Deal With Shame By Taking Action


It’s a myth that an ostrich hides its head in the sand, but that metaphor for handling problems is still prevalent. Ignoring something doesn’t make it go away. Never is this truer than when dealing with negative emotions.

If we neglect negative feelings of guilt, shame, or embarrassment for too long, letting them stew, then the situation worsens. Those emotions steal our energy and hold us back, and sometimes ignoring them long enough can turn deadly. The ostrich metaphor is a cautionary tale:  Lift your head up, address the source of those feelings, and take action while there’s still time.

The Shame Of Failure

If you own a business, then you’ve suffered a failure at some point. Part ‘n’ parcel for being a business owner. How did you deal with the shame? Too often, we don’t fully get rid of feeling ashamed.

For example, say you didn’t balance your check book, over-drafted your account, bounced a check to a customer, and received a negative rating—that’s a series of unfortunate events. It was a bad situation but feeling badly for too long only creates problems for the next situation.

The Shame Chain Reaction

Now, you’re ashamed and embarrassed, so you avoid that customer and lose the whole account. There are many scenarios in which shame affects behaviors but they all have one thing in common—everything ties back to the emotions you’re holding onto about the failure.

Shame can act like a weight holding us down. It is heavy and clings to us, making it difficult to get up. Unfortunately, that is the cure for shame: get up, overcome, and accomplish the next thing. You must let it go!

Recognize the Shackles of Shame

The starting point to letting go of shame is recognizing when you’re in its grip. Here are a few warning signs and ways to get help.

1.      There is a tendency to focus on the negative. You own the business, so for sure, the failure was “all my fault.” Berating yourself further erodes your sense of self. This is a shame spiral. When you only see the negative about yourself, the situation, or the whole world, then you need help with shame. Pervasive negativity is a mindset brought about by shame, and you must change it. Take action: Get a friend or coach to work with you on a better perspective. Label the incident as an exception to the rule; it’s not the way you normally do business.

2.      There is a tendency to feel loads of self-doubt. One failure may feel like a sign that you “can’t do this.” Once you tell yourself that you can’t, then everything you touch or see gets filtered through this savage doubt. If you don’t stop the doubt, then soon, you believe in it. Take action: Look at a balanced outcome and give yourself equal parts credit to the doubt. Don’t make the outcome inevitable; tell yourself that you might fail again, but what if you succeed?

3.      There is a tendency for extreme thinking. So you didn’t balance your check book and had a financial hiccup—you don’t throw out your whole account and never touch money again! Shame pushes feelings to the extremes, making you feel like things are impossible, never working, or always bad. Take action: Watch your word choices and keep things realistic – “. . . might be true,” “. . . sometimes happens,” “. . . often is the case,” “. . . historically that has been my experience….”

Unloading The Weight of Shame

Failure is part of the process on the road to success, and it’s even possible to turn a failure into a success. You can alter feelings of shame by changing your perspective; looking at the big picture and seeing the failure as a step in the learning process; or allowing yourself to channel that shame into positive energy and think that anything is possible – success or failure. One of my favorite books is “Failing Forward” by John C. Maxwell. It addresses this idea of using failure to create success.

No matter the reason for the shame, taking action will help you conquer shame and feel better. Don’t let shame cloud your ability to take action – if you can’t get out from under the shame alone, there are resources to help! You’re not alone.