Shame and Academics (Shamefessional #4)

grade-f1-315x209 (1)As many readers may already know, I’ve been doing a journalistic approach (previous Shamefessionals here) to my discovery of shame, fear, and vulnerability.  For those who may not be reading along with the series, we are defining shame based off the research of Dr. Brene Brown.  She defines shame as:

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”

Now that we have the working definition of shame for newer readers I want to continue with this journal entry about academics and the shame I have experienced in regards to education.  The reason I do this is because of what Dr. Brown says, which is, “Here’s the bottom line with shame. The less you talk about it, the more you got it. Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.”  I started this series in the hopes of giving voice to my shame, my ever present gremlin, that whispers in my ear, “No matter what you are worthless, inadequate, and a failure unworthy of love, respect, joy, and belonging!”  Speaking shame and meeting it with empathy suffocates the little piece of shit and it can’t survive.

That being clear I can go onto the point of this particular post about academics and educational achievements.  I was never a great student through middle school, junior high, and high school.  In fact, I graduated high school two years later than I should have at the age of 21 because I failed 8th grade and 9th grade.  I barely passed my junior year of high school! In fact, I didn’t pass, but the president and principal of our school made a deal that I’d have to maintain a B or higher in the main courses my senior year if they passed me along. So yeah, there’s that!

In my defense, I’ve never been a strong math and science person, but it took me 3 years to pass Algebra and 2 years to pass Chemistry.  I passed Chemistry with a C- and Geometry with a D- in my senior year. I also got a 1300-something on my SAT!  These failures were a constant burden for me because even though I knew I could do the work (what I lacked was the work ethic, understanding of ADHD, self-awareness, and attention) I began to let these lies in my head take control:

You’re a failure! You’re inadequate! You’re stupid! You’re friends and family make fun of you about these things because they are true. You don’t have what it takes to be smart and educated! Drop out and stick to things you know or work jobs you hate! You don’t need school or college! Like one teacher told you you’ll never graduate college, so stop trying!”

I went into my freshman here at Johnson University with these thoughts, lies, and voices still speaking to me.  I failed a class my sophomore year and went from a 2.8 my previous year to a 1.8 because I was dealing with other issues and like before in high school I quit carrying largely because I knew I’d end up a dropout loser. There’s much else I can say to fill you in on the story of my academic career, but that is the gist of it and my struggles.

I did end up graduating with a 2.6 from Johnson University on May 3rd, 2013 with my B.S. in Bible and Preaching/Church Leadership.  As of right now, I will be wrapping up my first semester of graduate school, which I have gotten two As in so far for my first two courses.  My goal is graduate with my M.Ed in Counseling and Human Development with a 3.5 or higher G.P.A.

I share all this because it is still a small voice in my mind that tells me I can’t do this! That I don’t have what it takes to graduate from grad school period little long with a high G.P.A. My shame tells me now that I don’t have what it takes to become a kind, compassionate, and empathic counselor because I don’t have the knowledge and because I’m too fucked up as a person to help others.

My shame from my academic failures still haunt me!  I had a thought today that trigged my wanting, my needing, to write this blog that said, “Hey buddy, you know as you clean those dishes that the only award you’ve ever won in you life is the 8th grade cleanup award. Maybe you should stick to these things!”  I truly had that thought come into my mind out of nowhere and attack me today! The shame hit hard over never having academic awards, accolades, and high success.  Despite having graduated college, getting into grad school, and doing well in grad school so far, my shame can still be easily triggered over these previous failures.

However, besides speaking to my shame and sharing it, I’m learning that 1) our education system backs up the faulty and dangerous belief that a letter grade determines our self-worth, and 2) I don’t have to see my failures as a source of weakness and shame, but of strength and humility.  Yes, I have failed! I HAVE FAILED A LOT!!!!!!!!!! These failures do not make me less than enough, stupid, dumb, or unworthy of love, belonging, respect, and joy.

Shame tells me my self-worth comes from many false sources like this one of academics, but these are lies.  I wanted to speak my shame today about my academic journey in hopes that someone else who might just be struggling with theirs and their failures may see that we don’t have to kick the shit out of ourselves over grades, academic failures, or not being where we want to be educationally. There are many ways of learning and everyone learns differently. Find how you learn! Find how your mind works!

There are many forms of intelligence that money scams like the SAT can’t measure.  Find yours! I’m musically talented and that can’t be measured on an academic standardized test nor can my knowledge of religion, theology, and church history.  What I know and don’t know doesn’t make me who I am. I am enough as is, so are you! Fuck what shame says! Tell it that! Tell it to fuck off! It has nothing good to say at all, trust me! Speak shame, douse it in empathy, be compassionate to yourself.

Below in the pic (as well as this Listening to Shame video) are some great ways to start combating your shame….


Don’t let shame keep you down is the summary of what I’m trying to say in this blog! If I listen to my shame I stay small! I don’t become vulnerable enough to try something new, to live daring greatly! I stay small, quiet, and underachieving. I neglect my potential and throw opportunities if I listen to my shame.  Don’t let it do this to you. Don’t let it tell you false sources of self-worth, love, joy, and belonging. Don’t let grades determine your academic abilities, intellectual strengths, level of knowledge, or your self-worth! You’re more than a grade, a test, a letter, a paper, a homework assignment, an award, and a diploma!  I hope what I’ve said is helpful; I know it is helpful for me to express it. Thanks for listening!

Shame hates it when we reach out and tell our story. It hates having words wrapped around it- it can’t survive being shared. Shame loves secrecy. When we bury our story, the shame metastasizes.”
Brené Brown, ‘The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

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