Book review for Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience by Brené Brown


The author writes about how most people do not have the emotional language to name all the emotions experienced which can lead to mental, physical, and spiritual health problems. The fact that everyone faces stressors daily but feel it based on our thoughts not body reaction. Her research identifying emotions asked people to name the ones they experienced. The average number of answers was only three. That limited vocabulary, she says, can result in a crisis.

She delves into how envy and jealousy are different, and jealousy is more acceptable to say even though its envy being shown; but jealousy can have more dire consequences. Brown states that we can all use freudenfreude as a form of support for ourselves and others and how resentment is about ourselves not being able to have or do like others, not the other person’s fault. Freudenfreude is finding joy in other people’s success which is beneficial to our mental health, as opposed to schadenfreude which is finding joy in another’s misfortune and a cause of shame and guilt because of the insecurity and cruelty that was sparked.

I found it interesting how she shared her concept of resentment as partly cause of an unwanted identity which is one of the most powerful elicitors of shame and bitterness. She goes into comparison being a “pervasive social phenomenon” that we do that affects our well-being, self-concept and level of aspiration. It’s a creativity kill that tries to force us into conformity.

While delving into regret, expectations, disappointment, resignation, and boredom, she notes how it can leave us either wound up or lethargic based on our control of the situation then goes into the mild discomfort or deep pain that can lead to a disconnect followed by regret and feeling vulnerable. She says self-awareness is asking for and understanding why we need it.

With wonder, awe, curiosity, confusion, surprise and interest Brown notes that we can be overwhelmed by the expanse of something that is almost incomprehensible, how confusion can lead to motivation to trigger problem solving which is effortful and effective then a brief swoop into the shortest duration emotion which is surprise.

The often-conflicting emotions of amusement, nostalgia, cognitive dissonance, bittersweetness, irony, paradox, and sarcasm have an air of familiarity but what if two of them are contradictory and venture into complexity. Our willingness to stay in that confusing emotion can be a teaching moment while nostalgia isn’t always truthful, and we must recognize the inconsistencies so as not to be disconnected or fall into rumination. Cognitive dissonance is when one holds two inconsistent cognitions thereby creating tension and justification. The opposite is paradox because there the conflicting ideas inform the other.

Anguish, despair, grief, hopelessness, and sadness are discussed in comparisons with anguish never truly fading away. Hopelessness and despair are both emotions and experiences and can result in self-blame. When hopelessness and sadness flood our emotional landscape, despair is the result. Knowing sadness is life and it makes the connection to other people a collective “us.” Grief, being different has the elements of loss, longing, and feeling lost; and has to be shared to work through the process of grieving.

Compassion, empathy, comparative suffering, pity, sympathy, and boundaries lends into the debate about whether struggling souls deserve compassion or empathy which is a skill that connects us with humanity. Empathy is about connection while sympathy is a form of disconnection, a distant concern which the author takes one step further to discuss boundaries and the need for autonomy.

In the chapter on shame, perfectionism, self-compassion, humiliation, guilt, and embarrassment led into the author’s research on the connection between violence and humiliation. She says shame is based on the self, not a behavior. Guilt is a behavior. Humiliation occurs at our belittlement and feeling that we do not deserve the unworthiness making it different from shame which based on her research thrives on secrecy, judgment, and silence. On perfectionism the author notes that acceptance and approval are at its core. Guilt then happens when we fall short of expectations set for ourselves.

Belonging, connection, fitting in, insecurity, invisibility, disconnection, and loneliness are discussed with belonging (diversity, inclusion, and equity) being first and its essential nature for humans despite its vulnerability. Stronger connected individuals are said to be happier, healthier, and better able to handle stress. Loneliness she says is more dangerous to health that excessive drinking. Insecurity goes deeper than self-doubt and she notes that we can have insecurity despite having high self-esteem because of a self-critical nature. She ends that chapter with the dehumanization and disconnection that leads to the painful human experience of invisibility.

Love, heartbreak, lovelessness, self-trust, trust, defensiveness, betrayal, and hurt are brought up next. Love cannot be given or gained but instead is nurtured and grown. We can only love others as much as we love ourselves and is damaged by betrayal as well as, shame, blame, and disrespect. Brokenhearted are the bravest among us because of the trust they lent. Betrayal, the violation of trust, can be healed but it is rare the author says because it requires healing, strength and vulnerability.

Joy is a sudden, internal, short-lived, higher intensity, spiritual, less-effort version of happiness, which is self-focused, circumstantial, and external trait, not a state. Foreboding joy is about being afraid to partake in wonderful moments because you live in fear of the bad things that can happen. Relief the author says is tension leaving the body while calm is about managing emotional reactivity, is intentional, and contagious.

Pride (a feeling of pleasure), humility (openness and accurate assessments of personal contributions), and hubris (inflated sense of ones abilities along with a need for dominance) are differentiated by pride’s positive connotation with self-esteem, hubris negative correlation to narcissism and lack of care what others think, and humility meaning groundedness that’s genuine, quiet, and powerful and the key to confidence and healthy social interactions.

Anger (an action emotion healthy in the short term) exists on a continuum from mild to rage by activating the nervous system which affects our health over time. Fear, betrayal, injustice, shame, vulnerability were noted by the author’s research participants when asked about anger which thereby is seen as a secondary emotion. Contempt, criticism, stonewalling, and defensiveness are damaging communication patters. Disgust comes about as an aversion toward something we find offensive whether identified through senses or ideas. Disgust towards people protects us from contamination of the soul as opposed to toxins that would hurt our body. Left unchecked, disgust leads to dehumanization which closes us off and removes empathy. Finally, hate is harder to do the closer you are to people and can only be minimized by seeing things from the other persons point of view.

This book on self-actualization is replete with studies, theories, and examples that must be read in its entirety to achieve the maximum benefit, particularly the notes on Martin Seligman on resilience and its personalization, permanence, and pervasiveness. I highly recommend this easy read that informs us on how we can be physically, mentally, and spiritually changed by understanding the information delivered in this book. Get it here.

Until my next post, why not check out my YA novels about mental illness, memoir writing, or even my Native American mystery series on Amazon, or follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreadsLinkedInBookbub , BookSprout, or AllAuthor.

Book review: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

The author proffers some important lessons such as: values that are uncontrollable are bad, improving takes letting go of assumptions, and focusing on leaving a legacy can be detrimental.

The key takeaways are:

  1. Avoid the constant pursuit of satisfaction because true happiness consists in only worrying about the essentials because you can only create positive experiences by experiencing the negative ones.
  2. Stop believing that you are unique because it leads to being entitled without sacrifice, i.e., grandiose narcissism bases itself on the belief that you deserve special treatment, and victim narcissism takes into account I’m bad and everyone else is great, so I deserve special treatment. Both lead to complacency.
  3. Accept reality as it is; don’t fall subject to self-help books promise of constant happiness and take responsibility for your own emotions and realize that dealing with negative ones is a daily struggle. Don’t avoid the problems.
  4. Happiness is a science (values are hypotheses, action are experiences and results are data) which requires smart decision making based on results not fear.
  5. Values are prerequisite to happiness and the ones you fight for define yourself.
  6. Take responsibility to focus your energies on improving your life.
  7. Choose how to react to life because we control our emotional response to problems.
  8. Doubt your beliefs because then you’ll steadily improve over time.
  9. Reduce your ego so you can improve by asking yourself what if I’m wrong, what would it mean if i was wrong, and would an error have a better or worse problem than my current problem?
  10. Failure is the key to improvement; instead of worrying about it and becoming stagnant, try it again.
  11. Better to do something that nothing because it leads to motivation.
  12. Say no so you can say yes so you can truly stand up for one thing even though you are denying another issue.

He also goes into the 3 lessons you need to know which are: only hold values that you can control, certainty hampers growth, and don’t obsess over leaving a legacy.

All in all, it’s an astounding book that backs its statement up with studies and facts about prominent people. While it defies the self-help industry, many of those books leave you wanting something elusive that you’re missing. It’s a good, albeit tedious read at certain points, but worth the effort. Get it here.

Until my next post, why not check out my YA novels about mental illness, memoir writing, or even my Native American mystery series on Amazon, or follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreadsLinkedInBookbub , BookSprout, or AllAuthor.

Book review: Clean by Amy Reed

Simon Pulse, 2011

Clean by Amy Reed

This YA novel is told with a five-person narrative in addition to the patients’ detailed personal essays and compelling substance abuse questionnaires. While I both like to read and write from alternate viewpoints, I was concerned five would be too much but then remembered how much I enjoyed The Poisonwood Bible. That was also five perspectives being the mother and the four daughters caught up in the Belgian Congo in 1959. Well besides both being five viewpoints, they couldn’t be any more different. These five patients in a rehab center come together not on their own accord but end up enhancing the lives of the other characters, if only for a brief moment in time.

Olivia, Kelly, Christopher, Jason, and Eva have hit the rock bottom of addiction. The individual voices were unique, honest and intriguing and portrayed their distinct frame of minds as they confronted their pasts amidst forced introspection in this new group of strangers. The difficult, often gut-wrenching concepts of the danger of drugs and the necessity of help were well written, albeit occasionally choppy because of the format. But it was heartening to know that there is hope out there, so you don’t have to be alone once they stopped resisting treatment as is common with teens.

All in all, the characters were relatable in this fast-moving story about hope and guidance despite bad backgrounds and experiences. It was reminiscent of the 1985 teen movie, The Breakfast Club as to how the five teens were thrown together, not knowing they needed one another and ultimately touched each other’s lives amidst the harrowing nature of life’s circumstances and sometimes obstacles.

Until my next post, why not check out my YA novels about mental illness, my memoirs, or Native American mystery series on Amazon, or follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreadsLinkedInBookbub , or AllAuthor.

Book review: When We Collided by Emery Lord

Bloomsbury, 2016

In this intensely romantic and emotional rollercoaster of a story, Vivi is the type of girl who wants to live her life to the fullest and to record her passage through life, but she has a disease: bipolar disorder. Although she wants to live, the treatment leaves her to be miserable and so she stops taking her medications. Jonah is a boy who lost his father to a heart attack. He and his two older brothers have to take care of the house and their three little brothers. Jonah doesn’t really get to experience everything other kids his age do while Vivi does whatever she possibly can. Throughout the novel, the two characters learn a lot from each other and learn to engage in a lot of new things they usually wouldn’t.

This YA novel was filled with many moments of suspense and joy as it brought out so many different perceptions of each character and overall was just a very exciting read as its storyline is magnificent with its appreciated details that take you into Vivi and Jonah’s world. This well-written experience about accepting yourself and helping others while continuing to live on even though things might not be at their best right now and taking life rain and shine. It’s about how sometimes even our scars can help others and give a little bit of light to those we meet. This book shows how lives can be messy but beautiful while still leaving an impact on so many others, too.

Enjoyed this post? Why not check out my YA novels about mental illness or Native American mystery series on Amazon, or follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreads, LinkedInBookbub , or AllAuthor.

Book review for Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 

Harper Perennial, 2008, c1990

I first read this book in a University of Minnesota class for continuing education students and was happily surprised. This book helps you become a better person. Mihaly challenges you to get out of the lull that you droll through every day and to see the “moment” for what it really is: a poignant opportunity to improve. And on top of that, once we get into the habit of self-challenging and achieving goals, then the process becomes seamless and almost “Flow’s” naturally. This book gave some insights on how to cultivate the flow experience. It is not exactly a how-to book, but it does give some suggestions.

source: Ethan Banks via Pexels

Flow is talked about as a tool to enrich lives and make the most out of work-life, free time, or learning, which is why it was a necessary read for returning college students not used to the rigorous studies that lay ahead of them. This state of “flow,” or optimal experience—a state that is hard to describe but basically encompasses measured, precise concentration on an intellectually or physically satisfying task.

It is very comfortable to read and not too scientific and the author tries to stay objective. I laughed a few times in a kind of it’s funny because it’s true sort of way. The only downside of the book I would mention again is that it isn’t a how-to book, I got so excited by the notion of flow and optimal experience I wanted a formula but that is almost impossible because of the fluid nature of being in flow and everyone’s individual preferences, goals, and abilities.

Enjoyed this post? Why not check out my YA novels about mental illness, memoir writing, or Native American mystery series on Amazon, or follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreads, LinkedInBookbub , BookSprout, or AllAuthor.

Book review: The Place Between Breaths by An Na

Atheneum, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2018

This little, cerebral thriller of a book packs a punch. However, there’s a few things to consider before you read it. It is a book about mental health and schizophrenia. It is not a fluffy cuddly book. This one bites, and confuses. The author has South Korean origins, meaning that the Eastern influences are heavy in the writing style of the book. And why do I say both things before I even review the book? Because if you’re expecting a perfectly “coherent” fluffy book, this book is not it and it definitely isn’t a Western view of the world even if it is set in the US.

Throughout the novel we get to know Grace, who saw her mother deteriorate in the grips of schizophrenia, and then ultimately disappear from her life. Her mother has never been found, which has led Grace’s father on a desperate quest to find a cure for this debilitating illness. Grace interns at the lab where her father works. He is a headhunter, bringing in the top scientists from around the world to join forces in search of the key that will unlock a cure for Grace’s mother—the love of his life—if only they could find her.

This is a non-linear novel that uses the seasons of the year to anchor you in the story. Na is a master of imagery and it felt to me that her arresting descriptions of the weather coincided with Grace’s moods and mental state. I could be reading too much into it, but nothing in this book felt accidental.

In addition to jumping back and forth between the seasons and around in the story, the reader is also left to parse between reality and delusion. This made for an intriguing and gut-wrenching, but unenjoyable read. Though, I would argue that “enjoyable” was not the goal, and for this I was glad.

Though a novel, this did not read like an attempt to make schizophrenia into entertainment. This felt like a deft effort to bring understanding to an illness that continues to be misunderstood, despite decades of research. The portrayal of this mental illness and how it breaks the mind apart from the inside out was honest and elegant. It does not glorify the disease but rather exposes it in all its gruesome tragedy.

It was definitely worth the read, and I believe an important work for helping people understand what schizophrenia looks like from the inside out. It’s a confusing illness, and to wrap up the story with a neat little bow would have been disingenuous. In the end, I appreciated the beauty and tragedy, and clarity and confusion Na wove together to create this novel. There are a lot of twists and intriguing bits in the story where at first you aren’t sure but as the story progresses you begin to realize how much Grace is fighting and what “enemy” she’s fighting. In my opinion it was a clever book with the way it sets things and how it leaves you guessing

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Book review: This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

Farrar Straus Giroux, 2013

Photo by Pixabay on

This book is about a misfit trying to find her place in the world. For most of her life, Elise has been an outsider when it comes to making friends. So the summer before her sophomore year, Elise uses current trends and fashion in one last attempt to be accepted by her peers. However, it goes horribly wrong, and Elise attempts suicide but realizes that she isn’t serious about it. When Elise, an avid music lover, has trouble sleeping, she goes on long walks, and one night she happens upon a hidden dance club. Elise feels that she has finally found a place to fit in with the kids in the club in addition to the DJ playing the music.

Elise’s road to acceptance and freedom isn’t smooth, and through the bumps along the way she finally finds who she’s meant to be. Elise is smart and funny and very relatable. She is so real and suffers from such a painful combination of self-scrutiny, naivety about others, and deep convictions about what’s really important in life and who is really on her side, half of which are wrong. Most of her observations and sentiments are spot on, though some of her interactions with her family seem to be her pretending to be someone else. It does deal with tough subjects of suicide, fitting in and cyber bullying in a moving, insightful, inspiring and often comedic way.

Elise’s love of music is a huge part of her story, and there are many references to bands and songs throughout, so some teens or twenty-somethings will love it. Older readers might not be interested enough to follow Elise on her journey of self-acceptance. Others will see it as a brilliant story about a young woman trying to find where she fits in the world, discovering her talents & joy through music and finding her own sense of community which will make it a fun, inspiring read.

Enjoyed this post? Why not check out my YA novels or Native American mystery series on Amazon, or follow me on TwitterInstagramFacebookGoodreads, LinkedInBookbub , or AllAuthor.

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