Brene Brown is Wrong and So Am I

I listened to Brene Brown’s Netflix special last night and I loved it so much. Sometimes I think I AM Brene Brown. Well, not the research and science stuff. I don’t do that. But as a writer, I’ve spent most of my life figuring out how to write authentic characters, and more recently, how to write about my own life more authentically and vulnerably. I’ve been known to say that writing is opening up your wrist and bleeding on the page. Especially as I spend more time writing about Mormonism.

And yet.

I see many people around me who aren’t vulnerable and don’t value vulnerability. Many of my beloved family members are deeply hurt by what I call authenticity and vulnerability. They are offended by my attempts to write honestly about Mormonism. They don’t understand why I am so busy trying to point out all the flaws in an institution they love. Why don’t I spend more time practicing the values of duty, loyalty and service? Why can’t I keep my mouth shut and just do good stuff more often? Why do I think that examining what is good is so important when it seems to obvious to them what good is — and that the Mormon Church is goodness personified? After all, their lives were dramatically improved by being Mormon. The rules I criticize transformed them into better people. The focus on service and family may well have saved them.

I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy lately and I hate it. I hate books that are written by therapist and recommended to me. As a writer, I’m picky about my writing and many of these books are not well-written. I could name a whole slew of them, but instead I’m going to focus on The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. This is a book I hate because it’s reductive. It’s smarmy and overly stereotypical. It’s sexist. And I suppose I’m only beginning to understand the ways in which I use these as excuses not to learn the lesson I’m supposed to be learning. For many years, I’ve used the idea of love languages to insist that other people give me love in the way I like. Guess which way that is? I’m guessing that Brene Brown and I are both “language of affirmation” types. I like talking. I like words. I’m a writer, so this makes sense.

What I didn’t really pay attention to in The Five Love Languages until my therapist made me is to see that not everyone is comfortable or even capable of giving me love in that way. Not everyone finds using words to be easy. And to insist that they do that or they’re not giving me love is really unfair. Many of the people I love show their love without words.

My dad shows his love by buying me chocolates on Valentine’s Day, something he’s done for both his sons and daughters since the beginning of time.

My father-in-law shows his love by planning elaborate games at family events, even when I really wish we could just sit and chat for a couple of hours.

My husband shows his love by spending six hours making sure my new computer is up and running, usually while I’m asleep. He shows his love by making sure the dishes are done when I come home exhausted from a conference. He shows his love by fixing stuff. Is that one of the love languages? It’s not the way he receives love but it is the way he gives it.

He’s not going to sit down and talk to me about how vulnerable he feels when I write criticisms of the Mormon church he loves. He’s not going to tell me he loves my books or my intelligence. He just doesn’t use words this way. It doesn’t feel like love to him. It feels stiff and awkward.

I can spend the rest of my life being unhappy that he isn’t vulnerable with me or that he doesn’t appreciate my authenticity. Or I can learn to accept that he shows love differently and that insisting everyone do love my way is gratifying to me, but isn’t really all that loving.

So while I still believe in the importance of creating a safe space for us to be real and of loving each other’s flaws and making sure everyone in our family belongs and isn’t required to fit in, I think that this often doesn’t look like the conversation Brene Brown talks about with her husband. Sometimes it’s setting up chairs. Sometimes it’s making sure the ham is done on time for Christmas dinner. Sometimes it’s showing up. And that’s also authentic, even if it’s without words.

Written by

Author of The Bishop’s Wife mystery series, The Mormon Sabbatical Podcast, Princeton PhD, fiction editor at Exponent II, autist, she/her

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