Learning is one of the most natural things in the world. Children come equipped to do it. Their brains are growing at a fantastic rate. Even in the most impoverished conditions, they are little scientists, observing, imitating, trying things out, falling down and getting back up, unembarrassed about saying the words in a funny way, and slowly (and sometimes astonishingly quickly) acquiring new skills and abilities and knowledge.
This natural ability to learn continues into adulthood, although it does change (as any of us who’ve tried to learn a language or play an instrument in adulthood have discovered!). Brain plasticity plus a world filled with new information plus a need or desire for learning leads to learning.
However, for many people this process is incredibly fraught. I can’t tell you how often a client has come to me with some experience of dire failure, and I say “Well, sounds like you did some good learning there” and they say “What???” Well, I don’t usually go for the re-frame right away – I do spend some time commiserating with the painful feeling of failure. But when I think they’re ready, I offer them congratulations for learning.
“Feedback, not failure.” This is an old and famous presupposition of NLP (and of many other wise philosophies). But for many of us, the natural childhood experience of learning was filled with so much shame and convictions of failure, that we become adults who have been traumatized by learning and have a hard time encountering it in a positive way.
There are many versions of learning trauma. A famous one is being shamed for having a hard time learning something, only to find out later you had a learning disability. But it’s not the only way to get traumatized around learning. Here are just a few:
- Impoverishment or cultural rules around who could have advanced learning meant that some children in the family could get an education, and others could not.
- An extremely distorted understanding of discipline made schooling a place where you could be tortured by teachers.
- Entering school (or shifting to a different phase of schooling) coincided with a crisis or trauma – the death of a parent, a divorce, a sudden move – that made learning almost impossible.
- An environment of bullying made school feel like a profoundly unsafe place.
- You loved learning and were perhaps a bit nerdy in an environment that wasn’t very enriching or was even denigrating of educational values.
- Racism or other kinds of oppression led to inferior schooling.
- Parental standards were impossible to meet, and even an A felt like a failure.
These are only a few possibilities. There are many more, some located in our educational institutions, some in our communities, some in our families. What a precious thing a supportive and enriching educational context is for children!
These traumas lead to the experiences my clients have, shamed by failure rather than happily alert to the possibilities of learning that life offers every day. “I planned a workshop, and only two people came. I should forget about having a business.” “I went on four dates with him, even when I knew by the end of the second that he wasn’t right for me. I’m such an idiot.”
What if those were examples of learning? Analyzing why I didn’t fill the workshop helped me to plan and market a workshop more successfully the next time! Going on those three useless dates just to be nice taught me to follow my instincts in dating a little more quickly!
To be fair, this kind of “life learning” isn’t always easy. Sometimes it leaves us understandably concerned about our finances, or hurt by someone else. But if we have come to adulthood without any learning traumas, or we’ve moved forward in healing any traumas we might have, then we can face these challenging learning contexts with more resourcefulness and hope, and the ability to spring back (resilience).
If you think you may have one of these traumas, here’s something you might try. Take a moment to think about a recent experience when you felt you failed at something. Now, imagine a younger version of yourself, trying to learn something and instead getting the message that you failed. If a wise, compassionate teacher had come along, someone who really understood learning, what would you have liked to have heard that teacher say to you back then?
Maybe something like:
- Good try!
- Well, that didn’t work. What else might we try?
- Is something bothering you that’s making this hard to do right now?
- I’m sorry the adults have made this so hard for you right now. You deserve a better place and environment to learn.
- It’s okay you don’t know it yet – you will. That’s how learning works!
- Or something else that feels true, loving, and liberating…
I am a teacher, too. Since my early days as a minister, I’ve led workshops and preached sermons that involved teaching. And obviously, I’ve been continuing that over the last few years as well.
But now, I am formally offering my Advanced Constellations Training this February. This class is for people who’ve already had a constellation training, or who are very advanced participants. It’s for people who feel like they lack confidence or who want to go to the next level in their constellations learning in a warmly mentored environment.
What’s got me excited about this course? By now, most of you know that I am a bit of a nerd, and I love digging deeply into constellations and systemics with collaborators. But what’s got me even more excited is helping others to find their own way with constellations, to become the unique practitioner they are meant to be.
Learning how to facilitate constellations can be scary. It’s group work, and for many people it can feel really vulnerable. It keeps a lot of trained people back from moving into building a business, because they feel like they aren’t good enough, haven’t done it enough, can’t quite trust themselves enough to help clients confidently.
The only solution to that is vulnerable practice. And, we can’t practice if learning doesn’t feel safe and friendly and that making mistakes (and even failing) is okay. It’s part of learning. Oh, lord, I can’t tell you all the mistakes I’ve made over the years while facilitating constellations! And I’ll make many more. And when I do that I ask myself, what was that about, what can I do differently next time?
In this way, I want to role model safety in learning, and help my constellation students and colleagues to jump in with boldness to enjoy learning and finding their genius in this work.
What’s your experience of learning? Have you experienced learning traumas, and if so, how have you begun to heal that? I would love to hear your stories about learning, and your dreams for learning and teaching…
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