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I Thought It Was Just Me


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  • Still Points North: One Alaskan Childhood, One Grown-up World, One Long Journey Home
    Still Points North: One Alaskan Childhood, One Grown-up World, One Long Journey Home
    by Leigh Newman

    Can't wait! 

  • Einstein's God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit
    Einstein's God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit
    by Krista Tippett
  • The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone---Especially Ourselves
    The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone---Especially Ourselves
    by Dan Ariely
  • Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up
    Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up
    by Harriet Lerner
  • Rhythm And Repose
    Rhythm And Repose

    Tender and beautiful. 

  • Boys & Girls
    Boys & Girls
    by Alabama Shakes

    Love this album! So happy when I saw BrainPicker post this on her site! 

  • City of Refuge
    City of Refuge
    by Abigail Washburn

    Pure magic!

  • Some Nights
    Some Nights
    by Fun.
  • She Ain't Me
    She Ain't Me
    by Carrie Rodriguez

    I'm such a fan. 

  • I'm Your Man
    I'm Your Man
    by Leonard Cohen

    Take this Waltz is on my top ten list of all songs!

  • Babel
    by Mumford & Sons
  • Masterpiece Classic: Downton Abbey (Original UK Unedited Edition)
    Masterpiece Classic: Downton Abbey (Original UK Unedited Edition)

    So totally addicted to this series! Absolutely amazing!

  • Zen: Vendetta / Cabal / Ratking [Blu-ray]
    Zen: Vendetta / Cabal / Ratking [Blu-ray]
    starring Rufus Sewell

    Based on your recommendations from a recent blog post! It's another wonderful BBC mystery series! 

  • The Good Wife: The First Season
    The Good Wife: The First Season
    starring Julianna Margulies, Chris Noth, Josh Charles, Matt Czuchry, Archie Panjabi

    One of the best shows on TV. Juiliana Marguiles is incredible. 

  • Doc Martin: Collection - Series 1-4
    Doc Martin: Collection - Series 1-4
    starring Martin Clunes, Caroline Catz, Lia Williams, Stephanie Cole, Ian McNeice

little boxes


This sculpture is right outside of my building on the University of Houston campus. It's called, "Sandy in Defined Space" by Richard McDermott Miller.

There are days when I look at Sandy and long for my old life . . . the pre-2007 breakdown life. I remember, midway through the year, walking into Diana’s office in tears. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: I think this authentic-living-open-hearted-bullshit is going to kill me. I don’t think I can do it.

Diana: What’s going on?

Me: I miss my box.

Diana: What box?

Me: I miss being one thing. I need to have one identity. One set of expectations. One definition for success. I need to know where I belong. Brené is a __________________  (professor, mom, writer). I don’t care which one. I just need a box. I need definition. Certainty.


Still me because that's how therapy works: Seriously, doesn’t a box sound great to you? Don’t you want a box???
(To know Diana for more than 30 seconds is to know that she has no box, unless there’s a part mystic, part kick-your-ass life coach, part healer, part earthmother, part not-to-be-known box. Which wouldn’t be a box, right?).

Diana: No. I’m not interested in a box. They sound small, suffocating, tight . . .

Me: Or, they can feel warm, safe, and comforting.

LONG PAUSE with sniffling.

Me: I’m not going back into the box, am I?

Diana: You might, but I don’t think so.

Me: Cry. I really need my box. I feel exposed. I need my protection.

Diana: Sounds like we might be back to the vulnerability issue.

It’s easier to live with certainty. It’s easier to live in a box where everything is defined and prescribed. It’s safer to pick one label and try to be one thing. But, it’s also dangerous. And suffocating. And, for most of us, living in one box is totally inauthentic.

I recently changed the welcome page on my website to reflect my new commitment to emotionally honest and vulnerable living.

It’s not easy to embrace vulnerability – many of my friends are also struggling. Something happens around mid-life (35-45) and the box starts closing in on you. I love this post by my friend and family photographer, Farrah. It’s a great example of how difficult it is to be real when real is always messy and often vulnerable!

What about you? How would you fill in this sentence:

Sometimes it’s hard because I am _______________________, but I’m also ___________________________.

Or, if you have any suggestions for letting go of the need for certainty and embracing vulnerability – I’d love to hear them!

Perfect song for this post:  Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds

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Reader Comments (24)

Sometimes it's hard because I am overweight, but I'm also hungry and from a skinny family.

Sometimes it's hard because I work full time at a desk, but I'm also a free spirit who would never in a million years be tied to a desk.

Sometimes it's hard because I am depressed, but I'm also happy.

I can't possibly know what you mean, but I sorta do...
09.8.2008 | Unregistered CommenterLauren
I love love love this post.

I'm with you...I like the boxes, they make you feel safe, and they are farmiliar. You know where you belong in the world and most importantly who your people are. But sometimes the box is the wrong one, you don't quite fit into it, or it was assigned to you.

I'm not sure I'm quite ready to give up the search for which box is mine quite yet. I just want one that fits me. So maybe its the "me box", I'm willing to take on the fear, the vulnerability, the courage piece, but it would help if I knew where I belonged too (thus the box).
All that to say...

"Sometimes it’s hard because I am not happy with where I am in life, but I’m also completely unsure about where to go or what to do about it. "

Sometimes it’s hard because I am a therapist but I’m also an artist at heart.


P.S. Glad you are one of "my people" dear friend
09.8.2008 | Unregistered CommenterVeronique
Sometimes it’s hard because I am content, but I’m also always searching.
09.8.2008 | Unregistered Commentererinn
what an excellent post brene. knowing you now, i can hear your voice, and see your face as i read those lines. i love that.

i can so relate to what you are feeling but i don't think i want to stay in my box. I want OUT! i have been suffocating in my confinement. i have held myself in my box for so long now i can barely function in it. it's closing in on me, like you said. the restrictions i have put on myself are even taking their toll on my physcially. it's crazy. i'm a mess. and i think it's in revolt of trying to get out. yikes. but I know it's all in the name of change, and opening my wings and flying...i just keep trying to tell myself (and my body) that.

it's just really hard and painful right now. sigh.

i adore you for everything that you are brene...expecially the most authentic and vulnerable. and I am loving that profile photo of you! xo
09.8.2008 | Unregistered Commentertracey
Somtimes it's hard because I am a mom, but I'm also a painter, a jewelry designer, a writer, a photographer and a life coach.

Sometimes I wish I could just pick one thing.

I have this fantasy that if I could just finally pick that one thing, then I could be masterful at it,
an expert, not this jane of all trades half-ass person.

That's my box. My gremlin that tells me that if I could just FOCUS and be one thing, then I would be successful, happy, and masterful. I would finally be doing it RIGHT.

But really, I am masterful at being me.
And it turns out I am a whole lot of things.
09.8.2008 | Unregistered Commenterandrea
a box is comfortable and your family is there with you or in their own boxes (sometimes behind you like a choo choo train) ~ but then they began to leave whether because of death (my mom and dad) or growing up and away (my daughters) and again you begin to feel the sun shine in places that have been in shadows ...not bad shadows per se just lots of casting of shadows over who you were and who you are…sunshine ahhh feel the warmth and hopefulness…

just my humble way of saying life changes and boxes come and go during those times….blessings
09.8.2008 | Unregistered CommenterELK
Most of my life has been spent outside the box. Yet I have always envied people who seemed to be "in a box", i.e. who had straight forward careers and seemed to know what they want, like academics, doctors, lawyers. Whenever I apply for a job I know that the recipient of my resume will have a hard time because I do not easily fit into a particular slot. And rarely do they bother to look deeper and understand what I am really all about. That I am gipsy at heart with a strong mind and a playful soul. Not exactly what you would put into a cover letter!

Perhaps what helps us most with letting go of the need for certainty are HONESTY and TRUST? I just uprooted my whole life and took a step towards a dream. This has brought up all sorts of uncertainty issues, about my relationship, my career, my identity. I had to be honest with myself, and my husband, and face up to the reasons why our previous life set-up was not working. And then I had to put trust into our decision, as well as my husband and our marriage, the universe, and most of all myself. It's a process.

Take care,
09.8.2008 | Unregistered CommenterKerstin
Sometimes it’s hard because I am an artist, but I’m also a commercial photographer in many ways.

Sometimes it’s hard because I am a Mom, but I’m also a working person who loves to be at work.

Sometimes it’s hard because I am afraid of success, but I’m also really chasing after it.

Sometimes it’s hard because I am talented, but I’m also so very hard on myself and not willing to admit to the talent.

Sometimes it’s hard because I am so many things, but I’m also one single person and it can be really hard to fit it all in one person and not be really freakin' confused! :)

great post!
09.8.2008 | Unregistered CommenterFarrah Braniff
I thought of another one. (LOL)

Sometimes its hard because I'm a mac person, and my computer is a Dell.

(I really like what the responses have been. I'm very much with the folks that feel like its hard to fit it all into one person)

09.8.2008 | Unregistered CommenterVeronique
The human form
was not created
to be confined,
nor was the mind.
09.8.2008 | Unregistered Commenterjfrancis
this made me think of this song too:

i'm with you - sometimes boxes can be so nice and comforting. it's certainly more work to break out!!!!
09.8.2008 | Unregistered Commenterphyllis
sometimes it's hard because I tell people what I think, but I spend too much time questioning whether what I said was "right".

sometimes it's hard because I want to prove my abilities, but I doubt them too much.

Brene - I've just found your blog by accident, and I've been reading it for inspiration. This was a great exercise. I love what other readers have done with it.
09.9.2008 | Unregistered CommenterJenny Brooks
Sometimes it's hard because I am a such a tremendous people-pleaser, but I often feel not pleased with other people.

Sometimes it's hard because I am depended upon so much, but I'm left feeling like there's very few I can depend on.

Sometimes it's hard because I feel taken advantage of, but I don't know how to say no.

Whew. What a great therapeutic exercise to be doing at 5:30am...nothing like seeing these hard, cold facts about myself in print.

You rock.
09.10.2008 | Unregistered CommenterJen A.

Saw this photo yesterday...and your post today...and they both made me realize how much work I have to do yet. I guess it's time to start. It is much easier to be hard than soft.

Sometimes it's hard because I am a mother, wife, photographer and have a chronic illness, but I'm also not really living life (in my box). I am shutting people out so as not to appear weak or allow myself to be vulnerable.

Thank you for putting yourself out there (in cyberspace) so that some random stranger on the internet can finally see her life for what it is...I mean isn't.
09.10.2008 | Unregistered CommenterRock
Sometimes it is hard because I am EXHAUSTED but I am also optimistic and goal-oriented.

Sometimes it is hard because I am scared but I also am strong. Wow, yes I am.
09.10.2008 | Unregistered CommenterB.
Sometimes it’s hard because I am my parents' daughter, but I’m also a middle aged orphan.

My favorite box was being their daughter. I was the one they called when something broke, when they were sick, or when they wanted to go out to eat. And that box disintergrated around me when they died. And what a naked feeling it is, to not know who you are any more.

But it is also became liberating when I realized that I am always my parents' daughter, death will never change that. And now it is liberating for me to not only find my boxes, but in some instances build my boxes from what is left of my original box. I think I will call it my phoenix box.
09.10.2008 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret
Sometimes it's hard because I'm a million different things, but I'm also sometimes just one thing.

Knowing this, I worry I'm being inauthentic. Because I must must be genuine. And sometimes I fear I cannot be, unless I just focus on one thing. Yet I could never be just one thing. Though I still am. At times.
09.10.2008 | Unregistered CommenterIsle Dance
If I were to finish the sentence....
Sometimes it is hard because I am ......away from my friends and family.....but I am also .....surrounded by God's love and that makes me not lonely.
Then I could also say.....
Sonetimes it is hard because.....the box invites me in .......but I am also......strong enough to stay out of the box and move forward.
Just hoping you and your family are safely away from the storm. Well wishes from southern Utah.
09.12.2008 | Unregistered CommenterDeirdre
I don't like my box and like a baby chick in an egg I'm ready to peck and claw my way out. Hopefully I won't get eaten by a hawk when I'm free.
09.12.2008 | Unregistered CommenterShalet
I loved this post. I'm fumbling along in life lately. Lost, unsure, afraid. I don't recognize the woman in the mirror. So much of what you said touched me -- brought me to tears. I wish I had a Diana (to talk to. She sounds like a candle in the dark).

Still searching ... constantly searching. Thanks for giving me a moment to pause.
09.13.2008 | Unregistered CommenterGlad Doggett
Great post. Coming out of the box is like turning your skin inside out....but worth it.
09.16.2008 | Unregistered CommenterChris
Sometimes it's hard because I'm a nurturer but I am also in need of nurtering.
Sometimes it's hard because I'm strong but I am also vulnerable.
Sometimes it's hard because I'm in recovery but I am also sick.
Sometimes it's hard because I'm loved but I am also alone.

excellent post. excellent exercise in self-discovery. the boxes i want to be in are in direct opposition to the boxes the world wants to put me in (or the available empty boxes in my vicinity). at least on some days it feels that way.
09.18.2008 | Unregistered Commenternovember blue
the thing about boxes is i don't think they're part of our intrinsic human nature, so they waste a lot of energy. grass grows--i doesn't try to grow, and it doesn't try to stay in some kind of boundary; birds don't try to fly, they just do, because it's what they're meant to do. and they don't seem to try to fly within some confined airspace ( watch pelicans play, golden eagles to soar...)

it is our nature to dream, and then manifest our dreams. and it is human nature to love.

brene, it is your nature to breathe--to breathe in (inspire) and breathe out (respond) to the pain and the shame and the box...and to effortlessly, naturally teach that wisdom. You can't do that in a box.
09.23.2008 | Unregistered Commentermary

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