Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown – A Visual Primer

In her book Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown helps us makes sense of our emotional experience in the world by expanding the language that we use to describe those experiences.

In the video above I sketch out how Brown approaches that topic and share a few examples of the emotional landscapes that she maps out for us.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • The Trio. Brown identifies three elements that constantly interact and influence our experiences: our thoughts, behavior, and feelings. She recognized early in life that her superpower is the ability to see how those interact in others, even to the point of predicting their future behavior!
  • Emotional Granularity: The book aims to expand emotional vocabulary beyond basic emotions like sadness, anger, and happiness, and encourage more nuanced recognition of various emotional experiences, 87 in total!
  • Stress and Overwhelm: Brown discusses stress and overwhelm, providing examples of nuanced responses in different situations, such as offering assistance when stressed and allowing time for non-doing when overwhelmed.
  • Navigating Future Challenges: Anxiety, excitement, and dread are different flavors of how you might be feeling toward an upcoming event.
  • Facing Fear and Vulnerability: Fear is about the intensity of a present threat, whereas vulnerability is about emotional exposure, which feels risky but is a prerequisite for meaningful connection and growth.
  • Empathy and Compassion: Brown distinguishes between affective empathy (taking on the feelings of others) and cognitive empathy (imagining what that experience is like for them), and emphasizes compassion as a daily practice rooted in shared humanity.
  • Near Enemies: The concept of near enemies is introduced, highlighting how experiences like pity and sympathy can undermine genuine compassion and empathy.
  • Empathy Misses: Brown outlines common empathy misses, including expressing judgment, minimizing experiences, and jumping to problem-solving.

And that’s just scratching the surface of what you’ll find in the book!

I hope that visual primer gives you a sense for what the book is all about. I highly recommend picking it up.

If you’d like to weave some visual tools into the way you process the world, whether it be books you’re learning from or experiences you’re trying to make sense of, our library of courses can get you up and running with some helpful visual thinking skills.