This post is an addendum to my previous post titled, “Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable: embarrassment.” I want to be clear and point out that I am not saying to become comfortable with feeling shame and humiliation; I would not wish that on anyone. I am just trying to address the difference between embarrassment and shame/humiliation, through my perspective.
There are millions of us in the world and we all feel things differently. The following is simply how I myself have experienced shame and humiliation.
Shame. Humiliation. Are they closely related to embarrassment? I think so, but there are distinct differences we should be aware of.
In my last post I talked about embarrassment…how the feeling of being embarrassed could stem from past experiences and internalizations. It is usually something that at the moment makes us feel silly or awkward or exposed in front of others. However, embarrassment doesn’t usually linger. When we face an embarrassing moment, it is something we can laugh at then or later, and it is an emotion than can dissipate quickly.
However, shame and humiliation are drastically different from embarrassment. There is a fine line between shame and humiliation, and I am going to try to distinguish them a bit. Not sure how well I will do, but here goes.
Shame is a soul-killer. It steals our joy and self-love. It makes us hate, dislike, or disapprove of who we innately are or who we have become. I can say with certainty that, personally, it is the worst, most awful, gut-and-heart wrenching feeling there is.
Shame can come about because of many things. Maybe we hurt someone, either intentionally or unintentionally, and in addition to feeling guilt (feeling bad or sorry for something we have done), we begin to think we are what is bad, someone not worthy of love or good.
Similarly, shame may creep in on you when you are doing something in hiding and you know what you’re doing is wrong because it is hurting other people, and/or people you care about. You begin to loathe yourself for what you’re doing, what you’ve done, and for hurting others.
Maybe we were rejected by someone we desperately wanted approval from or someone we loved, and we didn’t, or don’t, know why. We ask ourselves: Is it because there was something wrong with me, that you didn’t want me?
I thought back to the time(s) when I felt shame, or ashamed of WHO I WAS, and I came up with these statements that describe how I felt and thought about myself at the time:
I was wrong. I can’t believe I didn’t know how naive I could be. I am what is wrong. I am what he thought was wrong. Who I am is what he didn’t want. I disgusted him. He was repulsed by me. There is something wrong with me, like innately wrong with me. I am not enough. If only I had been different. I don’t want to be who I am. I want to hide who I am from others. I don’t belong. I wasn’t/am not woman enough. I was/am so stupid, so naive.
Humiliation. In comes humiliation. Humiliation, to me, is feeling that punch or hole in the pit of your stomach. It’s feeling the need to cringe, shudder, or recoil, wanting to hide when you remember or think about something you did that you believe repulsed someone/others, was severely embarrassing, and/or then was shared with other people i.e. the talk of the town – either perceived or real. It is feeling stupid and believing others feel the same way about you.
The last paragraph is from a personal view. If you have experienced humiliation in a different manner, or you know how to describe it better than I have, or you disagree with me and have another definition of humiliation, please leave a comment in the section below.
Why is it important to distinguish between the three?
Because two of them, shame and humiliation, can negatively and greatly impact our self-worth and self-love. They have the ability to slowly eat us up and kill us on the inside.
It’s also important to distinguish between the three, including embarrassment, because in order to move on and forward, we need to know what we are feeling. This means identifying the emotion.
As one of my IG followers wrote on my page one day,
Sometimes the simple act of naming the feelings and then expressing that you’re feeling them helps in and of itself.
When we put a name to an emotion, it provides us with a starting point for knowing what questions to ask ourselves that can help us work through the emotion. These are the deep, introspective personal questions that we may not want to ask ourselves because they may bring up painful memories or more uncomfortable emotions. Or, these questions may give us answers that we don’t want to hear because we are the ones at the end of the line; we may realize that we are the ones who need to change and grow, who need to accept things as they are no matter how hard.
It’s not easy or immediate, working through shame and humiliation, it can take weeks, months, years. For me, it roughly took about two years. I needed time to heal, but also to learn. I owe much of my recovery to my therapists, who worked with me individually, and the other patients in my group therapy sessions, who provided me with much needed non-judgmental perspectives.
I actually wrote about this topic a few months ago in a blog post titled, “Why talk about our emotions?”
Why am I writing about this?
Because you don’t have to live ashamed forever. There is hope of days ahead that are no longer marked by the shame that we may feel.
I thought I was always going to feel that emptiness and hole in my stomach, and I don’t anymore. I don’t look back at those times with resentment or anger, but rather with a sort of understanding, and only recently with a slight grin, that those times were what has shaped me into who I am today. I wouldn’t be here right now in this moment writing this to you if I had never gone through those painful times.
There is a way out of the heavy toll and weight of shame and humiliation.
You can accept what is, radically accept what was out of your control. You can’t change the past, but you can change how you react, who you will become, how you will move forward to a better future, a you that you can learn to love again. Maybe you have to accept who you already were and all you had to do was realize that the world is not simply black and white, there are grey areas, too. Try to see the good in the long term.
You can forgive yourself. You can forgive those who hurt you. There is a quote by Lewis Smedes that I think about a lot. He said,
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and realize that the prisoner was you.
If you need support through this process, reach out to someone for help. Find the right therapist for you and see them consistently. Open up in your counseling sessions and be an active participant in your healing process throughout the week. Seek a spiritual advisor or mentor. Faith in a higher power was also something that helped me immensely to overcome shame.
You don’t need to be a prisoner of your past.
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Part 2 of my series, “Becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable" has been published! I write on shame and humiliation through my perspective. I want to be clear and point out that I am not saying to become comfortable with feeling shame and humiliation; I would not wish that on anyone. I am just trying to address the difference between embarrassment and shame/humiliation, and why it's vital to become aware of how and what we are experiencing. Naming or identifying the emotion can get us on the path to then working through that emotion or feeling…with the right help. If you realize that you ARE feeling shame and humiliation, that's a huge step because those are awful feelings I'm sure we all wish we didn't have to go through. Realization of that fact can, like I said before, get us on a path of acceptance, healing, and forward movement. Click the link in my bio for my newest post or visit www.bantheshame.com — the post at the top of the page !! • • • • • • Shame contributed a great deal to my depression. I felt broken, worthless, unworthy, useless, and ashamed. Humiliation played a part, too. I thought I would never be able to get over this hurdle and that I would feel that cringe and punch in my stomach forever. But…with time and lots of support, I began to learn to love myself again. I also changed and grew SO much as a person and human being. I want my readers to know that it IS possible to overcome shame and that there is hope for finding love for life and ourselves again. • • • • #difficult emotions #emotionalwellness #mentalhealth #shame #humiliation #overcome #depression #depressionsupport #anxiety #broken #ashamed #hope #mentalwellness #recovery #suicideprevention #acceptance #perspective