Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Who doesn’t want to belong? But is fitting in the same as belonging? Can you have one without the other? Is there a tangible way to belong?

I’ve written a lot about Brené Brown and her focus on courage, shame, empathy, and vulnerability. Over the past decade, Brown has emerged as a leading social scientist and bestselling author who truly speaks for a generation of people, in particular a generation of women. In Brown’s most recent book, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, gives readers multiple points of access to improving their relationship with themselves and with each other.



Belonging vs. Fitting In

In a previous book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown explains that there is a big difference between belonging and fitting in. Actually, there are polar opposites. When you belong, you bring yourself to the situation. When you fit in, you acclimate to the situation instead of being your authentic self. In other words, she explains, “The truth is: Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect. When we don’t have that, we shape-shift and turn into chameleons; we hustle for the worthiness we already possess.”

In her recent book, Brown points out that those who feel like they truly belong have the courage to stand alone. In other words, when we feel that we can be authentically ourselves even within a group, then we can be brave and stand up for what we believe in. She uses the acronym BRAVING for how we can learn to truly belong and therefore have the courage to stand alone.

There are seven elements of BRAVING, or learning to create connections in which you truly belong and can bring your whole self to the relationship:

  • Boundaries. You set and understand boundaries in your work and personal relationships. If you don’t know what the boundaries are, you ask. Once you’ve established the boundaries, you respect them.
  • Reliability. You do what you say and you say what you do. This means that you don’t over-commit to things and say you will do more than you can do and then back out. Instead, you are realistic about your capabilities and come through with your promises.
  • Accountability. You don’t backchannel and blame others. Instead, you speak to people directly when you feel that they are in the wrong and you freely admit when you feel like you’ve done something wrong.
  • Vault. This is a big one! You don’t use other people’s stories to connect with others. In other words, you don’t use gossip to connect with good friends. You also don’t use your good friends’ stories as gossip. You connect personally and only tell your own stories.
  • Integrity. And, this is a tough one! You choose what’s right over what’s fun, fast, and easy. Today’s culture places a great emphasis on the fun, the fast, and the easy. Instead, you choose what is right.
  • Non-Judgment. You can ask for help and other people can ask you for help without being judged. This means that you are comfortable sometimes being reliant on other people and that other people can be comfortable being reliant on you.
  • Generosity. When things go wrong, you assume positive intentions on the part of someone else. In other words, if something happens that upsets you, you approach the other person with clarifying questions, rather than anger.


How Does BRAVING Connect to Shame?

According to Brown, shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging. Shame is often confused with guilt and humiliation. While guilt focuses on what we’ve done (as opposed to what we would have liked to have done), shame focuses on who we are. You might feel guilty that you cheated on your diet, but you feel shame if you experience yourself as a cheater. Humiliation is another word that is often confused with shame. When you are publicly called out about an action that you took, you feel humiliated if you believe that the person who rebuked you was inappropriate. Conversely, you feel ashamed if you believe that you deserve that rebuke.

In other words, shame is an emotion that imprisons you – labels you as “bad,” “stupid,” “fat,” and traps you into believing that these are correct assessments of your worth.


Combating Shame

Women have a particularly difficult time with shame because there are different (often stricter) societal expectations for women as mothers, fashion figures, and careerists. Therefore, it’s really important to recognize the negative effects of shame on your life and to transform yourself in an effort to control it.

Courage. Shame is an emotion that tunnels inside of us – it cannot survive being shared. The most damaging thing we can do when we experience shame is to bury the story and hide it from everyone around us. Instead, it’s important to have courage and share the story with someone you trust. The root of the word courage actually comes from the Latin word for heart (cor). In that sense, courage can be about sharing your heart with someone else.

Compassion. While it is important to share the story, it is equally (if not more) essential to share the shame story with the right person. There are multiple ways that well-intentioned friends can react that will not help assuage the shame. Some of those responses could be: anger at the person who did this to you, feeling bad for you, or only wants to make it better without really listening. Instead, you need to look for a friend who will demonstrate compassion – someone who will answer, “Oh, man, that sounds terrible. I am so sorry. I’ve definitely been there. I can’t stand when I feel that way.”

Connection. Through your courage in sharing and your friend’s compassion, you have created a powerful connection to somebody outside of your shame. You can feel exposed to your shame, but also completely loved and accepted – which are the true antidotes to shameful thoughts. Remember, the definition of shame is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.” Once you forge a connection, you feel you belong.


Previous articleDaf Yomi
Next articleSettlers Demand Reparations for Illegal Demolition of 2 Communities Who Were Treated Worse than Terrorists
An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at