I am reaching the tail end of my grading-palooza. Eight research papers left and then FREEDOM.
But I am pausing to note that I encountered yet another divine moment, even as I graded papers. I know. It’s true that miracles can come in any form, even the researched argument of a student who basically stopped attending class the last third of the semester.
She wrote about the research that is being done on the psychology of shame and it’s relation to vulnerability and resiliency. Of course, there was much talk of Brene Brown, who is driving lots of this popular work. Everybody loves Brene Brown, including me. I’ve heard of her books and research and her ideas, but the things she writes about have never resonated as deeply as they did today when I inhaled this student essay.
The paper that my student submitted, I am convinced, was written just for me.
She also wrote it beautifully, which really helped the ideas go down nice and smooth. I was reading with a critical eye and a figurative red Sharpie (no actual red Sharpies are used in the grading of electronically-submitted papers, fyi).
I recognized in my recent circumstances that shame is totally at play. Costco shamed me. The KSL commenters shamed me. Recognizing that Jack needs permanent residential care shamed me. Realizing over and over again that my life is always going to be vastly different than I imagined it would has felt like shame.
My student’s paper drew from a number of other researchers in addition to Brene Brown, whose work similarly focuses on the topic of shame and its potential to bring us to a place of familiarity with vulnerability, WHICH LEADS TO RESILIENCE.
Guys, this is what I needed to hear!
Shame, according to these academic women, is a valuable, positive emotion which leads us from a place of humility and self-evaluation, to deeper emotional connections which result in healing through emotional rebuilding.
Shame is a good place for a turning point. It invites us to take a good, hard look at ourselves and evaluate what is happening. It’s an emotion that gives us the chance to forgive ourselves and become stronger as we move away from being vulnerable, to using vulnerability as a tool. Brown calls it armor.
I write from the most painfully tender place, which is parenting my sons. It hurts more, I believe, when people condemn us for the things we are devoting our entire lives and hearts to.
Being honest in this place and sharing my life’s hard lessons on the internet has opened me up to scrutiny and sometimes criticism (being vulnerable). But in doing what I do with my writing, I also diffuse the pain of naysayers by owning my struggle (using vulnerability).
And, when I share my hardest things and my purest lessons, it draws me closer to other people, whose own struggles don’t look much like my own necessarily, but who feel my pain because they have their own pain. Human relationships are critical for happiness. Employing vulnerability lets us connect with each other, understand each other, learn from each other, and love each other.
So thanks, Maddy L., for your terrific paper. Thanks Brene Brown et al, for being smart and amazing. And thanks, readers, for engaging with me in the complexities of a real life, and in this writing which embraces and explores these complexities.
I do not claim to have a regular life. I do not apologize for the differences in my family. If anything, the shame and hardship have brought me the ability to be vulnerable and thus, resilient.
Connection and resilience are the gifts my travail has brought me.