Atlas of the Heart cover

How to Not Feel Controlled by Your Feelings

Musings drawn from: Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown

The title of the book continues “Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of the Human Experience”.   I really love the idea of making emotional fluency transparent and pragmatic. This book, as its name “Atlas….” suggests, is truly a reference book, it is dense and didactic. This hefty book of emotions, so beautifully published, elicits in me the excited feeling of a wrapped gift (yes,I have wanted to be a psychologist forever).  

I have not read the book straight through, I keep it on the table next to me in session, and often turn to search for a definition, or a quick way to discern the difference between two emotions. 

In trying to simply describe my work as a  clinical psychologist I have described therapy as useful to help people learn to tune into their emotions that they are not aware of, or to tune down the emotions which are too loud inside of them. Being able to name how one feels is a key component for either task.  Before (and in addition to) this book, I find the “feelings wheel” to be a useful tool for clients.  Having nuanced awareness of our feelings is important, to tune into or tune down, the intensity of our emotional experience. 

I have always found myself so curious about people’s inner lives, and their experience of being in the world. In my first years as a psychologist I had so much book knowledge, and a tremendous desire to help others. I was curious if I would have an “answer” or at least a good theory to apply. When I went to look up curiosity in the Atlas, typical of Dr. Brown, I was introduced to research based data by George Lowenstien that defines curiosity as “choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty…” .  Over the last 25 years I have definitely learned how to be in the space of curiosity and allow more and more uncertainty. As a seasoned psychologist, I realize that  in this adventure of therapy, as soon as we are in an area that feels fresh and new, as soon as uncertainty is in the room, we are in the area of growth.

This book provides so much information on how to understand and explore your emotions. I am aware that there is an HBO MAX special based on this book, and to date I have not seen it, but I imagine I will enjoy it as I did with the Netflix special on Dr. Brown’s earlier work on vulnerability and shame.  The oeuvre she has brought to therapy rooms across the world, any of her other books, courses, or blogs are great beginnings to self discovery or adjuncts in a therapeutic process.

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