Brene Brown with her latest extensively researched book on human emotions has created a gem that should be taught in schools. Her book Atlas of the Heart, is a guide to the varieties of emotions we experience as a Human and how its understanding can help us better connect to ourselves and others. Trying to outrun feelings & vulnerability is choosing a life defined by suffering & exhaustion.
According to her team's research across 7000 participants, there were 3 primary emotions experienced by them:
Brene argues that actually there are nearly 87 emotions that we experience as a human but none of us are equipped with the right vocabulary to express which hinders our ability to form healthy connections.
Brené believes that having those insights into your emotional states allows you to feel connected to yourself, instead of feeling numb and disembodied. And that connection with the self creates the foundation for genuine, loving connections with other people.
For all the detailed definition of the various emotions, reading the book is a must but I will list here my favorite definition of Love described in the book-
Love - the preoccupying and strong desire for further connection, the powerful bonds people hold for select few and the intimacy that grows between them, the commitment to loyalty and faithfulness.
We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful self deeply seen and known & we honor the spiritual connection that grows from it with trust ,
Respect, kindness and affection.
Love is not something we give or get, it's something we nurture and grow, a connection that can grow between two people only when it exists within each one of them. We can love each other only to the extent we love ourselves. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, withholding of affection, damage the roots from which love grows, love can survive these injuries only if they are acknowledged, healed and reared.
Here are my 3 key takeaways from the book-
We need to start feeling
Most of us don’t fully feel. We numb, we avoid, we deflect, and we do anything to not feel painful or uncomfortable feelings, in an attempt to remain in control.
When we start feeling our feelings, we discover we need to do a lot of work to reevaluate ourselves, to reset boundaries, choose ourselves over the comfort of others.
We can’t outrun our feelings, and we need to be, to hold people accountable for their hurtful behaviors. If we don’t understand the link between thoughts and behavior, we become more and more disconnected from each other. There is a lot of disconnection in the world at the moment because we’ve lost the ability to see things from a different point of view, to extend empathy, to connect, and to have the courage to have some uncomfortable conversations.
But to do any of this successfully, we need language. Most people unfortunately can only recognize three big emotions; something looking like mad, sad, and glad. As a result, we’re only really accessing a tiny slice of what it means to be human. The more emotions that we can define, access, and recognise in ourselves and others, the wider and better the conversations we can have.
The categories of emotions
The book is structured into 13 groups of emotions;
The places we go when things are uncertain
The places we go when we compare
The places we go when things don’t go as planned
The places we go when it’s beyond us
The places we go when things aren’t what they seem
The places we go when we’re hurting
The places we go with others
The places we go when we fall short
The places we go when we search for connection
The places we go when the heart is open
The places we go in when life is good
The places we go when we feel wronged
The places we go to self assess
All of those clusters have several different emotions that sit within them, some of them are a mix of what we would commonly call positive and negative emotions (although many in the field would avoid this language).
Each emotion is then broken down to cover how it shows up in our bodies (the biology of the emotion), how families and communities shape our beliefs around the connection between feelings, thoughts, and behaviors (the biography), how to examine our go-to behaviors and recognizing the context of what we’re feeling or thinking (behaviours), and the backstory of each emotion (backstory).
3. The confused emotions
There’s lots of examples in the book around emotions that often get confused with each other. For example, the difference between stressed and overwhelmed, jealousy and envy, and the link between resentment and envy.
Brené shares an interesting conversation Professor Marc Brackett (author of Permission to Feel). She asked if resentment was linked to anger, and he said that it was linked to envy. This was a huge penny-drop moment for Brené who realised that the ‘anger’ she felt when she was resentful, was actually envy, usually because the other person was able to put a boundary in place that she wished she could, but felt like she couldn’t.
This ability to recognise the subtle nuance between certain emotions is so important for having better conversations with each other about how we feel. Another example was the subtle differences between disappointed, regretful, discouraged, resigned, and frustrated. If you’ve only got access to ‘mad, sad, and glad’, you might bunch all of those into ‘mad’. But actually there are really distinct differences in why those five emotions could be showing up.
The conversation you might have with someone who’s feeling disappointed when they felt like an outcome was outside of their control, versus the conversation you can have with someone who was able to identify as feeling frustrated are quite different conversations and therefore quite different questions, and empathy are required.
For this reason, this book is an absolute go-to resource for labeling, understanding, demystifying, and defining the emotions we all feel. Seeing where those lines are commonly blurred, and therefore our actions and behaviors might be too, is a pathway to meaningful connection.
Meaningful connection requires grounded confidence and a mindset of learning and improving.
Ultimately, all of this is a journey based in reflection, curiosity, empathy, mistakes, a lot of discomfort, and really a lifetime of work. This is not something that you’re going to read the book, and become a fully fledged, emotionally competent human. This is absolutely a lifetime of work, as Brené openly shares in her own stories throughout the book.
A lot of the content has been taken from the following blog-