top of page
  • Writer's pictureJill Brocklehurst

Unwanted Identity

Whatever is true of the Universe as a Whole must also be true of the individual as some part of this Whole. [Humanity] is evolved from the Universe as a self-conscious, thinking centre of Living Spirit, and as such must, in nature and being, reproduce the Universe."

~ Ernest Holmes

I am a rockin’ teacher, and have been in the ‘classroom’ since my youth, when I gathered my neighbourhood friends and persuaded them to play ‘student' as I wrote ‘lessons’ on the chalkboard. Once I was old enough, I became a swimming instructor. The same also became true on the slopes in the winter, where I guided enthusiasts, whether children or adults, on how to improve their ski skills.

I have long held a motto, and strong belief, that education is the foundation to better living. As our skill at anything improves, our lives get better and better. And, I pride myself on my ability to teach.

I will always remember a certain class of adults who, one day, came to the pool where I was working. There we were on the deck, and after introductions, I invited them into the shallow end. They all looked at me in horror.

“In the water?” they asked.

“Didn’t you come for swimming lessons?” I retorted.

How exciting it was to then see them bob and glide with enthusiastic joy after just a few lessons! Through my having creating an atmosphere of safety and acceptance for them, they were able to put aside their fears and soar.

However, there have been times when my worse nightmare has unfolded in teaching situations instead. I have sometimes been so determined in believing I can transform even the toughest student that, when met with seemingly impenetrable guardedness and resistance to deeper lessons of consciousness and self-awareness, for instance, I have felt that I can’t help but take the blame. This has led to feelings within me of deep shame. “I am a problem solver”, I have told myself. “There isn’t a problem too big or too complicated for me to figure out. So, what happened?”

One time, I was in the bush with my horseback riding buddy (she was 15. I was 45). We were on an adventure, following a ‘trail’ of sorts. There were all types of obstacles we and our horses had to overcome, from ducking under fallen trees, to crossing muddy creeks. We were near the end of a 3 hours+ journey when we hit the obstacle of all obstacles. There wasn’t one, but 3 blowdowns blocking our path! We hiked a kilometre left and a kilometre right to see if there was a way around, but the wind-throw event went on and on. No way around was possible, so we finally determined we were going to have to go through. One tree we could walk over. Another tree, if we took the horses’ saddles off, we could go under, but the third tree was at chest height.

To be on the safe side, I always carry a hand saw when out on trails. We determined that were going to have to use the 7 inch blade to cut through the 15 inch diameter tree. Two hours later, each taking our turns, we had cut a complete cut circle around the stem. It did not break. Regardless of our jumping, pushing and shoving together, that one inch core was holding tough. I wouldn’t quit, though, because I was being driven by the thought, “It is impossible for me not to succeed. I always find a way to solve problems.”

Another hour passed as we widened the cut so that we could get the saw in farther. Finally, as we jumped, pushed, screamed and laughed, the tree broke and fell to the ground. We were eventually able to walk our horses over.

I want you to understand: I hold myself to a very high bar when it comes to solving problems, helping ‘difficult’ students, and teaching others to solve their problems. I aspire to be an inspiration like Glenn Holland from the film, Mr. Holland’s Opus, or like real life inspiration, Jaime Escalante, an award-winning teacher who received national attention for helping his East L.A. students to pass the A.P. Calculus exam in 1982. So, when I have met defiant resistance that won’t budge, it has seemed that my only choice has been to assume I have failed. I have felt so burdened by my shame which says, “I am a bad teacher.”

Unlearning rigid beliefs is a challenge I am ready to address, even in the face of a culture that says, “If you can’t be a professional then you might as well teach,”… as if teaching were a second class job. When I feel like I have failed my students, I get to look this idea square in the face.

In her book, Dare to Lead, researcher Brené Brown writes about the work of others she has been struck by: “Researchers Tamara Ferguson, Heidi Eyre, and Michael Ashbaker have found that ‘unwanted identity’ is one of the primary elicitors of shame. They explain that unwanted identities are characteristics that undermine our vision of our ideal selves.”

It is no surprise, then, that the kind of ‘failure’ I have described has sent me spinning into a deep dive of remorse and hard self judgement. I so resist the idea of failure. I can’t even open the cover to read the book, Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Help You Win. UGH!! I don’t want to be ‘a loser’.

Brown’s lessons are a breakthrough for me… along my journey of healing from events such as I have mentioned, I always dig deep into my ‘toolkit’ in search of transformation. In this case, Dare to Lead seemed like a natural resource. (‘Daring' I have been good at… ‘failure’, not so much). So, from my place of new awareness, I want to pass on a snippet from Brown’s book regarding four elements of “shame resilience” (page 161 - 163):

  1. Recognizing Shame and Understanding Its Triggers

  2. Practicing Critical Awareness

  3. Reaching Out

  4. Speaking Shame

After making my way through points 1, 2 and 3, I am writing this blog to speak out my shame. That is point 4. I will not be quiet as I heal through my limiting beliefs of where I have thought I fall short as a person.

So, you now have a new window into me, and… I now feel WAY better, as I trust you will gain your own wisdom from my stories.


~ What are some shame stories that burden you? (Remember, guilt says, “I did something bad.” Shame says, “I am bad.”) Write down at least two.

5 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page