Tanya Wineland, Kansas State University
The universal sensation known as shame is an individual emotional story of what is flawed, unworthy, and does not belong (Brown, 2006). Experienced in the home, workplace, and learning environment (Johnson, 2012), a shame story impairs the holistic self over time. Emerging college students are shame-prone to an unknown extent as shame is linked to both the internalizing and externalizing of psychological symptoms not limited to anxiety, depression, inferiority, anger, blame, eating disorders, and substance abuse (Mills, 2005). An invisible wound eventually healed, shame can be a powerful scar story for students who may or may not be in a status of academic concern. Depending on where they are developmentally, college students will not always require a courage-building or empathic advising approach, although they will need to experience their individual importance in a supportive environment and know they matter.
When a student’s reflections are invited to the advising conversation, and their shame story need not be recounted, the student begins to mine their academic experience. Mining helps the student find or remember their potential. It happens slowly at first: a student notices how they feel while talking to their advisor or after an advising session. In time, especially with the support of other resources, the student discovers how they learn best and gains in that understanding. Watch them delve in and make connections across their coursework, learning in layers throughout each semester. The student may even find comfort in resting their fears or worries to build anew. What the student extracts from mining experience is individual to their needs. When their courage and vulnerability are allowed expression throughout the advising process, a new reality takes form. This practice directs students onto the path of shame recovery and image rebuilding as identified by Van Vliet (2008). Perhaps at the same time something else is also happening.
Shame could be described as a mix of embarrassing feelings that promote inadequacy and inferiority of the self to varying degrees of distress that impact performance, function, and interaction. It is a threat central to both internal and external development (Mills, 2005). Creating a story involving feelings of doubt and hurt that attack the self allows shame to hijack individual potential. Coping with shame may lead to running, hiding, withdrawing, swallowing or stuffing it down, disappearing, or worse (Van Vliet, 2008). Shame is hard to manage and even harder to hide. When an individual’s shame signals are misunderstood by observers, it creates a bias, discomfort, and unfortunately, a deepening of the individual’s shame. Avoiding another’s gaze, looking down, moving the head downward, or hiding in some way conveys submissive attempts at minimizing rejection or lessening damage to social standing (Van Vliet, 2008).
Though it may be said that advisors are tasked with meeting multicultural students where they are, when shame is recognized but not addressed, it is the befriending saboteur who silently leads students away from an institution. Advisors are more recently learning they have to help the emerging student sort through much more at the pre-referral stage, which may include identifying shame experiences for the purposes of recommending counseling as a wellness support. Unfortunately, the need for counseling may be seen as shaming to the student, their family, or by their culture (Brown, 2006). Highly shame-prone students are more likely to connect with an empathetic ally to externalize shame experiences as part of their recovery process (Johnson, 2012). Therefore, responding with empathy is one powerful way advisors can increase or restore students’ sense of connection and personal power (Brown, 2006).
An empathic advising approach might include Van Vliet’s (2008) rebuilding process as a way to support students overcoming shame. The rebuilding technique moves through categories of connecting, refocusing, accepting, understanding, and resisting (p. 238). Steps within each category will need to be adapted for the student audience and are best engaged in a nonsequential order when advising. “With rebuilding, individuals restore and expand their positive self-concept, repair and strengthen their connections to the outside world, and increase their sense of power and control” (Van Vliet, 2008, p. 238). When advisors continually lead students to a space of self-empathy to reflect on academic or social experiences, a resilience to shame develops with students outside the advising session, encouraging them to become active agents. Teaching shame recovery and image rebuilding through advising is an impactful practice as a significant association was identified between shame and burnout where students are concerned (Johnson, 2012).
Academic shame may be fueled by actual experience and perception: to the individual who is outside a balanced state, they are processed similarly because the line between story and data blurs. No matter where a shame story originated, it can impact a student’s academic performance and persistence. Shame is a thick smoke clouding the air, blanketing a student’s academic achievement so they cannot see when they do well. The shame-prone student will focus mostly on the bad or wrong things done.
When the advisor meets a student who presents fears to the point of vulnerability or shame, yet does not inquire further, an important relationship-building opportunity is missed. Without this connection, yet with referral in hand to see a campus counselor, the greater message to a student is, “My advisor doesn’t understand me.” Advisor and advisee, like the narrative researcher and their participant, are “in the midst of their lives” (Johnson & Christensen, 2014, p. 429). The advisee intends to get what they want out of their time in college and working towards a degree. Their advisor intends to teach them the best ways to do both. Whatever gets in the way of this agreement is in the advisor’s realm of responsibility to address, because barriers, perceived or otherwise, have the potential to impact a student’s academic and personal well-being.
Students and their advisors are people in progress, actors performing unique living histories one moment at a time. Embedded somewhere in the experiences of both are shame stories. Parallel to the narratives of researchers and participants, the stories of advisors and advisees are also under study in the advising space (Johnson & Christensen, 2014). If shame affects students, did advisors encounter shame when they were students? Could there be advisors who encounter shame still? As many develop professional potential by continuing their education, it is likely that shame affects the experience of advisors at some point in their career. This thought warrants investigation because of the common vulnerability shared by advisors and students alike in their mining along Brown’s (2006) continuum of shame resilience, removing precious gems from earthen soil.
Relational guidance from core competencies (NACADA, 2017) produced by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising recommends intentional, trust-building, and meaningful communication in academic advising (as explained by Farr & Cunningham, 2017). When appropriately introduced to the advising dialogue, empathy and vulnerability present opportunities for connection and building mutual resilience. Adopting shame recovery and image rebuilding strategies, advisees begin to find their way, their purpose. Their confidence grows, allowing them to participate more as collaborators in advising sessions. Advisors are their teachers who still learn: the same empathic approach and dialogue used with an external student can also speak to the advisor’s internal student. Both students and advisors can build resilience to feelings of inferiority in the complex post-secondary environment to become the most centered and creative versions of themselves. If shame is a global human experience, it can weaken the educated and novice alike and does not conclude with graduation.
Cultivating dual resilience is an individual goal for the advisor and advisee working in tandem. Advisees find improvement in acknowledging experiences and through self-empathy until they can manage their shame. Advisors can lead others to a space of self-empathy, yet some may be challenged with speaking about shame or creating a space to understand their own. Either case calls for empathy. Engaging in a dual resilience-cultivating practice is for any advisor or academic professional who desires to use connection (Brown, 2006; Van Vliet, 2008) as a way to help themself and their students demonstrate that who and what the self is, is enough. Future research on this topic may reveal sensitivity as an underrated skill of academic advisors.
Student populations experience shame in different ways. The shame story of a student with a hidden disability who needs but does not want a medical withdrawal will differ from the student-athlete on scholarship facing probation, which also differs from the high-achieving student who makes their first C grade in a course at mid-term. The barriers students perceive from these experiences can feel insurmountable at points and they should not be led to feel dismissed. Without the right salve of empathy and courage-building support from their advisor, the success of these students is left to chance. By all means, meet students where they are first. Then, meet their courage where it hides. Shame is a complex story best viewed with deep curiosity for the purposes of adding to the academic advising conversation. There is promise in using narrative inquiry to identify the role shame plays in students’ stories through their academic experiences, because there is a link between shame resilience and academic resilience.
Academic Advising Graduate Student
Kansas State University Global Campus
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Farr, T., & Cunningham, L. (2017). Academic advising core competencies guide. Manhattan, KS: NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising.
Johnson, D. E. (2012). Considering shame and its implications for student learning. College Student Journal, 46(1), 3–17.
Johnson, R. B., & Christensen, L. (2014). Educational research: Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed approaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
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NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA academic advising core competencies model. Retrieved from https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreCompetencies.aspx
Van Vliet, K. J. (2008). Shame and resilience in adulthood: A grounded theory study. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 55(2), 233–245.
Cite this article using APA style as: Wineland, T. (2019, March). Cultivating dual resilience: Teaching shame recovery and image rebuilding through academic advising. Academic Advising Today, 42(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]