Review of Brené Brown’s Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone
By Eleanor Johnson

Braving The Wilderness is an inspirational and thought-provoking book. It would be beneficial to any reader who has ever felt alone or questioned where they belong. This is a trait that can often accompany many of those suffering from mental illness, but may well affect most of us.

The process of true belonging

Brené writes about complex ideas and questions things we sometimes take for granted, in a succinct and easily accessible way. She makes use of analogies, quotes, moments from her own life and wider historical events to explain the process of true belonging. I found myself marking almost every page with something meaningful. Things that would be useful to remember and take with me on my own steps into the wilderness.

Brené takes us on a journey which starts with exploring the definition of belonging. “True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.” She explores how feeling we don’t belong can be one of the things that bring us the most suffering in our lives and has only three outcomes:

“1. You live in constant pain and seek relief by numbing it and/or inflicting it on others; 2. You deny your pain, and your denial ensures that you pass it on to those around you … 3. You find the courage to own the pain and develop a level of empathy and compassion for yourself and others that allows you to spot hurt in the world in a unique way.”

Belonging to yourself

Belonging in its most recent societal and cultural form can lead to, “I became an expert fitter-in, a chameleon. And a very lonely stranger to myself.” Belonging to yourself takes vulnerability and courage but brings great reward. Brené describes how we can find safety and ease in “belonging” to one set group or another. Which political party you support, religious beliefs, a sports team, your views on difficult and controversial topics can all be times we feel we ‘belong’ to something.

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Yet, there may be times we disagree with our usual group or times we agree with someone from the opposing side. Maybe there are times our own believes stand solely on their own and others are, “…shaming us for not hating the right people. It’s definitely messier taking a nuanced stance, but it’s also critically important to true belonging”

At these times we can continue to “fit-in” but deny ourselves or delve into the wilderness and explore, find and accept who we are as an individual. We can belong to ourselves, “when we are willing to risk venturing into the wilderness, and even becoming our own wilderness, we feel the deepest connection to our true self and to what matters the most”.

Brave the wilderness

Brené describes how belonging to ourselves and acknowledging all the pain, joy and other emotions that come with that is what links us to those around us, “… the more we’re willing to seek out moments of collective joy and show up for experiences of collective pain … the more difficult it becomes to deny our human connection, even with people we may disagree with”. It is here, in these moments that we belong to that which binds us all – human spirit and connection.

Whilst reading Braving the Wilderness I found myself understanding more about some of my thoughts in my darkest hours. People would continually tell me: think about this group of people, about your family, your friends etc etc. I always wanted to scream “I need to find a reason for me …” Maybe it’s time I braved the wilderness and allowed myself to belong to me.

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