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On this episode of Unlocking Us

We asked for your Atlas of the Heart questions and, man, did you deliver. More than 1,500 questions poured in. So, in this final episode of our Sisters Book Club, Ashley, Barrett, and I answer as many questions as we can, tackling how emotional literacy affects self-awareness, how family patterns affect emotions, and how emotionally intense moments affect our decision-making. We also discuss the powerful connections between art and emotions, as well as how parents can bring this work to their teenagers. –

About the guests

Brené Brown

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston, where she holds the Huffington Foundation Endowed Chair at the Graduate College of Social Work. She also holds the position of visiting professor in management at the University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business.

Brené has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She is the author of six #1 New York Times bestsellers and is the host of two award-winning podcasts, Unlocking Us and Dare to Lead.

Brené’s books have been translated into more than 30 languages, and her titles include Atlas of the HeartDare to Lead, Braving the Wilderness, Rising Strong, Daring Greatly, and The Gifts of Imperfection. With Tarana Burke, she co-edited the bestselling anthology You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience.

Brené’s TED talk on the Power of Vulnerability is one of the top five most-viewed TED talks in the world, with over 60 million views. Brené is the first researcher to have a filmed lecture on Netflix, and in March 2022, she launched a new show on HBO Max that focuses on her latest book, Atlas of the Heart.

Brené spends most of her time working in organizations around the world, helping develop braver leaders and more courageous cultures.

She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, Steve. They have two children, Ellen and Charlie, and a weird Bichon named Lucy.

Ashley Brown Ruiz headshot

Ashley Brown Ruiz

Ashley Brown Ruiz is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker certified by the State of Texas. She received a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies with a specialization in Early Childhood Education from Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. Fueling a passion from working over a decade in a Title 1 school in Houston ISD, Ashley pursued a Master of Social Work from the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work. As part of her role as Senior Director of The Daring Way, she leads The Daring Way Internship Program with students seeking a master’s degree in Social Work. Ashley works with the interns to run therapy groups at different agencies around the Houston area. Her experience comes from working with women in residential recovery, adolescents in recovery, and middle school girls. Ashley’s ability to model and teach vulnerability and courage allows her to help clients pull together all the pieces of their lives to help them move toward the life they hope to create. She is a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator and a member of the National Association of Social Workers.

Barrett Guillen headshot

Barrett Guillen

Barrett Guillen is (OFFICIALLY) Chief of Staff for Brené Brown Education and Research Group and (UNOFFICIALLY) the boss of Brené. With her team, Barrett supports both Brené and the organization by helping to prioritize competing demands, managing relationships, and building connective tissue and strategy across all business initiatives. Barrett holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Kinesiology from the University of Houston. After more than a decade in education in the Texas Panhandle, Barrett and her family made the move back to the Houston area to join the BBEARG team in making the world a braver place. Having the opportunity to work with her sisters every day has been one of the great joys of her life. Outside the office, you can find Barrett spending time with her family (immediate and extended), enjoying her daughter’s games, eating her husband’s famous burgers, floating in the water (any water!), or on the pickle ball court.

Show notes

Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown

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

In Atlas of the Heart, Brown takes us on a journey through eighty-seven of the emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human. As she maps the necessary skills and an actionable framework for meaningful connection, she gives us the language and tools to access a universe of new choices and second chances—a universe where we can share and steward the stories of our bravest and most heartbreaking moments with one another in a way that builds connection.

Over the past two decades, Brown’s extensive research into the experiences that make us who we are has shaped the cultural conversation and helped define what it means to be courageous with our lives. Atlas of the Heart draws on this research, as well as on Brown’s singular skills as a storyteller, to show us how accurately naming an experience doesn’t give the experience more power, it gives us the power of understanding, meaning, and choice.


Brené Brown: Hi, everyone, I’m Brené Brown.

Barrett Guillen: I’m Barrett Guillen.

Ashley Ruiz: I’m Ashley Ruiz.

BB: And this is Unlocking Us.


BB: This is part three of our three-part Sister Series Book Club on Atlas of the Heart. Can you believe it?

BG: Oh my gosh. It’s been so fun.

ABR: Yeah, so fun.

BB: What’s been your favorite part so far Ash?

ABR: The rapid fire questions on you. [laughter]

BG: I was going to say the same thing.

BB: That’s what your favorite part has been too?

BG: Yeah, I think it’s been really fun, but I’m actually really excited today to dig in to other people’s questions.

BB: Okay, so in the first two episodes of our Sister Series, Ashley and Barrett turned the tables on me and interviewed me about the new book, and y’all killed it by the way.

ABR: Thank you.

BG: It was so fun, but I’d have to tell you, it’s harder being on that side of the microphone than it looks so… Damn, you make it look easy.

ABR: Yeah. You do.

BG: And somebody somewhere put a comment that said, “Sisters leading the podcast, Brené is still the boss.”

BB: I think because I said that.

ABR: You totally did.

BB: I think I said that in the podcast, I’m like, that’s, “Y’all are leading it, but just understand that I’m still the boss.” [laughter]

ABR: She’s like, “I’m nervous. I don’t know why I’m nervous though, because I’ll just say ‘No.’” I’m still the boss.

BB: Enneagram… enneagram number one represents. Still the boss.


BB: Okay, so we have some not live callers but we have people who called in questions for this episode.

BG: Yes, totally.

ABR: Yeah, those are good questions.

BB: I think we’d just jump in. What do y’all think?

ABR: Yeah, well, let’s give a big shout out to Ronda, who’s our senior director of research, who just vetted all of the questions and pulled some together for us.

BG: We literally got in 1500 questions.

BB: No, Oh my God. This is like Frasier Crane level.

BG: Frasier Crane.

BB: You got a caller. Hello, caller.

ABR: I’ll sit outside your window and do that.

BB: Oh yeah, the producer. Yeah, yeah. Ronda, thank you so much. You kicked ass per usual.

ABR: Yes.

BB: Alright, you want to start with the first one? It’s like… Let’s see. Dan calling from Kirksville, Missouri. Alright, let’s listen to Dan’s question.

Dan: Hi, this is Dan calling from Kirksville, Missouri. What inspired this book? What sets this book apart from others you have written?

BB: God was there not an easier one to start with? [laughter]

BG: Hit the ground running, like they say.

BB: Yeah, I guess so. The inspiration for the book was probably more… Which I’ll agree that every time I write a book or we develop a curriculum for either of the Daring Way or Dare to Lead, there is an emotional literacy component.

ABR: Oh, yes.

BG: Totally.

BB: Yeah, so I think I’ve always been thinking about it. I’ve always been concerned about it. I go back to the quote that’s in the book from Ludwig Wittgenstein, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” And I think… I don’t know, after looking at the 7000 plus respondents that could only identify three, and then spending all this time in organizations working with leaders, I think talking to facilitators around the world who are running the curriculum, I just… The lack of self-awareness, in folks is not overcomeable without language and the study of emotion. It just… We are not rational, cognitive Vulcans. We are emotional beings, and people are trying so desperately to become more self-aware without the lexicon and language to do it, and so… I don’t know, it was weird. It feels like… I don’t know if I’m going to say this the right way, it feels like something completely different than I’ve ever done, and also the culmination of all my work. Maybe you get to the end of The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, Braving the Wilderness, Dare to Lead and then you’re like, “Shit, we can do a lot of important work but we still don’t have the language.”

BG: Yeah.

ABR: Yeah.

BG: Totally.

BB: Y’all are both former teachers. Do you ever get to the point where you’re just in a classroom like, “Oh my God, I’m trying to teach these things and they don’t have any of the fundamentals?”

ABR: Totally, but I’ll also say with Atlas, it’s almost like, one of those things like you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s like I didn’t know how off I was even around asking for help for myself because I was saying how I was feeling wrong.

BB: Oh, me too.

ABR: Yeah, so I can totally see that playing out in a classroom where they didn’t have the fundamental language, but I didn’t even know I was getting it so wrong. And it wasn’t really wrong, but one of the things I’ve always loved about implementing your work as a facilitator is, just giving language around feelings that we have in our body or we know that are familiar, and being able to put language around it.

BB: Yeah, I think language has always been a huge part of the work, and so I think just stepping aside and taking a breath and saying, “This is going to be a book devoted to language,” just felt like weirdly, the next right thing.

BG: Yeah, I agree. I love it.

BB: Alright, thank you. Thank you, Dan from Kirksville for your question.

BG: Okay. And next, we’re going to go over to Kimberly from Atlanta. This one is so good.

BB: Okay, let’s take a listen.

Kimberly: Hey, Brené and Ashley and Barrett. This is Kimberly in Atlanta. So no surprise, your book is awesome. I am still reading it now, but I have to admit that this particular physical book is causing me some emotional turmoil. I have to write in your books while I’m reading, and this book… This book is way, way too nice to write in. I cannot do it. I have to know, was this intentional? Is this part… Is this supposed to be part of my experience of this book? Is this a design feature meant to trigger a piece of my own work? What am I supposed to learn? Because I’ve cannot finish this damn book until I can resolve this. Thanks, love you guys. [laughter]


BB: “Because I can’t finish the damn book until I resolve this. Thanks. Love you.” Thank you, Kimberly. Okay, you’ve got to write in this book, you’ve got to really right all over this book, and you’ve got to write like courageous writing with the sharpie works best in this book, you can do a ballpoint pen too. I don’t know if the pencil works on these kind of slick magazine pages as well. Try it Ashley, is there a pencil somewhere in here?

BG: You should do the heart exercise with them that we do in trainings.

BB: Oh yeah, I’m just going to give you the exercise, because a lot of people when they’re listening or not, they’re driving or walking they don’t have their book. Oh no. Ball point pen works great. Here’s your assignment, everyone. I want you to take your copy of the Atlas, I want you to put it in front of you and close your eyes, and then I want you to randomly pick a page, just any page you can’t look, and then on that page, I want you to get out a black Sharpie and draw a huge heart. When we do this, when we’re facilitating the curriculum, we have these really beautiful workbooks that are companions to each of the books, and that’s what we teach and facilitate, and they’re like, “Oh, look at the workbooks they’ve got beautiful pictures and quotes and… ”

ABR: They answer the questions on sticky notes.

BB: Yeah. And then they stick the sticky note on the page, or they just do like a whole running thing on a tablet next to them.

BG: Yes.

BB: Yeah, and I’m like, “No, no, we’re not doing this because we’re going to… We’re going to get over the perfectionism,” so I do what we just did. Grab your book, close your eyes, pick a random page, then I say grab a marker and write a big heart, and people just are like, “I can’t do it. I’m not going to do it. I’d rather fail this program.” I’m like, “Okay, first of all, there’s no grades on the program, on the training,” so it is meant to write in, and you need to write in it and underline things and cross things out, and it can still be a beautiful… It’s beautiful enough to be a coffee table book and I have it on our coffee table at home, but it can be beautiful. The wrapper can be beautiful, but the inside needs to be messy, just like us.

BG: Can I just tell y’all a little secret?

BB: Yeah.

BG: Sometimes at the trainings, I draw my heart and I’m like looking around, I got a lot of these back in the office.


ABR: Well, I’ll tell you a secret about Barrett too.

BB: I like this.

ABR: When she saw my Atlas book, I have sticky notes and stickers all over it. I was really devouring the book and she’s like, “Oh no, I’m not putting any stickers in my book.”


BG: Damn rude.

BB: There you go, okay.

ABR: Because she was probably like, “I don’t have a lot of these at the office.”


BB: You got to write the Atlas and I love your question, you’ve got to just go for it.

ABR: And now you can finish the damn book.

BB: Now you can finish the damn book.

BB: Okay, the next caller did not leave her name, but let’s listen.


Speaker 6: Hello first of all, I love the Sister Series shows, they’re my favorite. I’m calling because Brené had suggested that it would be a great book to work through as a family, and I would love to do that. But I’ve got a sophomore and a senior in high school. The senior has got one foot out the door already, so how would I get… How would I entice them to work this book with me? Short of paying them, I’m not quite sure how that would work. I’m hoping Brené has some amazing, magical answer to this. Thank you.

BG: Yes?

BB: Yes.

ABR: Yeah, that hurts.

BB: Yeah. I’ll pay you a dollar an emotion.

ABR: $87.

BB: Look, I remember one time when Ellen was in middle school, and I wanted to talk to her about something, and I walked into her room and stood at the edge of her bed kind of where my knees were hitting the top of her bed and looked at her and she just started crying, and I was like, “What’s wrong?” And she goes, “What is it? Why are you standing there looking at me like that?” I think the best way to do it is never look them directly in the eye. Like it’s driving, walking.

ABR: Yes.

BB: Playing pickleball, playing four square, we’re big ball and racquet people. But playing ping pong, I talked to Charlie, my 16-year-old son all the time playing ping-pong. I think with this, I don’t know that it would work for my kids to say, “Okay, 8:30, Atlas of the Heart lesson. We’re going to tackle despair and anguish, even if we’re going to tackle joy and wonder. I think it’s woven into… Organically woven into relevant moments.

ABR: Yeah.

BG: Yes.

BB: Like…

BG: TV, movies.

BB: TV, movies.

BG: Great examples.

BB: Yeah, or sitting at family dinner and say, “God, I loved being at your recital today, I realized that it’s such a moment of awe for me to sit in the audience.” And I was like, “Is that what it is? And I was thinking about this book I’m reading in awe is just kind of where you’re not curious about it, you don’t want to learn about it, you just want to step back and let it unfold and take it all in, and I fell a sense of awe watching you perform.” Or whatever it is.

BG: Yes.

BB: Yeah. I also love the idea of films, TV shows on Netflix that we’re watching, or HBO Max or we’re watching a sporting event. We watch a lot of sporting events and I think those are frustration, disappointment. The player looks resigned, and I would never use that word before, but I just read that resigned is like doing this or that, so I think weaving it in where it is relevant and organic.

ABR: I mean, imagine having the conversation with your kids, because I have a teenager, around expectations going into the holidays, like “I know that you’re going to want to go out every single night, and so we’re going to set that straight now, at least four nights we’re going to be the family. Here’s what we’re doing.” You know what I mean? To be able to, as the adult or the parent read through that section around expectations, and then to be able to have that conversation with your kids heading into some time off from work and school and families, together.

BB: That’s so smart, Ashley.

BG: I love that.

BB: I’ll tell you the other thing, because you have Amaya my niece, Ashley’s daughter is getting ready to graduate in the spring, and I wish I would have done a better job reality checking expectations of first year in college.

BG: Oh, say more.

ABR: Yeah, I could learn from this.

BB: The transition is rough for the kids. I mean, obviously, we’re all geared up for heartbreak and that does happen, but… And it’s bittersweet because there’s joy and we’re excited for them, but I think the vast majority of kids that I know of, through friends, experience some pretty significant homesickness, some pretty hard roommate issues, an adjustment period, and they immediately thought, “I’m not ready for this. I’m not good enough to be here, I’m not mature enough to be here, I’m not independent enough to be here,” as opposed to setting the expectation that this is a big transition. And even when we do new things that we were just dying to do and are so excited about, there can still be grief and weirdness and loss, and it’s an FFT for sure. Total fucking first time.

BB: And so really setting those expectations. The other thing is, it’s like when kids hit kindergarten, married to a pediatrician as y’all both know, but as listeners may or may not know. Kindergarten, brand new germ pool. College dorms brand new germ pool. Kids get sick a lot. Everyone I know’s kid got either mono or strep throat or something their first semester, so they’re sick, they’re alone from home it’s… We don’t need to be negative about it, but we can normalize realistic expectations about, “This is going to be fun and a great adventure, but there’ll be tough moments too, and the tough moments don’t mean that you don’t belong there. The tough moments mean it is a new adventure.”

ABR: Yeah, that’s really good.

BG: I feel like we could do a whole podcast on expectations.

BB: Yeah. Oh, for sure. Expectations, disappointment. Yeah, I’ll say it again. List us with the next one. Who’s our next one Ash?

ABR: Jen from Denver.

BB: Okay.

Jenn: Hi, Ashley, Barrett, and Brené, this is Jenn. And I’m calling in from Denver, Colorado. My sisters and I spent last summer doing almost exactly what Brené described on the first pages of the introduction in Atlas. At one point during a really heated conversation with my sister, I sort of yelled at her, “I know I’m being a fucking jerk right now, I can’t access my communication skills.” Yeah, so although I didn’t exactly succeed at not taking my rage out on her, I’m grateful for some growth because earlier in life, I wouldn’t have even recognized I was being a jerk. So my question for you is, in three parts. What do you recommend in these moments when everything we’ve learned goes out the window, also does this type of reverting to early family patterns ever go away completely? And lastly, what has helped you three make different choices when you’re in very intense moments? Thank you so much.

BG: That’s a good one, it clearly resonates over here with me.


BB: For me, I think let’s just break this down. because she’s got three. So one of them was, “What do you recommend in these moments when everything we’ve learned goes out the window?” I find it personally helpful to say, “Hey, everything I’ve learned is going out the window right now,” just to name what it is, like, “Hey look, Ashley, I’m so frustrated right now.” I mean we’re in that moment in real life right now, right?

ABR: Yes.

BG: Totally.

BB: Yeah, I mean like five minutes before we started this podcast, right? So everything I know is going out the window, I’m freaking 16 right now, I’m pissed off, and I just want a cigarette and drive my pick-up truck and get the hell out of here.

ABR: And what’s really hard too, in moments like that is I want to be like… “I’ll be the DJ. Let’s go.” You know?


ABR: I want to go too like…

BB: And that’s helpful though. So let’s act it out. So because we are in a moment right now where we are… The emotions I’m feeling right now are I’m frustrated, I’m resentful, and I’m angry. What are you feeling right now about stuff going on?

ABR: Frustrated, confused, and angry.

BB: Barrett.

BG: Definitely resentment also like, “Where the fuck is the expert?” That’s what I want to know.

BB: That would be us.

BG: No.

BB: Yes.

BG: No.

BB: Yeah.


BB: Okay, what else?

BG: And I think just like grief, sadness, I think.

BB: Oh yeah, I’m going to add grief and sadness to mine.

ABR: I’m not.


BB: Okay so watch what we’re doing right now. So we’re talking about how we feel, so I’m like, “You know what? Fuck this, I’m not helping today.” I’m going to act like…

BG: I just literally took my watch off and put my phone down and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I didn’t get a text.”


BB: It’s like “Barrett did you get that text?” And she’s like, literally, “What text?” Yeah…

ABR: And I went into like, come on. Stay in the moment. Let’s Dance, keep dancing, keep dancing.

BB: Yeah so I think we give ourselves permission to be really messy and human to the line where we take it out on each other, where we blame each other, but I think as long as we can … I’m like, “You know what fuck this. I’m getting in the truck, I’m leaving.” And if you’re like, “I’m going with you I’m the DJ.”

BG: A little Tanya Tucker and a little what?

BB: Yeah. One fist Tanya Tucker next fist, Who is it? Waylon Jennings? I don’t even know who it is. But like if Ashley, if I said that I’m leaving, I’m getting the truck, I’m 16, I’m out, I’m getting my Marlboro Lights and my cowboy hat and my belt that says, Brené, “Sissy, I’ll see you later.”

BG: “Okay, Bud.”

BB: And if Ashley goes, “Oh no, I’m going with you, I’ll be the DJ.” I’m like, “Okay, what are you going to play? What do we listen to first?”

ABR: Well, I could totally do some Tanya Tucker.

BB: I could too.

ABR: Especially if we’re bringing the Marlboro Lights.


BG: Bye. Y’all have a nice drive I’ll have to stay back.

ABR: You could sit at the back of the truck.

BB: You could sit at the back of the truck with the dogs.

BG: By myself?

BB: No. So, this is what we do. So what you’re seeing is, we really own it.

BG: Yeah, and we’re really good when we need to to take a time out and just like, I need five minutes, I’ll be back.

BB: And if we have to say, “You know what? Fucking not me today.”

BG: Oh yeah, we can do that too.

BB: So, let me just say for the record, “Not me today.”

BG: Not it!


ABR: Not it.

BB: Nose goes.

ABR: Barrett is the last one to put her finger on her nose.

BG: I still don’t know what y’all are talking about.

ABR: Well, when you read that text, you’ll know it’s your turn.

BB: Yeah, she asked, “Does this type of reverting to early family patterns ever go away completely?”


BG: No.

ABR: I’ve not seen it happen yet.

BG: No.

BB: I don’t think it does, but I think it moves from, it’s happening without awareness, and it’s driving behavior that’s outside of my values to it’s happening with some awareness and driving behavior outside of my values, to it’s happening fully in my awareness, and I’m choosing not to let it drive behaviors outside my values.

ABR: Yeah.

BG: Yeah. Totally.

ABR: That’s a good way to put it.

BB: Yeah. And so I think that shifts, but I don’t think the reversion ever goes away.

BG: And it’s like, God, it gives you so much power to understand what’s happening.

BB: Yeah.

BG: Really does.

BB: And let me tell you some of the other thing, just let me just get a drum roll. Normalize, normalize, normalize.

ABR: Yeah.

BG: Mmm hmm.

BB: If we’re talking about something that’s hard going on right now, and Ashley goes, “I cannot believe you’re resentful and hateful, what kind of daughter are you?” That would never happen.

BG: But we all do experience these things really different sometimes.

BB: Totally.

BG: But we have done a great job in normalizing it.

BB: Yeah, just normalizing. Like This is hard AF.

ABR: Yep. Totally.

BG: And we sometimes we don’t get it right, and sometimes we have to circle back and just clean it up and, like, “Damn, I was not proud of how I showed up or you didn’t deserve that, that was my own shit.”

BB: We’re not afraid to apologize to each other. Yeah, because I can get really… When I get super overwhelmed, beyond belief, I’m like, “Fine, I’ll just handle it myself.” I go into my older sister, protector of everybody, “Let me handle it.” And then I go somewhere and cry.

ABR: I go into F-it mode.

BB: What do you do?

BG: What?


BG: Did you text me?

BB: And there you have it. Okay, let’s listen to the next question. Who’s this from Barrett?

BG: This one’s from Kristen.

BB: Okay.

Kristen: Hi, this is Kristen. And my question is so often when someone… Usually my therapist, asks me how I’m feeling, I don’t know, I don’t even know what to say. Like, Literally, right now, I don’t know what emotion I’m feeling. Is that an emotion? Is that just feeling fine? I feel like there is a part of my brain that’s missing that can connect the dots on the way I feel physically or mentally to an emotion, so I’m wondering how can I process this? Is this about checking in with myself more often? I sometimes joke and say that I don’t have any feelings, but I think that they’re there, they’re just buried really deep behind a really tall fence with like barbed wire and guard dogs and I just don’t know how to actually access them or get to them. Thanks.

BG: Yeah.

BB: Yeah. What an insightful question.

BG/AR (together): Yes.

BB: Like, You don’t need us… Like yes… That would be my response to this… Like, “Yes, we bury our feelings really deep behind a tall fence with barbed wire and guard dogs, and we don’t access them. And we are taught to do that from the time we are born until the time we realize that our cognition and our behaviors are inextricably connected to our emotions, and we try to control behaviors and thinking without addressing emotion, and it’s not possible, because the three are connected and emotion is in control, emotion is driving.” And so when someone asks you how you’re feeling or how I’m feeling. I had therapy this morning, not unrelated to everything else that’s going on, right? I literally had to call Barrett and say, “Push back my podcast 15 minutes, if you can.” I was on somebody else’s podcast today because therapy had to go long, and I’ve got a lot of shit.

BG: Man, mine never lets me go long, like, “Okay. Well, time to wrap.”

ABR: Or shall we set up our next call? [chuckle]

BB: Yeah, no. Because I think normally we go 90 minutes and today only… I didn’t tell her that in advance, so we were in the middle and I was like, “You know what, I may have to wrap up.” She goes, “Should we talk about that?” And I was like, “No, for reals.” But I think when she asked me, “How are you feeling?” And I said… And look, look, I just wrote this book. I just wrote this book, 87 emotions I have to choose from. And I said, “I have no idea.”

BG: Do as I say, not as I do.

BB: No, but it’s like, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” And she goes, “I think that’s a really great answer.”

ABR: Yeah.

BB: “And I think it’s not a bad answer, or a good answer, or right answer or wrong answer, you don’t know. Could it be because there’re so many emotions right now?” And I was like, “Yes. Yeah, I don’t know.” And so I think not knowing how we feel, or what it means is okay, as long as we acknowledge, “I am feeling a lot.” It’s not that there is a lack of emotion, it’s there’s a lack of clarity about the emotion.

ABR: Yeah.

BG: Yeah. Damn.

BB: And I did go through the book actually.

ABR: Did you land anywhere?

BB: Yeah, I didn’t even say it when we did that check-in right now. What does that mean? You’re the therapist, Ashley?

ABR: I’m not right now.

BB: Okay, you know what I said to her? “I feel a little despair.”

BG: Yeah.

BB: Like, tomorrow will be just like today, I don’t see an end to something, and I think with some of the health stuff that we’re looking at, there is not a clear path. We have to change what we’re doing because there’s not a trajectory that’s favorable. And so I feel, despair.

BG: Yeah.

BB: Yeah, a little bit. Like tomorrow will be just like today, and I may not have the bandwidth for it, yeah.

ABR: It’s like I just want to throw in a joke. Thank God Barrett is taking over.


BG: And I’m just like, “I just have to keep giving myself permission to not be the expert I don’t know. No one just came to me last night and blessed me to be the expert. I don’t know.”

ABR: What do you think that you would have if you had an expert with you?

BB: Yeah, I’m so curious.

BG: Some certainty motherfuckers, what are you saying?


BB: Oh, yeah, so that’s…

ABR: Earlier, Brené I was doing the number one dance, so if you want to jump into the number six dance. That’s funny.

BB: Enneagram number six.


BG: I don’t do a six dance.

BB: No?

BG: No.

ABR: She’s scared she might hurt herself. [laughter] I can only say that because I’m a six, too.

BG: Oh, my God, that was rude.

BB: We’re getting ennea-mean here.

BG: Okay, we should go to the next question.

BB: Okay, yeah.

ABR: From Phil. Phil, take it away.

BB: Phil in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Phil: Hi, this is Phil from Raleigh, North Carolina. Please talk about the connection between art and emotions. Why can a song bring me to tears? Why can a painting make me feel safe and calm? Why can a poem make me forget my problems? Thank you.

ABR: Yeah, this is good.

BG: I love this question.

BB: You know what, I wish I had… I forget what book it’s in, but it’s an Oliver Sacks. The neuroscientist, Oliver Sacks, has a great quote about art piercing the heart directly, needing no mediators or mitigators, that art pierces the heart directly. And I think that’s right. It’s like, for example, we take on anguish in the book. Well, it doesn’t look like social scientists in our literature review get close to anguish, but then there’s that portrait entitled “Anguish” that hangs in Melbourne, in Australia, that just takes your breath away. I really actually debated putting it in the book. And then there’s the statues, from…

BG: Dark Elegy?

BB: Dark Elegy, yeah. And I can barely look at them…

BG: Yeah, yes.

BB: Because in a split second, without literature review and data and research, you know exactly what anguish is.

BG: Yes.

BB: And I do believe… And you know what, I love this question, Phil, because I think that the way art, music, paintings, poems pierce the heart directly is empirical evidence that we are emotional beings. And even when it’s something cognitive or highly logical, that we’re like, “Wow,” like an incredibly difficult math proof that’s solved. And you’re like, “Whoa.” You’re not reacting cognitively to it, you’re responding with wonder and awe. We are emotional beings, and art is an emotional language.

ABR: I was just thinking about when you were saying that, and it’s a question I have. So, can we go into empathy? I’m thinking about a really sad love song, and we get teary. Is that because we can go into the place of understanding what that grief is or that loss or…

BB: Yeah. I don’t know where the line is between resonance and empathy when it’s something not another human being.

BG: Yeah.

BB: But I do think it does stir empathy. It’s interesting, because there are two types of empathy, cognitive and affective. And the best combination for meaningful connection is compassion, which is kind of this belief system about being other-focused and with others and wanting to take action. And then cognitive empathy, understanding cognitively what someone else is experiencing, having access to the lexicon, the vocabulary. What we know drives burnout, this is why it just pisses me off when people will say, “Empathy is not good.” It’s like, I think it’s very click-baity, because people are like, “Ooh, I want something that everyone thinks is good to actually be bad.” But it’s the one that drives actual burnout, compassion fatigue, is not cognitive empathy, it’s affective empathy. It’s feeling what someone else is feeling.

BB: So, if I see you struggling and I come to you with compassion, I don’t see you as the wounded and I’m the healer. I see you as an equal and part of the human experience like I am, and I see you, and I know there but for the grace, and I want to be with you, and I want to help in some way. That’s compassion. Cognitive empathy is, “Tell me your story, tell me what’s going on. I listen.” I’m like, “Oh, I recognize that. It sounds like grief.” That’s cognitive empathy. Affective empathy is, “In order to try to be with you, I’m going to feel grief, too.” Rather than tapping something within me that knows what grief is and connecting to it, “Oh, yeah, I know that grief. I actually feel it with you.” And that’s what drives burnout, and that’s what drives compassion, fatigue.

BB: I think the thing about art that it could do is it could do a powerful combination. I don’t think there’s compassion, because we’re not wanting to help a song or a songwriter or a performer, because we don’t know if that’s real or whatever, but I think art might grab both of cognitive empathy, “I know what he or she or they’re singing about,” and affective empathy, “And I feel it right now during this song.”

BG: Yeah.

BB: You know what I mean? But it’s safe because I’m not feeling it in a way where I’m going to get sucked dry by someone, because it’s not a person, it’s a poem or it’s a movie or it’s a song.

ABR: Yeah.

BG: Yeah. I just keep thinking about storytelling and the storytelling of the art.

BB: Yeah, that’s storytelling, yeah.

BG: Yeah.

BB: What is a song that if you hear… What’s a song that can almost always bring you to tears?

ABR: I think I know what you’re going to say.

BB: What do you think I’m going to say?

ABR: “He Stopped Loving Her Today?”

BB: He stopped loving her today [singing]. Yes, I just can’t, I can’t even listen to that song without crying.

ABR: We had the same conversation driving to Galveston once when you were giving a talk down there, and for some reason, one song that always gets me, which is funny, because we’re going back old school country, both of us, “Rose-Colored Glasses” gets me every time.

BB: Wow. It’s a good song…

BG: It is a good song.

BB: You?

BG: My immediate gut was “Wind Beneath My Wings,” because it makes me think of Beaches, and it was probably the most emotional movie I’d ever… The first experience of a movie where I was super like, I came out of my room really pissed off, “How could y’all let me watch this?”

BB: But you were hysterical.

BG: I was hysterical. [chuckle]

ABR: Hysterical.

BB: I thought someone had been killed.

BG: That’s my number six. That’s when it all started. [chuckle]

BB: Okay. Yeah.

BG: I think this is our last question, guys.

BB: Okay let’s do it.

ABR: Greg from Australia.

Greg: As an educator. How do you think Atlas of the Heart may benefit my teenage students and the wider community? I’m Greg from Australia, Perth, Western Australia. Thanks bye.

BB: I love this question. I think Atlas of the Heart is absolutely a book that teenagers and high schoolers can read. And I think we need to try to make one of our goals, and we’re going to work on it after the New Year, is to try to make the framework for meaningful connection more user-friendly and more kind of I don’t know, tactical and actionable, and I think that also is going to be very helpful. But look, I think… Someone I did a podcast earlier today, and the host she was like freaking amazing. She said, “I wish you could just give us a short cheat sheet of the 87 emotions.”

BB: And I’m not going to do that because that’s where things go wrong. These are nuanced, and you need to learn shame at the same time you learn the other self-conscious affects, guilt, humiliation, and embarrassment, you need to understand them comparatively, you need to understand joy, happiness, wonder, awe kind of together, and they’re nuanced, you need to understand jealousy and envy together and you need to understand… One reason why we don’t use the word envy correctly normally is because probably one, it’s one of the great deadly sins, but secondly, there’s two kinds of envy, there’s kind of a benign envy like, I want what you have, and I’m so glad you have it too, but there’s a malicious envy where I want what you have and you shouldn’t have had it. You shouldn’t have received it.

BG: Yeah.

BB: And so it’s like high schoolers will get this.

ABR: Oh for sure.

BB: Because high schoolers, let me just put everybody listening on DEFCON 1 or [laughter] whatever the most important one is. I never know if it’s one or five but, high school is really… It starts in middle school, but high school is when we are taught that our emotions don’t matter and that we need to be rational logic human beings. And they say things like drama queen, and he’s so hysterical and so emo and it’s all bullshit. I hate when people use the word drama like that, unless you’re talking about the theater or a film, don’t use it. Because maybe you think your child’s being overly dramatic because they got a bad locker placement and all their friends are down the hall, but what your child is feeling is an absolute threat to belonging, which is essential for being alive.

BB: And when we dismiss it, we’re dismissing the wrong thing because perspective is a function of experience. They think the end of the world is a bad locker assignment because they don’t have perspective because they don’t have experience. And we as parents are like, “Jesus Christ, really this is like the second hour, we’re listening about the ‘drama’, about the locker, and I’m planning an intervention for a sibling, I haven’t gotten my Pap smear result back. And they’re worried about that. I’m in a fight with my partner. I’ve got a sick parent.” But that’s not their world, that’s your world. And so I think what a beautiful time to introduce this book and to re-affirm for them that all this whirl of emotion that you have between 14 and 24 that you’re told is a liability is beautiful and important, and the best way to manage it and regulate it and not be taken down by it, is to name it and understand it.

ABR: Yeah.

BB: That’s a tirade. Was that a tirade?

BG: No, that’s a mic drop. We should just wrap up.

ABR: And done.

BG: Thank you.

BB: Okay, so when does this one go out? Next week?

BG: Yeah, this is going to go out next week, I think it’s the 15th of December.

BB: Okay should we do a fast celebration about Atlas?

BG: Yes.

BB: Atlas of the Heart, debuted as at number one on the New York Times best seller list. [cheering] That’s due to y’all. Y’all are just kickass. Thank you. This is the last in the Sister Series for Atlas. If you have ideas about other stuff you’d like to see, drop them in social somewhere, because we always want to know what you want. You can find Atlas of the Heart wherever you like to buy books. We’ll put a link to it on our episode page. We are taking a few weeks off for the holiday and we’ll be back in the middle of January. I’ve got to tell you that… Have you ever known me to take four weeks off in a row?

BG: No.

ABR: It’s exciting.

BB: Maybe ever. I don’t think I ever have in my life maybe. I got my first job at 13. I just don’t know that I have ever done it. I’m excited, I’ve got 7000 projects, [laughter] but I’m really just going to play pickleball and watch a shit ton of British mysteries.

ABR: Maybe we could play some Euchre.

BB: Oh, and play some Euchre.

BG: Oh, yeah. That’ll be so fun.

BB: Chaz, if you’re listening.

BG: Get ready to go down.

BB: Yeah.

ABR: Yeah. I was going to say. [sniffing]

BB: This is what we do. [laughter] It’s horrible. Ashley’s sniffing, because we’re like, if someone’s getting ready to get like… What do you call it?

BG: Lose. Get Euchred.

BB: Get Euchred, get set. Then everyone is like [sniffs] “I smell some Euchre.” [laughter] It’s just so rude but so fun.

BG: And I think we talked about it last time on the podcast, but Chaz he can’t stand it. He can’t stand to just sit back and wait for a good card, so he’s just like, “Yeah, I’m going to go.”

BB: Yeah. And I’ll be like, “What did you bid on?” [using different voice] “A nine.” [laughter]

BB: Alright we are taking a few…

BG: He is your partner.

BB: Yeah, he is my partner. Yeah and I love him. We’re taking a few weeks off. We’ll be back in the middle of January. We are so grateful that we get to be here with you to unlock these deeply human parts of who we are together. This is the best awkward, brave, and kind community that I just… I can’t even imagine. Can y’all? They’re just so kickass.

BG: Yeah, they are amazing.

BB: Yeah. Thank y’all so much for joining us. And if you celebrate Christmas, have a great one, if not, have a great winter break, if you’re taking one, and I’ll see you back in four weeks, all bright eyed and bushy tailed. [laughter]

ABR: Bye.

BG: Bye.

BB: And thank y’all, Ashley and Barrett, it is so much fun to do this with y’all.

ABR: Oh, it is so fun.

BG: But don’t forget your out.

BB: I said it.

BG: You did?

BB: Yeah. Barrett’s mouthing, “You’re forgetting to stay awkward, brave, and kind.” I called them my awkward, brave, and kind community.

BG: Oh God. I missed that part.

BB: But this is the holiday so really get your awkward, brave, and kind on. [laughter]

BG: Bye.

BB: Bye.

ABR: Bye.

BB: Unlocking Us is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown. It’s produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and Tristan McNeil, and by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Tristan McNeil and music is by the amazing Carrie Rodriguez and the amazing Gina Chavez.

© 2021 Brené Brown Education and Research Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Brown, B. (Host). (2021, December 15). Brené, Ashley, and Barrett on Atlas of the Heart: A Sisters Book Club, Part 3 of 3. [Audio podcast episode]. In Unlocking Us with Brené Brown. Parcast Network.

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