WHAT I’VE BEEN READING: Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown

This is the newest book by Brené Brown, and as usual it provides an engaging and accessible overview of research about emotions, combined with Brené’s very personal anecdotes. The book’s raison d’etre is to help us understand how our feelings, thoughts and behaviours work together, and how our emotions shape our thoughts and decisions. These things are essential for our own wellbeing and our connection with others. Brené emphasizes the importance of having language to understand and describe our emotional experiences, and this book provides us with a rich set of words and concepts to help us do so.

Acknowledging the ongoing debate about what is and is not an “emotion”, Brené includes in the book things that are generally accepted as “emotions”, as well as what she describes as “experiences” that are related to emotions. She provides an overview of how these show up in our bodies (biology), how our families and communities shape our beliefs about the connection between our feelings, thoughts, and behavior (biography), helps us examine our go-to behaviours and recognize the context of what we are feeling or thinking (the importance of our backstories).

The emotions and experiences are presented in categories or families of emotions and experiences that are similar or related in some way. For example, the first category “places we go when things are uncertain or too much” includes a discussion of stress, overwhelm, anxiety, worry, avoidance, excitement, fear and vulnerability.

This book will help you to notice, understand and communicate your emotions and emotional experiences in a nuanced way. In turn, this will help you better manage your emotions and their expression, and enhance your connection with others. It’s essential reading for anyone who works with people in conflict, when emotions run high and sometimes language gets lost.

Each chapter provides an accessible summary of what the author calls “the new stuff” – recent research that has potential practical application to mediation (including some of the disagreements and controversies related to that research). He also provides specific suggestions about how the research might inform our practice of mediation.

The book contains a wealth of information, but the sheer breadth of topics covered means that each topic is not covered in depth. Despite this, there are many ideas to form the basis of reflection and developing your practice.

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