8 Lessons From Brene Brown On Healing Through Grief

Brené Brown speaks at TED2012 – Full Spectrum. February 27 – March 2, 2012. Long Beach, California. Photo: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Brene Brown is certainly having a moment! 

And it’s no surprise why.

Her research taps right into what we need most right now in the world… especially around grief and healing: more vulnerability and less shame. 

Thanks to her Netflix special, books, and her popular TedTalks people feel empowered to be more courageous and authentic in their daily lives. 

But what can a funeral professional learn from Brene? Turns out, a lot! Her perspective on empathy teaches us so much about how to work with grief and support others as our best selves. We know you’ll be inspired by her wisdom and down to earth approach:

1. Know the Difference Between Sympathy & Empathy .

The Lesson: Connecting heart to heart is more valuable than any words we could ever say.

There’s been so many conversations about the difference between sympathy and empathy, but Brene truly sums it up so beautifully and with a new perspective – it’s really not about what you say. It’s about being present and reminding each other that we are not alone. Instead of offering silver linings (“at least…”) we say, “I know what it’s like to experience pain and I’m here with you.” 

Brene helps us understand that to practice empathy, we must remain vulnerable and recall our moments of pain and grief. As we tap into sharing these emotions, it allows us to put ourselves in the shoes of the people we’re supporting. That courageous act of vulnerability is what drives human connection – when you allow yourself to truly feel it shows and resonates on a heart to heart level.

2. Re-Define & Embrace Courage, Especially When It’s Hard

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“Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky, but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

The Lesson: In order to be whole, we must learn how to explore unsavory emotions and integrate our shadow self.

What’s a “shadow self?” It’s the parts of ourselves that we’d rather not look at, yet it plays a vital role in who we are as people. Psychologist Carl Jung brought the concept of shadow selves to the general consciousness and wrote extensively about it throughout his lifetime. He believed that our true strengths resided in our shadow side, and until we can learn to examine and embrace our shadows we would not be living as our best or whole self. 

Think about how this relates to grief. When people are not allowed to grieve or experience “negative” emotions, they’re being denied an opportunity to express their true feelings. Because we live in a society that values positivity at all costs, people often feel shame for experiencing sadness or not moving on quickly enough. 

This can leave their emotions repressed and stagnant, which only leads to more suffering. When people are supported in moving through grief at a genuine pace and are allowed to experience the full depth of their emotions they get to know their true strength. They see how deeply others respect and care for them. The darkness provides us with reflections of our truest self.

3. Forget perfection, strive for authenticity

“You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, 

but you are worthy of love and belonging.”

— Brene Brown

The Lesson: By letting go of perfection, you allow yourself to live more authentically and be loved for who you truly are.

What a relief it is to let go of needing to be a certain way in order to be loved! Brene often says the thing that keeps us from connection is not feeling worthy. Not feeling like we are enough. We must practice compassion for ourselves first, then offer it to others. We must be willing to let go of who we think we should be in order to be who we truly are. There is no perfect way to heal. It is human to struggle, especially when moving through pain and grief – and you are still worthy of love and belonging. 

4. Take risks by staying vulnerable

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“Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to

take if we want to experience connection.”

— Brene Brown

The Lesson: Vulnerability breeds empathy, which is the foundation for all human connection.

Brene says that vulnerability is the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees. It is the birthplace of joy, love and creativity. What would the world be like if Adele had never shared her heartbreak and created art that speaks to so many people all over the globe? Look at how many people feel connected to her and her story because she took the risk to write something so personal and vulnerable. 

When we show others our wounds, we offer ourselves some tender love and care. We show our pain that it can be held and cared for. When we trust others to hold our sorrow, fear and grief, we make a connection that is so much deeper than surface level relationships. Because so often the person you are sharing these moments with have experienced those feelings too. Suddenly you both realize you are not alone. You were never alone. And you are here for each other. 

5. Ditch the Scripts, Keep It Real

“Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it.

It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting,

and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone.’”

The Lesson: Presence trumps perfection.

How many times have you avoided a conversation because you didn’t know the right thing to say? And how many times was it more important for you to just be there rather than say the right thing? We need one another in order to survive, that’s a fact. So often being there for someone has nothing to do with knowing the perfect thing to do or say, it’s simply saying: “You don’t have to be any particular way for me to want to spend time with you.” 

Being witnessed is more powerful than being fixed. People actually don’t want their problems solved most of the time, they just want someone to validate how they feel, to know that they aren’t alone in their experience. To be seen without judgement or urgency to change what simply is. You don’t need to be perfect to be empathetic, just like you don’t need to be perfect to be loved. 

6. Embrace Pain and Discomfort

“I thought faith would say, ‘I’ll take away the pain and discomfort,’

but what it ended up saying was, ‘I’ll sit with you in it.’”

The Lesson: Pain and discomfort offer us a space to be held by others and grow into our highest self.

Have you ever seen the Pixar movie Inside Out? It’s about the five main emotions of a 12 year old – Anger, Disgust, Fear, Joy and Sadness. Joy is the main character and dominating emotion, she wants everything to be positive all the time! But as Sadness starts to creep into the picture more and more Joy learns a valuable lesson – Sadness is actually what deeply bonds us as humans. 

The folks we’re closest with in life are often the people with which we’ve shared the hardest times. These are the ones who have comforted us when we were sad, or stuck with us through fights. It’s generally pretty easy to be around people when we are happy. It takes real courage to support each other through grief and pain. Each time that we allow ourselves to be seen at our lowest points, our trust and connection with those we share that vulnerability with deepens. Our trust in our self deepens, because now you know that you can move through the pain. You know your strength and have been witnessed by those you love.

7. Stop Running From Grief

“We run from grief because loss scares us,

yet our hearts reach toward grief

because the broken parts want to mend.”

The Lesson: Healing requires us to live courageously and allow ourselves to fully experience the feelings of loss and grief.

Brene says that to have courage is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. When grief is part of your story, it needs to be held to be healed. We cannot heal what has not been processed, and it takes time to move through the pain of loss and grief.  We don’t do ourselves any favors when we rush or simply try to skip over the process of grieving. Even when it is scary, we must follow our hearts and honor our grief. Allow our hearts to heal the way they truly want to. Grief teaches us the power of our love, and our resilience. When we practice courage we lean into showing the world our whole self, wounds and all. 

Lastly, Remember The Power of Vulnerability 

The Lesson: Connection is why we are here, it’s what gives meaning and purpose to our lives.

In the TedTalk that started it all, Brene explores her resistance and eventual acceptance of the need to be vulnerable. She teaches us that we live in a vulnerable world, and in order to deal with it we numb vulnerability. The problem is, we can’t selectively numb our feelings, when we numb pain, grief, and vulnerability we numb everything. When we numb out we prevent ourselves from feeling connected to the world around us. She shares that the people who feel the most connected practice courage and compassion. They lead with their whole hearts. It isn’t easy being vulnerable, but the rewards are worth the risk.

Are you feeling inspired by all this Brene Brown wisdom? We’d love to hear which quotes resonated with you and how you practice vulnerability and empathy. Share in the comments below!