All of us make mistakes and, at some point, fail in some endeavor. Sadly, however, at times we address our shortcomings only intellectually, but let our shame of having failed reign over our emotions.

I recently discussed with business coach, Silvia Christmann, how people can best overcome failure-inspired shame. We discussed several areas related to the topic; in this piece I share information from our discussion about what risks we create for ourselves when we let shame rule our emotions, and how to best overcome the shame to mitigate those risks:

What are the risks when we are overcome with shame?

Isolation - We often hide our struggles out of shame - and keeping things "bottled up" in such a fashion can lead to physical and emotional isolation from friends and family who would have otherwise been supportive. Keeping everything secret also magnifies the fear of the potential shame to be experienced if someone were to find out about the failure.

Avoiding the risk needed for growth - We might fail to pursue our dreams, since doing so inherently involves risk, and shame causes us to avoid risks due to the inherent increased exposure to possible future failures.

Lack of internal peace - We trade our dreams for a world of unfulfilled desires. Deep down we know that we are living with no more than an illusion of safety, and are unsatisfied, but the fear of being shamed prevents us from pursuing greater things.

Impossible "people pleasing" - People experiencing feelings of shame often react by trying to please everyone as much as possible in order to avoid every having anyone criticize or dislike them. Of course, if we do pursue such a goal, we will find that it is extremely time consuming and emotionally draining - and we eventually realize that we cannot fully succeed at it anyway.

How can you prevent shame from overtaking you?

Silvia summarized a four step process:

1. Notice that you are starting to let shame rule your emotions. Become aware of your behavior and physiological responses.

2. Pause and breathe. Learn how to stop, and observe your conscious and subconscious responses, whenever shame starts to "take over" - but do so without judging yourself. Take deep breaths. Be kind to yourself the same way you would have compassion on someone else going through a difficult situation. Notice when you are avoiding getting together with people, when you are "checking out," getting defensive, or feel your heart rate going up.

3. Observe your mindset. Pay attention to what you are thinking - especially to any limiting beliefs such as that you are not capable or worthy of doing something, or that you will always fail. Our minds seek confirmation of our beliefs - if you think you are unworthy you will consciously or subconsciously look for proof of that notion, which can sabotage your moving forward.

4. Analyze and take action. Reflect on your thoughts, and especially on what triggered the feelings of shame. Evaluate how you can see the elements contributing to the shame in a different light. Often your own perspective will be far more critical of yourself than will be the perspectives of others. With that in mind, change your attitude to one of embracing and learning from failure along the path of success, rather than viewing failure as a dead end.

Published on: Sep 6, 2016
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