Book - Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown

Published: wellness

I do not read a ton of non-fiction literature generally and I can count the number of self-help psychology books I’ve read on two hands. Yet when Atlas of the Heart came up in conversation with my friend Hannah I was immediately hooked by the premise.

Brown says:

Fifteen years ago, when we first introduced a curriculum based on my shame resilience research, we asked participants in the training workshops to list all of the emotions that they could recognize and name as they were experiencing them. Over the course of five years, we collected these surveys from more than seven thousand people.

The average number of emotions named across the surveys was three. The emotions were happy, sad, and angry.

When I think about this data, I think back to a quote from the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein that I came across in college: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” What does it mean if the vastness of human emotion and experience can only be expressed as mad, sad, or happy? What about shame, disappointment, wonder, awe, disgust, embarrassment, despair, contentment, boredom, anxiety, stress, love, overwhelm, surprise, and all of the other emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human?


Language is our portal to meaning-making, connection, healing, learning, and self-awareness. Having access to the right words can open up entire universes. When we don’t have the language to talk about what we’re experiencing, our ability to make sense of what’s happening and share it with others is severely limited. Without accurate language, we struggle to get the help we need, we don’t always regulate or manage our emotions and experiences in a way that allows us to move through them productively, and our self-awareness is diminished. Language shows us that naming an experience doesn’t give the experience more power, it gives us the power of understanding and meaning.

(emphasis mine)

I live with ADHD and Autistic traits. I have often felt like I am unable to control my emotions. In sitting with the premise of Brown’s book, I realized that I also struggle to identify my emotions and internal states . If you or someone you know has ADHD, this will be familiar. The hyper-focus that comes with an engaged ADHD brain can mean that internal signals to eat, drink, or use the bathroom get suppressed. Brown’s book attempts to provide the reader with the tools needed to identify internal emotions in detail. By understanding in more detail how I feel, I gain an increased ability to manage my emotions, communicate with others, and meaningfully connect with my relationships.

Atlas of the Heart is a deceptively simple book. It isn’t very long, and the writing is simple, clear, and straightforward. The revelations it contains, however, require time and space to digest. I listened to the audiobook once, then read through the physical book a couple of times. I found myself returning to particular sections as I strove to refine my emotional vocabulary. Ultimately I decided to put the book through my usual Progressive Summarization process so that I could learn the material and have a reference, a Codex of Human Emotion.

The result is a collection of thirteen markdown documents, each one corresponding to a chapter in the book. I use these as references during times of heightened emotion to continue building my emotional vocabulary and upgrading the resolution of my internal sensors.

Atlas of the Heart Chapter Notes

  1. Places We Go When Things Are Uncertain or Too Much
  2. Place We Go When We Compare
  3. Places We Go When Things Don’t Go As Planned
  4. Places We Go When It’s Beyond Us
  5. Places We Go When Things Aren’t What They Seem
  6. Places We Go When We’re Hurting
  7. Places We Go With Others
  8. Places We Go When We Fall Short
  9. Places We Go When We Search For Connection
  10. Places We Go When The Heart Is Open
  11. Places We Go When Life Is Good
  12. Places We Go When We Feel Wronged
  13. Places We Go To Self-Assess

download: markdown or pdf