Monday, April 20, 2015

Book Review: I Thought It Was Just Me (But it Isn't) By Brene Brown

I found this book while looking at various books on how emotions impact our behavior. I had never thought of shame as being a subject of study, but when it hit me I began looking for a good book on it. Most of the books I looked at were the whole “You feel ashamed because you’re not doing what GOD wants you to do!” So I was really looking for a secular, research based book.

I’m really happy I found this one. Based on seven years of research and hundreds of interviews, “I Thought it was Just Me (But it Isn’t)" by Brene Brown outlines ways to identify shame, explains how shame impacts our thoughts and behavior, as well as how to develop the author’s definition of “shame resilience.”

The author uses personal stories as well as many, many examples from women she interviewed to explain the key concepts in her book. I really appreciated the way the ideas build on one another in order to paint a full picture of the many dimensions of shame.

This certainly is not light reading. I don’t mean that it uses a lot of psychology lingo that goes over your head. It is very reader friendly and the author defines every word that might be considered jargon. But it is very emotional. Not “Hallmark movie” emotional, rather the jarring harshness of throwing light on realities and truths that most of us try to keep hidden.

When I began, I planned to blaze through this book and take a bunch of notes and be epically smarter in a week! Well, I was epically smarter at the end of reading the book (I learned a lot) but I had to take my time. I had to think about how I felt about many emotions that I had not wanted to think about before, in both myself and others. Another reason it took me longer to read is the sheer amount of information in the book.

Not only are key areas  of shame discussed (The areas being: appearance and body image, motherhood, family, parenting, money and work, mental and physical health, addiction, sex, aging, religion, being stereotyped and labeled, speaking out, and surviving trauma), but the following is also covered: Shame triggers, compassion, empathy, reaching out, speaking shame, authenticity, critical awareness, identifying wanted and unwanted identities, fear, blame, courage, and connection. The areas of discussion remain focused – the book never loses sight of the thesis, but you can apply the information to a ton of aspects of life.

I found it was hard to discover things about shame in regards to myself and people I care about. I hadn’t realized how much shame some people I know are carrying around. For myself, before reading about shame I would have said I probably have issues with shame, but I was surprised to learn I actually have more guilt-based reactions than shame based reactions (there’s a difference!) and after examining past shameful experiences I found that I actually display quite a bit of “shame resilience.” I was able to put words and psychological concepts to some emotions and reactions I’ve had and seen from others.

So, as you can see, I highly recommend this book. Overall I give this 4.5/5. That being said, I had a few quibbles.

A) The first isn’t really a quibble since Brown addresses this at the end: This book is about women and shame but I also wanted to read about men and shame. Brown comments in the end that she is now researching men and shame. There better be a book on this research, because I want to read it! Ultimately I think it will do the subject more justice having two books, one focusing on men, the other on women. But I don’t like waiting :P

B) There was no commentary on disability. I thought for sure, having interviewed hundreds of women, that there would be at least one quote focusing on disability. But there wasn’t. Sure, some of the topics like body image and aging could fit that, but I was really hoping for an insightful look at some aspect of disability. I know this is a “mainstream” book but there were quotes about race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. So I was kind of let down that there was no disabled voice. Because it could have added a lot. I’m not asking for a whole chapter to be dedicated to it, but so many have/develop a disability in life, and I feel that aspect was missing here. Not that the information can’t be applied to disability anyway, because it can.

C)  I know you can’t please everyone, but the author made a couple remarks about porn, indirectly commenting that it was bad. Considering the epic amount of shame surrounding porn, it was a “head-thunk-on-desk” moment for me. These comments were made in really indirect ways – she just commented that it could be empowering to speak out against things you don’t like such as certain types of magazines or pornographic movies in video stores. I repeat, very indirect. But the very complex emotions, misunderstandings, and well, a million other things about porn, I was kind of bummed that it was mentioned in this way.

As you can see my quibbles are slight. I learned a lot from this book and I encourage others to read it. Just be warned, this is the real deal. It’s tough, but it’s also very helpful. You’ll have to take your time. But for me, it was well worth the journey.


  1. Reading your quibbles, I somehow suspect the reason she didn't do anything on disabilities is that there are so many different kinds of disabilities, and not all of them bring shame in the same way. You'd honestly need an entire book just for them, if you were to approach and give them the time in any way that wasn't disrespectful to those bearing said disabilities.

    For instance, more "hidden" disabilities like learning disabilities or psychological disorders like Tourette's or OCD bring an entirely different kind of shame with them than do more obvious disabilities like massive physical scarring on an obvious part of the body, or congenital disorders like albinism. Physical disabilities that combine both physical hardship and abnormal physical appearance bring their own types of shame that are different from the previous two types of disabilities.

    Considering the depth the author went into her other examples, I feel she might not have felt she had enough space to properly approach the subject of disability shame without it either overtaking or massively extending her book, or being so shallow as to be disrespectful and mostly useless. Perhaps you can contact her and see if she would have interest in doing a book specifically about disability shame... perhaps, not being disabled herself, it's a subject she didn't even truly think about writing on.

    1. I get what you're saying. But at the same time no one experiences aging, sexual orientation, or parenting the same way but they are sources of shame. She could have written a whole book on shame and any of these topics. My point is just that she could have included a couple quotes from disabled women. I don't care if they are blind, in a wheelchair, have an invisible disability, are an amputee, are deaf, whatever. She used examples to explain the broader picture, not go into depth about the specific situation. So there was no reason she couldn't have used issues in disability to explain some things. Most of the concepts she used multiple quotes from many different situations. I was just surprised that no example of disability arose when she used quotes about race and sexual orientation. Like I said, a quibble at the most.