cultivating intuition and trusting faith
  6. Cultivating creativity
  7. Cultivating play and rest
  8. Cultivating calm and stillness
  9. Cultivating meaningful work
  10. Cultivating laughter, song, and dance

None of these, of course, are easy practices. But nor are they incredibly complex or beyond any of our grasps. Above all else, wholehearted living is a practice that we can choose to inhabit. In doing so, we allow ourselves to let go of the pain and limiting messages we’ve held onto since childhood, and step into the lives we’ve always imagined for ourselves.

Recommended Reading

Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

by Brené Brown

A motivational and inspiring guide to wholehearted living, rather than just the average self-help book, with this groundbreaking work Brené Brown, Ph.D., bolsters the self-esteem and personal development process through her characteristic heartfelt, honest storytelling.

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Peter Schulte

Peter Schulte is the founder and editor of Kindling. Peter is also Senior Digital Engagement Associate for the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, connecting businesses to sustainable water practices. Peter holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies and a B.A. in Comparative Literature from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University. He lives in Bellingham, WA, USA with his wife, son, and cat.

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