Ive discovered Brene Brown and her research on shame.
It triggered the desire start a dialogue with the Square Peg kids about how often they feel shame.
Not embarrassment- thats different. Shame- I am a failure. Embarrassment- I failed.
I have learned shame needs three things to survive - silence, secrecy and judgement.
I designed a series of questions with the goal of seeing how far into the shame camp the kids were…
Questions like “The teacher calls you stupid… Do you?
- Think “yeah I deserved that…”
- Think “I made a mistake but I don’t deserve to be spoken to like that…”
Two things struck me.
- Almost universally the kids answered A.
- It reminded me of one of the three factors shame needs to survive- silence. I realised even if this incident had occurred- I was unlikely to hear about it! Why? Because (the kids perceived) being stupid as old news. They already believed it, so why bother reporting the teacher? Or even telling their parents?
I was horrified.
But here was my dilemma - I immediately wanted to DRAG them out of shame. My impulse was to shout ‘No! Thats not right- you are NOT stupid and don’t ever let anyone say that to you!”
But was that going to bring them out of shame?
If anything, that response would drive them further into secrecy and silence.
Knowing it was time to break the silence- here’s what I said.
“Wow- it sounds like you are really tough on yourself sometimes…” universal response - “yep”.
“That must a hard place to be… being your own toughest critic… But tell me this- what would you say if your friend came to you and said “Im feeling so embarrassed… the teacher just called me stupid because I got something wrong and I want to cry…”
Heres what the kids said:
“Yeah thats happened to me too”
“Aww that's so bad! But you're the best person I know”
“Tell me more about what happened…”
“Im always here for you”
“We all make mistakes though!”
These responses were from kids from 9 years through 14 years old. They blew me away with their empathy and understanding.
The last thing I said to them was “Now your job is to talk to yourself like you would that friend…
You are capable of raising others up, inspiring others, showing kindness and compassion to others… But what about yourself?
You are stuck with that little voice in your head your whole life… What things will lift you up?”
Every one of them got it. Every one of them understood the power of self-compassion. I realised it is not my job- not even in my power- to drag these kids out of shame. But it is in my power to give them a compass to navigate their own way out…