The Counselling Shed

The Shame of Academic Struggle

June 23rd, 2022

So it’s the time of year (at least in the UK) when we start to see posts and images of people celebrating the fact that they have just graduated. 

I would like to add my congratulations to all of those students. Getting any kind of qualification is not easy and so celebrations are well deserved. 

However, I am also aware that behind many of the happy smiles that are expressed for the camera on graduation day there are often a lot of other more difficult or conflicting feelings lurking in the background. 

Perhaps, students have been disappointed by their degree classification, or perhaps their experience of University life was not quite what they had expected – it might have been much tougher academically, or maybe they never met the friends that they thought they would meet and therefore they felt a bit on their own during their time at University. Or maybe it wasn’t quite as much fun as they had initially hoped. 

Maybe they had other struggles going on… such as health concerns, financial difficulties or maybe family problems or responsibilities that impacted upon them: personally and/or academically. 

Then there are those students who secretly developed coping mechanisms to deal with their difficult life experiences – drug and alcohol dependencies or other dependent behaviours such as porn, self-harm or binge eating – all behaviours which tend to be accompanied by high levels of shame.

There are students, who because of the shame or the sense of failure that they feel, decide to not attend their graduation ceremony – or they attend but then experience excruciatingly conflicting emotions on the day. 

So… when I see the stories and images of academic success, whilst celebrating that success, I also hold in mind (and heart) all those students who have had a difficult University experience. 

On social media we tend to see a lot about success and less about struggle and one of the consequences of this is that if you are struggling or have struggled, social media can sometimes reinforce the idea that you are the only one that is finding life tough.

What can often happen for individuals who have struggled at University, is that they start to believe that there is something wrong with them: they often end up feeling as though they have failed or that they are flawed in some way – and the legacy of this can take years to recover from. 

‘I had a difficult University experience because…’ so the thinking often goes… ‘I was not clever enough, or not extrovert enough, or not capable enough, or not confident enough, or not assertive enough…’. 

But you are enough. We all are. Being you and being here is enough – but sometimes we need a little help along the way to realise and/or to remember this. 

I love the quote by Marianne Williamson

“There’s only one of us here: What we give to others, we give to ourselves. What we withhold from others, we withhold from ourselves.” 

Whilst there will be many individuals celebrating their graduation day this year – thinking more collectively, there is a wider body of young people – and older people too – who will be graduating this year. And within that one body of graduates will be a whole range of feelings from the myriad of human emotions.

If you are about to graduate, and also if you are not about to graduate, I would like to extend my congratulations to you, not for academic success but for just being you. As Joseph Campbell said:

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”

You are enough. You really are.  

If you are looking for counselling in Faversham, Kent or counselling online then don’t continue to struggle on your own. Reach out and get the support that you need. I look forward to hearing from you.

Please click here for my contact details.

(Photo credit: Emily Ranquist).

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