There are times, when we’re struggling, that we wind up doing things we’re not proud of.
These are usually impulsive things, things that may not necessarily be destructive, but things that don’t represent our best selves.
When we feel bad and we’re trying to feel better, there is often a temptation to do and say things that we think will help us feel better in the moment— but which we haven’t really thought through, and which we end up almost immediately regretting.
At this point we get walloped by what Dr. Albert Ellis called a psychological “secondary disturbance:” not only we we feeling lousy in the first place, but now we’re feeling lousy ON TOP of feeling lousy, because of the half-baked way we tried to handle feeling lousy.
That is to say: we feel embarrassed.
And before we know it, we feel almost as bad about the embarrassment as we do about whatever we were feeling bad about in the first place.
How do we handle it when we feel embarrassed— especially when that embarrassment stems from things we did and said when we were feeling lousy?
This may sound to some people like a trivial question, but for many people handling embarrassment over their impulsive behavior becomes a tremendously practical problem.
Embarrassment— particularly embarrassment pertaining to impulsive coping choices— can really set us back if we don’t have a strategy for coping with it and putting it behind us.
Nothing derails someone’s ability and willingness to use their tools and skills like embarrassment.
Embarrassment is one of those universal human experiences. Literally everyone has experienced embarrassment sometime in their lives.
If you have even a modicum of self-awareness, you’ve likely experienced embarrassment— and if you’re like most people who have experienced trauma, depression, or anxiety, you have more than a modicum of self-awareness.
The good news is, embarrassment plays by the rules of every other human emotional phenomenon: it is not created and reinforced by magic.
Embarrassment is created and reinforced jus like every other feeling state: by what we say to ourselves, what we focus on, and how we interpret events and the world.
If we can manage to wrangle our internal dialogue and our focus, we can manage our feelings of embarrassment— before they overwhelm us and make it impossible to move forward.
Most of the time, when we’re embarrassed, we are lambasting ourselves with “should” statements.
“I shouldn’t have said that.”
“I shouldn’t have done that.”
“I should know better.”
“I should have been able to do better.”
“Now that this has happened, I should just curl up and go away.”
Embarrassment feeds on these “should” statements— and those “should’ statements turn into the lens through which we focus and interpret reality.
It becomes a deepening spiral…if we don’t interrupt the pattern.
We need to listen to our internal dialogue for when those “should” statements slip in.
We need to get into the habit of actively challenging those “should” statements.
We need to consciously, intentionally, purposefully interject alternative interpretations into the narrative— interpretations that reflect a reality OTHER than us just being incompetent or inappropriate to the situation.
That is to say: when we’re embarrassed, we need to interrupt those self-shaming, self-blaming statements with which we are torturing ourselves…with interpretations and statements that contain compassion and empathy for ourselves.
We need to be kind to ourselves…even if we may not feel like it at the time.
We need to relentlessly redirect our focus, again and again and again, to the future.
And above all, we need to interject self-forgiveness into the equation— consciously, purposefully, intentionally, consistently.
That’s the formula for getting past embarrassment.
It’s nothing flashy, it’s nothing ground breaking, it’s nothing particularly profound…but it will work .
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