Braving the Wilderness: Summary & Review

braving the wilderness book cover

In Braving the Wilderness author Brene Brown explores her trademark topics of belonging, human connection, and self-worth.

Bullet Summary

  • We all seek to belong, but we shouldn’t allow our need for belonging to drive us into sectarianism and ingroup/outgroup dynamics
  • We are often lonely once we become part of a group of like-minded individuals
  • Real belonging starts not with a group, but within ourselves: self-acceptance. Then you belong everywhere

Full Summary

About the Author: Brene Brown is a social researcher and has become very popular in the latest years thanks to the huge success of some of her books and TED Talks. She is also the author of “Daring Greatly“, her biggest success, and “The Gift of Imperfection“.

We All Look for Belonging

Belonging is one of our primary needs, and it can be deeply painful when we don’t find it.

Brene Brown seems to know it well as she shares her childhood stories of not being welcome among whites and being only half-welcome among blacks.
But when she’d show to her blacks’ classmates’ houses she could still remember, as a four years old, the shock of their black parents in seeing a white girl.

Not Belonging in Our Family Is Worst

But worst of all is when you don’t feel like you belong in your own family.

Brene Brown desperately wanted to be part of the cheerleading squad. Her mom had been a cheerleader in that same school and her father had a start football team.

She practiced non-stop and went on a two weeks liquid diet.
She actually excelled at her trial performance but was told she just wasn’t cheerleading material.

Unluckily, it wasn’t just the cheerleading team that Brown didn’t feel like belonging to. Her own parents voiced their disappointment and she felt rejected in her own family.

That led Brown to drinking problems.
She joined the AA anonymously and her sponsor told her she’d better go to Co-Dependent Anonymous for a better relationship (read co-dependent no more).
But even there she was spurned.

My Note: If you experience the same, check out this book
If you have had a similar feeling of rejection from your own family, I recommend the book Will I Be Ever Be Good Enough. It goes much more in-depth and it will help understand the deep-seated reasons for perfectionism and/or self-destructive behavior stemming from a lack of love and acceptance

Deep-Seated Belonging Problems

But Brene’s drinking problems and co-dependent relationships were only the symptoms of her internal wounds.
And she only overcame them when she addressed and tackled her emotional wounds.

How We Can Feel Like We Don’t Belong

There are many ways in which people can feel like they don’t belong.
The most common are:

  • We wanted to join, but the group spurned us
  • We tried so hard to gain someone’s acceptance, but we didn’t manage
  • We managed to join the group, but we don’t feel a connection and we feel like outsiders

True Belonging Means Belonging to Yourself

True belonging happens when you stop trying to gain the acceptance of others.

Fitting in means that you change yourself to be like the group you want to be part of.
When that happens, you won’t be experiencing real connection because you don’t show up being true to yourself.

Belonging instead means accepting who you are, being who you are, and having the people around take you for the real you.

I  quote Brene here:

The spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.
True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.

The Wilderness Meaning

Brene uses the wilderness because it’s both scary and tempting.

The wilderness is what lies outside our comfort zone.
It can be something new, something we are avoiding, or a place where are forced to confront our uncertainties and vulnerabilities.

It’s different for everyone. It might require you to engage in introspection, spiritual learning, or personal development.

To keep going in the wilderness you must learn to engage in difficult conversations and motivate yourself not by fear, but by joy.
And you will learn to trust yourself and others and to show up as you really are: trusting and vulnerable.

Developing Trust & Vulnerability

Both trust and vulnerability are qualities that we can all learn to develop.

Brene Brown lists seven qualities that will make us trustworthy:

  1. Be reliable
  2. Own your mistakes
  3. Respect boundaries (read how to enforce boundaries)
  4. Keep personal and confidential information safe
  5. Make decisions with integrity
  6. Be non-judgmental
  7. Be generous

We’re More Divided Now That We’re United

There was a time when we believed that the Internet was going to build a “global village” that would make us all closer and more united.

Instead, it only made it easier for like-minded people to stand with other like-minded people. It’s tempting to try to find belonging among those who think like us. But often the result is that it entrenches our ideas and might make us more extreme and bellicose.

And certainly more divided.

Brene Brown indeed makes the case that inside groups of like-minded individuals, we isolate ourselves from the world and we are all more lonely than ever.

For true belonging, we need meaningful connections and not factions.

Braving the Wilderness Quotes

On using respectful language:

When people call the president of the United States a pig, we should reject that language regardles of our politics and demand discourse that doesn’t make people subhuman

On sub-human language:

When we hear people referred to as animals or aliens, we should immediately wonder, “Is this an attempt to reduce someone’s humanity so we can get away with hurting them or denying them basic human rights?

On not tolerating dehumanization:

We must never tolerate dehumanization—the primary instrument of violence that has been used in every genocide recorded throughout history.

On accountability VS dehumanization:

Dehumanizing and holding people accountable are mutually exclusive. Humiliation and dehumanizing are not accountability or social justice tools, they’re emotional off-loading at best, emotional self-indulgence at worst. And if our faith asks us to find the face of God in everyone we meet, that should include the politicians, media, and strangers on Twitter with whom we most violently disagree. When we desecrate their divinity, we desecrate our own, and we betray our faith

On the importance of understanding each other even when we disagree:

People often silence themselves, or “agree to disagree” without fully exploring the actual nature of the disagreement, (…) deepen misunderstandings, which can (in turn) generate resentment

On looking inside instead of outside:

Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made that your mission. (…) The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially our own. No one belongs here more than you.

On the necessity to avoid changing yourself just so that you can belong:

If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in

On ultimate personal enlightenment:

You are only free when you realize you belong no place—you belong every place—no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great

Deep, wise words.

braving the wilderness book cover

Real-Life Applications

Stop Trying to Fit In
Fitting in with this or that group won’t do a thing to make you feel better and more connected. You are much better off knowing yourself and belonging to several different groups through human connection (VS a connection through ideology).

Connect With People, Not Ideology
What I learned and liked the most from Braving the Wilderness is that we should connect with people through human empathy and not through ideologies.


Conjectures & Buzzwords Instead of Analyses: This is Not Research!
The author often uses the term “research” in her writings.
But this is not scientific research in the least.
I personally very much dislike any attempt to position as research what’s not research. Research is not the ultimate truth, so there is no need to present one’s theories as research-based!
Indeed I liked many of the author’s theories and conjectures and agree they’re valid for many cases. But it’s not scientific.

Jumping to Conclusions From Conjectures (or Meaningless Data)
Brene uses voting patterns to say that people have surrounded themselves with like-minded peers.
She says that today 80% of Americans live in areas that overwhelmingly voted either for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. I wouldn’t consider that any valid set of data.
Or she connects the bottling up of anger to mass shootings. But many other Western countries have the same culture as the US and don’t go on a shooting rampage (Brene as a hunter and gun owner might want to consider gun culture here).

I, Me, Mine
The author’s work often gives me the feeling to be lot about “me, me, me”.
It doesn’t have to be a con, she simply draws heavily from her experience in a way.
Yet at times, it feels as if these books are a self-therapy session of an entitled individual who’s showing off her success to the world.
I don’t think it’s so relevant to tell us how much her husband loves her. Many of her readers might not find such a man. And I didn’t think her personal story of success and Oprah’s appearances are very relevant to the audience for example.

“Accept Thyself” Double-Edged Sword
I have said the same in all other of Brene’s books, including Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection. Accepting oneself to me is a double-edged sword that might stop people from chasing their dreams and goals with the passion, drive, and hunger that we sometimes need to succeed.
By choosing to “selectively not accept” where we are, we can muster more power on our side. And no, that does not mean we must lower our self-esteem. I don’t accept my current situation and have very healthy self-esteem.

Into The Wilderness Metaphor
I am not particularly fond of the “wilderness” imagery, as if everyone was supposed to go on a dark and dangerous journey of self-discovery.
One, not everyone’s path to self-discovery will be wild. And two: why should it be so dark anyway?


Deep Wisdom on Dehumanization: Join In
Brene Brown hits the nail on the head when she says that dehumanization has allowed the worst atrocities to happen.
It’s a similar message in The Lucifer Effect, but I feel that Brown has gone more deeply than a book that was theoretically dedicated to exploring evil.
Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness also presents a deep, engaging, and powerful antidote to hatred and dehumanization.

Life-Changing Message of Self-Belonging
I found Brene’s message of self-belonging to be enlightening. It added a new


There is a part of me who loves Brene Brown’s work and a part of me who feels it’s goody-good over-analyzing which is specific to the author’s life and not highly generalizable.

I think getting into Brene’s work to get the most out of it requires that people be selective for the great wisdom it contains while at the same time staying critical of what they should not pick up.

For example, in Braving the Wilderness I particularly loved the idea that you should belong to yourself first and foremost.
That’s enlightening and it added a new layer of understanding of myself. It’s something I was unconsciously doing already, but it gave me a new goalpost to strive towards. And it made me certainly a wiser man.

But then advice on anger and extreme self-acceptance falls a bit flat on me (read: how to leverage pain and failure). Sometimes I have the feeling that Brene’s work might serve as a balm instead of fuel for high achievers.

Overall: great, great work. Absolutely recommended.

Read the best books collection or get the book on Amazon

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