I love Brene Brown. She’s my author girlfriend.
Brene Brown is a research professor and author and a really brave woman. She’s into exploring our emotions, thoughts and behaviors and getting real about how we make up stories about ourselves and others that point us down dangerously dishonest paths. She talks about shame and blame and how those experiences impact the way we see ourselves and our roles and identities.
I’m reading her book, Rising Strong, and it got me thinking about shame. And wondering if shame has impacted me. I don’t feel ashamed, typically. I mean, if I do something wrong, like overreact to an employee’s mistake or freak out on my daughter over some small misstep, I do feel ashamed, and seek forgiveness and to make amends. But I move on quickly and generally think of myself as worthy of love and care. But as I was reading about how shame exists in schools, and how there is an impact on creativity and learning, I began to get flooded with memories of experiences where teachers said things that I experienced as shame. Some examples:
Kindergarten. I was playing a game of musical chairs with my class, and I got pushed out of the circle of kids walking around the chairs. I tried to get back in but the other kids reacted as though I was “cutting.” My teacher saw me out of the circle and crossly demanded I get back in. The kids still wouldn’t let me in and I started to cry out of frustration. She marched over and told me to quit acting like a crybaby. I distinctly recall filing that information away: Don’t cry. It makes people think you’re a baby.
Second grade. We were talking about movies and how what we see in a movie is the end product, but there is so much that goes into making it. We were discussing how they might have to shoot a scene where a family is eating at a table and they may have to shoot the scene 20 times. I raised my hand to ask a question about it, and inexplicably my teacher said “Yes, Jessica, we know, the actors have to pretend to eat while they’re shooting.” I gleaned in that moment that my teacher thought I was a know-it-all. I also learned in that moment that people make assumptions about what you say before you say it and they can be wrong. I have kept those two pieces of information close at hand ever since. I often worry that people think that I think I know everything and I frame my communication accordingly, occasionally saying things like “this probably isn’t right but…” I know this is dumb, and I only do it when I’m operating out of insecurity. But it happens from time to time, and it’s fascinating to trace it back to that day, almost 30 years ago.
Fourth grade. I sat at a table with three other students and one was a boy I was friends with. He accidentally kicked me under the table, I looked up, and he said “sorry” and we smiled at each other. From the front of the room I heard “If Jessica and Josh would stop playing footsie, we could get on with the lesson.” I was so embarrassed and frustrated. First of all, we weren’t doing anything wrong. Secondly, it was a sweet moment. But instead, it became shameful. I “learned” that teachers disapproved of girls and boys interacting and I took on that position, finding myself judging girls that did anything that resembled flirting with boys for the next couple of years.
Sixth grade. I wore lipstick to school and my teacher called me up and told me it was inappropriate. I am happy to report I completely ignored this and continued to wear it. In 8th grade, I stepped it up to red lipstick and haven’t looked back.
It was right around sixth grade where I realized it was possible to know things teachers don’t know. Like the time I used the word “stature” in a book report and my teacher marked it wrong because he assumed I meant statue (which wouldn’t have made sense.) I am so grateful that I broke out of the false reality that adults always know more and know better. I began making more keen judgments, regarding who was worthy of my respect and admiration. Just being older than me didn’t get you that entitlement anymore. I wasn’t being disrespectful; outwardly, I extended the requisite obedience and compliance regardless of how little I actually respected a teacher. However, I had a very active thought life in my brain regarding whether these educators knew what they were talking about or not. This probably ventured a little too close to “superiority complex” land, but, overall, I believe I was deeply empowered by this new awareness that things are not always what they seem, that adults have major shortcomings, and that I didn’t have to accept what was fed to me, mindlessly.
Like everything else, you can put teachers along a standard bell curve. Like everyone else, I’m grateful to have come across a few genuine, intelligent, insightful, caring teachers. Those people impacted me in a positive way much like the few truly bad apples impacted me in a negative way.
The important part, however, is that we go back, examine these stories, consider what we gleaned from them and decide if it’s useful or not. We can CHOOSE how much these experiences impact us. If we heard from a teacher 30 years ago that we were stupid, and we have operated out of that belief, isn’t it time to go back and consider how valid that one person’s perspective at that specific point in time was? And this doesn’t apply to just teachers.
Your first boyfriend thought your feet were ugly. Are you still hiding them under a towel at the beach? Your mom thought the ten pounds you gained freshman year would ruin your life – was she right? Do you still see her disapproving face when presented with an Oreo? Did your camp counselor tease you for how you walk? Do you find yourself adjusting your gait if you think others are watching?
We have to challenge these stories we subconsciously tell ourselves. These stories that tally up our value and loveableness. The fact is, from my perspective, you were created by God. And He created you with loving intention. Just because your feet, hips or walk don’t meet the weird, current, temporary standard of perfection that 21st century America has decided for you, doesn’t mean you’re somehow less worthy than those who do. You have to decide what the standard is. If you want to stick with society’s standards, go for it. But remember, it’s contrived by flawed people like my impatient Kindergarten teacher. What matters is what you think, and what God thinks. And you can invite as many caring, safe, loving people into your life, to speak into these things as you want. But you can decide how much weight their opinion holds. And you don’t have to be a slave to anyone’s standards. Challenge those ideas you’ve been operating out of. Because they could be dead wrong. And you can be free of them.
Rising Strong is an excellent book. It’s incredibly challenging if you’ve never thought about this stuff before. I’ve been thinking about this stuff for 18 or so years, and it is still bringing up new challenges for me, regarding how willing I am to reckon with and rumble with and allow the revolution of my thoughts and feelings to take place. Emotional honesty and vulnerability are so, so hard. We all want to hide, to pretend we’re fine, to act like the choices of others don’t hurt us. We want to run from the tough emotions. We want to dismiss them and move on. But there is beauty in the uncertain, sticky, icky places of hard emotions.
Today, Cass went to see if the boy across the street would like to play. For a few months, they played almost daily and couldn’t get enough of each other. Recently he has stopped coming over and when she’s gone to see him, he’s been about to leave for an activity, or not feeling well. Today, he just flat out said he didn’t want to play. She was devastated! She came back, quite dejected. My instinct was to change the subject and get her engaged in something before this turned into a howling, negative mess. But since Rising Strong was literally in my lap, I paused. I invited her over to sit by me. I asked her some questions about how she was feeling. And when she started to cry, sharing that she feels like he just doesn’t like her, I wanted to run – literally wanted to run away from this hard feeling of a 7 year old boy rejecting my daughter. I wanted to run or yell at someone – his mother maybe? Yeah, I could yell at her for raising such an insensitive little brat who would hurt my little girl in this atrocious way by refusing to play with her. She’s better than him, anyway. He’s out of his league, by far. Why was she even wasting her time with him? I’m going to have a party and invite the entire neighborhood and purposely exclude them.
Oh my gosh. We go to such weird, dark places in pain, don’t we? But I hung in there. I stayed with her. I held her through some tears. Asked some more questions. Assured her that she is loved and a fun playmate. We sat quietly for a long time. I prayed silently, asking God to bless the moment, to bring some light. After a while, she slithered off my lap and ran off to play on her own. I caught a glimpse of her resilience and thanked God for it, because I know almost no characteristic is more valuable than the one that helps you bounce back. And it is often developed by experiencing loss or disappointment, being surrounded by a support system, and learning that “it’s ok.” We created a foothold today, with this tiny loss. We crammed strong metal into the rock face and tested it. It held. The rock face is high. But those footholds make all the difference.
Brene Brown for the win.
tell me what’s up with this biopsy. But
I realized that this time, this waiting, is worth sharing about. I get about 20 texts or Facebook messages a
day asking if I’ve heard anything, which tells me that people are just as
anxious to hear about this as I am. We’re
all biting our nails and pacing. Of
course I’m the only one with the phone practically sewn into my palm (those of
you with ongoing health issues know that missing a call from your doc and the
subsequent phone tag is a special flavor of suffering that can invoke everything
from a gnawing uneasiness that gets worse each second to sheer DEFCON 1 level
panic.) We’re all wanting to know. We all desperately long for that miraculous
good news, of course. And we understand
how much more likely bad news is (or even some weird, inconclusive
report.) We understand that this phone
call will point us in a particular direction.
One very different from the other. If the news is to be bad, we ought to probably just get on with it, right?
Even as much as people reach out and make great effort to be with me in the ways they can, and I understand we are in this
together, it’s often a solitary experience. There
are so many moments I’m alone, or even when among others, I’m alone in my
thoughts. And I turn many things over in
my brain. But mostly I pray. I commune with God. I respond to the tugs toward the kind of relating
we are created for. Our thankfulness and
God’s reassurance. Over and over.
existence of God and such with the question:
what is this….like what is ALL of this?
Who are we and what is our purpose?
How does it work? Because – that’s
what it’s really all about, right? What
IS this? And who ARE we? Who made us?
And why? And what happens
next? We should really concern ourselves
with these questions – and circumstances such as these (waiting for the doc to
call about the maybe cancer) brings all of these rushing to the forefront. If you don’t know – well, I don’t quite know
how I would approach all of this. Whatever gets you through. But
even when you feel you know, you have to really really really remind
yourself. A coworker recently called the
Devil “the stranger who distracts you with lies” – now I don’t spend a lot of time studying
the character of Satan in The Bible. I
think because a lot of Christians talk about him in this super scary, unhelpful
way, and blame him for a lot of things that are really about choices of
humans. Satan, in these days and times
is often just an excuse. But really…if
he is the Father of Lies, and if he seeks to steal, kill and destroy, it makes
sense to me that he would whisper lies to me, to try to take me off track. The thoughts that enter my head are dark and
full of fear. They are sad. They are hopeless. They invoke anger and ultimately a deep sense
of mistrust toward God. “He’s betrayed you” says the liar. Sounds like
something Satan would do. Or maybe it’s
my own laziness. It’s hard work to fix
my eyes on Jesus. When I’m doing it –
praying without ceasing, writing out prayers of thanksgiving, giving my heart
over to God, reading sound biblical interpretation, spending time in prayerful
meditation, talking with people who comfort and encourage – I’m in the
zone. The waiting doesn’t bother
It’s in His time. All things,
even the waiting, are for my good. This
has given me a unique time with Him – a time to seek Him in a particular
way. It seems you can’t have this kind of palatable closeness
with God unless you are running to Him, full speed, desperate, totally vulnerable. Chased by terrifying beasts. But up ahead is the castle, and the King stands at the ready. The gates are open just for you, and His
sword slays all that dare to harm you.
Big day Thursday. They will insert a very large needle into my abdomen, through my ribs, into my liver, to find out if these pesky spots they found on my most recent CT scan are cancer. Man, I hope they’re not.
You can learn in any number of ways. But one of the most intense ways to learn and grow is to (either purposely or involuntarily) dive into the depths. The physical and psychological places where fear originates and persists.