In her new book, Rising Strong, Brene Brown says, “When I was a child, the smallest glimpse into a new world could unleash a torrent of curiosity within me… I wanted to know more about everything. Except emotion.”
In Daring Greatly, she describes her family motto as “lock and load,” which contributed to an “aversion to uncertainty and emotional exposure.” She also, however, “inherited a huge heart and ready empathy.”
Starting in middle school she started developing “different suits of armor” that kept her safe from vulnerability. She tried on varied roles ranging from “the good girl” to “angry activist” to “out of control party girl.” These roles helped keep her numbed and tuned out so she wouldn’t become overly engaged.
She embraced her intense intellect while suppressing her intense emotions.
The turning point for her came when her mom went into therapy. Suddenly the family that didn’t discuss emotions started to put everything on the table. It was messy, but as Brene points out, she wouldn’t be who she is today without it. “This experience and how it played out over the years ignited within me a spark of curiosity about emotions that has continued to grow.”
Even in her young adult life though, she avoided vulnerability and uncertainty. In her viral TED talk on vulnerability, she talks about how she went into research because she wanted to take messy topics such as emotions and make them “not messy.”
When she discovered that embracing vulnerability was the key to “whole heartedness,” she had what she called a “breakdown,” and her therapist called a “spiritual awakening.” This was the catalyst that sparked her life changing work as an author, researcher, storyteller and speaker.
She now helps people around the world to accept themselves for their own imperfections and open themselves up to uncertainty and vulnerability so that they can be their best selves.
Lady Gaga, or Stefani Germanotta, on the other hand, had a different kind of childhood. It was not her family who discouraged displays of intense emotion or expressing herself, it was her peers.
This article on her early years shares that “Gaga described herself in high school as ‘very dedicated, very studious, very disciplined’ but also ‘a bit insecure’ as she told in an interview, ‘I used to get made fun of for being either too provocative or too eccentric, so I started to tone it down. I didn’t fit in, and I felt like a freak.'”
She found an outlet in drama and music and honed her talent for songwriting at an early age. She also “honed her writing skills by composing essays and analytical papers focusing on topics such as art, religion and socio-policital order.”
Career-wise, her early work was described as “wedding band-ish,” not really standing out from the crowd. It wasn’t until she embraced her own excentricity in her work that she became a pop sensation.
In 2011, she founded the Born This Way Foundation with her mother, which aims to inspire youth and build better communities through empowerment and anti-bullying education. She has also been actively involved in LGBT and Women’s rights advocacy. Her mission is “to inspire bravery” in youth so that they can embrace who they really are.
Both of these women have intense intellect, emotions and creativity. They got the message at some point in their lives that something about them was “too much,” so they toned themselves down and/or tuned themselves out. It was not until they reconnected with the power of their intensity, however, that they truly shined and helped shine their light to guide others.
Stories like these are what I am gathering for my upcoming Embracing Intensity Podcast. I have already started interviewing some remarkable women who are using their fire and helping others do the same! You can preview excerpts from their stories in the video below.