A Mind-Blowing Way to Reframe Embarrassment, Shame and Humiliation

The “consolidation window” occurs for up to 6 hours after a distressing or potentially traumatic experience occurs when memories are being stored and strengthened in the brain. Many of us have likely stored memories of embarrassing moments with speaking or performing in ways that feel shameful, and even traumatic, by ruminating on the embarrassing or difficult experience in a very negative way.

Traumatic? Compared to news stories about real trauma? I don’t have trauma. That’s what I used to think. I opened my mind to explore this a bit more in this blog. When somebody is filled with intense fear and panic, and feelings of loss of inner control, the mind processes this as a traumatic experience.

The following was written by Janet Esposito, September 2015: 

It’s important to change that going forward and not make embarrassing moments seem like such a dreaded or traumatic experience in our minds. We need to try to lighten up and not take our situation or ourselves so seriously. We need to put proper perspective on what has happened with an eye on being resilient and bouncing back from the experience as quickly as possible.

First, normalize embarrassment as a universal human emotion and try to accept your humanness (and vulnerability) when you feel this way. Name and acknowledge to yourself what’s happening as neutrally as possible, which will help you to accept it. Try not to overreact to feeling this way as it will only serve to amplify the feeling (i.e., feeling embarrassed about feeling/showing embarrassment).

Accept that your nervous system may be prone to feeling (and possibly showing) embarrassment more than some others. Try not to be upset or frustrated with yourself for this or compare yourself with others or how you think you should be. That is a formula for feeling even worse.

Remember that embarrassment is an emotion based in self-consciousness and is strongly connected with our ego and pride. The more you focus on yourself and your discomfort with what has happened, the more you will feed embarrassment. Instead, try to shift your attention off yourself (and on to your purpose) and practice humility to get past the bruise to your ego and pride that may have just occurred.

It’s important to recover as quickly as you can from the embarrassing moment and not create a story of shame and humiliation from what just happened, as that will give the experience way too much power to define (and limit) you. Instead of isolating and nursing your wounds, share it with some trusted others, make light of it, laugh about it, and put it in its proper perspective…and get over it as quickly as you can. Refuse to drag this with you for days, weeks, months or years to come.

While most of us are fearful that we’ll be judged harshly and lose acceptance and respect from, it seems that others are far more accepting and forgiving than we give them credit for. We seem to be the harsh judges and critics of ourselves when we’re feeling (showing) embarrassment and vulnerability.

Thankfully, this is something we can change when we rethink our response and choose to be more accepting and forgiving toward ourselves. It is helpful to remind ourselves that we haven’t committed a crime or other heinous act when we feel (show) fear or embarrassment.

We deserve kindness, compassion and forgiveness toward ourselves when we experience these feelings.