Why Feeling Shame Is Good For Us

It's time to be shameless about shame.

Shame isn't a nice feeling by any means. Everyone has experienced it, and the  uncomfortable physical and emotional responses that come with it -- the burning cheeks, inability to make eye contact and the telltale urge to run and hide -- at some point or another in their lives.

As much as we try to limit the limit the risk for shameful situations, shame does and will find us.

Someone we know will fall short of our expectations. Or maybe we'll fall short of our own. A blush-worthy secret will be revealed, or our crush won't feel the same way.

So if shame is inevitable, why can't it be a good thing?

It's something that Joseph Burgo, PhD, psychologist and author of Shame: Free Yourself, Find Joy, and Build True Self-Esteem, wants us to think about.

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"When considered from a larger perspective where it isn’t only a toxic, destructive experience, shame sometimes has a lesson to teach us -- about what we expect ourselves to do and the person we expect ourselves to be," he told ten daily.

Burgo came up with the concept of four distinct types of shame -- the 'Shame Paradigms' -- to help readers better understand their experience. The feeling of shame associated with romantic rejection is classified as 'Unrequited Love', while 'Exclusion' refers to being outside of a group to which we'd like to belong.

The embarrassment or ridicule associated with 'Unwanted Exposure' -- when our secrets are revealed or we're mocked in public -- is likely the most brutal type of shame. 'Disappointed Expectation' is simply about falling short of standards.

Whatever the specific type of shame you experience, rest assured that you're not alone. According to Charles Darwin human beings in every culture and on every continent the world over experience shame in exactly the same way, flushed cheeks and all.

The key to learning a lesson from our moment of shame is to avoid focusing solely on the moment itself. Once the feelings of embarrassment, guilt and self-consciousness have passed -- and they will pass -- Burgo wants us to take time to think about the cause behind those emotions.

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"If we feel shame because we were inconsiderate or hurt someone’s feelings, then experiencing shame might lead us to apologize and make amends," he said.

If we deny that we feel shame, or insist we have no reason to feel it, we lose an opportunity to grow.

With this way of thinking, shame can be used as a tool for personal growth, particularly in growing our self-esteem.

"Contrary to what most of us believe, self-esteem is not the opposite of shame," Burgo told ten daily.

People with an authentic sense of self-esteem have the ability to experience shame without defending too heavily against it. They take their shameful experience and learn from it, rather than trying to move on from it as quickly as possible, or dwell on it for days.

Here are Burgo's five simple-to-follow tips to help you deal with -- and learn from -- shame:

  1. Don’t feel ashamed of feeling ashamed, to begin with. Everyone feels shame from time to time; it’s a common emotion in everyday life, even if nobody likes to admit it.
  2. Watch out for your defences. When we experience shame, most of us tend to deny that we have any reason to feel it or we blame someone else for what happened. If you repeatedly find yourself justifying your behaviour in circular repetitive thinking, it’s a good sign you’re running from shame.
  3. Make an honest appraisal and ask whether you’ve let yourself down – that is, have you fallen short of the reasonable expectations you hold for yourself? Sometimes we feel shame because we’ve behaved in a way that violates our own standards and values.
  4. Don’t punish yourself! Beating yourself up for your mistakes makes it more likely that you’ll only make the same mistake next time. Brutalizing yourself makes it impossible to learn from shame.
  5. If it turns out there’s good reason for you to feel shame, learn what you can from the experience and make a conscious effort to do better next time. Turn your shame experience into an opportunity for building pride in the future.

Feature image: Getty.