How to Deal with Shame and Embarrassment If You Lack Self-Confidence

Megan Smith
 min read

This article is about how to deal with shame and embarrassment when having low self-confidence.

Young Woman With Brown Hair And Chubby Cheeks Hides Behind Wall From Others Struggles With Issue Of How To Deal With Shame Issues
Word Shame Of Which All Letters Are Filled With Words And Verbs Related To Feelings Resulting From Shame And Embarrassment

Self-love issues are pretty common when you have self-esteem problems. 

However, these are often misplaced issues and could have been avoided in the first place.  

This reduced self-love is often related to the person's hypersensitivity rather than the severity or reality of the problematic situations that trigger it.

This article will explain how to deal with shame and self-love problems of people struggling with low self-esteem.

Emotions related to low self-esteem

Sad Face Painted With Black Paint On White Wall Symbolizing Sad Emotions Due To Low Self Esteem

Many emotions are associated with self-esteem difficulties, which researchers call the "emotions of self-awareness."

This term implies that the origin of the emotions in question is outside of us (such as the situations that trigger them) and inside of us (in our own sensitivity and hypersensitivity to these situations). 

Of all the emotions, they are simultaneously:

  • The most secret: For example, they are the ones least characterized by a precise facial expression, unlike the emotions of sadness, fear, anger, etc.
  • The most independent of external triggers: As much as the sources of fear or anger are universal, those of shame or embarrassment are cultural and sometimes even individual. 
  • The most linked to the presence of others: According to a French philosopher: "Self-love is the love of oneself under the gaze of others."

    Embarrassment and discomfort

    To a limited degree, the emotions of suffering self-esteem are represented by embarrassment or discomfort. 

    However, this first stage is not necessarily linked to a negative evaluation of oneself.

    For example, someone who is presented in a flattering way is likely to be embarrassed, lower their glance, but still have a slight smile on their face.

    Sometimes the embarrassment can be related to a mistake or inappropriateness in our behavior.

    For example, dropping something, saying something "stupid," or announcing a scoop that everyone already knows. 

    These situations are more about self-esteem and the fear of not measuring up.

    Feeling ridiculed

Woman In Jeans And Gray Sweater Sits With Knees Raised In Sofa With Pillows Sad Unhappy And Uncomfortable Feelings Because She Feels Ridiculed

On the other hand, the feeling of ridicule is still a notch higher. It is often associated with the conviction of having damaged one's social image or having provoked mocking or ironic looks.

Etymologically, the term "ridiculous" comes from the same roots as the word "laughter":

To fear ridicule means to be afraid of being laughed at by others. 

Most people with low self-esteem find it difficult to laugh at themselves with others, even when laughter is not offensive. 

Often feeling ridiculous, or concerned to avoid this feeling, is a symptom of low self-esteem

However, the feeling of shame is the most formidable of these emotions of self-awareness.

Symptoms and consequences of shame

Woman'S Hand With Green Painted Nails Pushes Over First Domino Of Row Of Dominoes Symbolizing Consequences Of Shame

There are many studies in psychology on guilt, which is a painful feeling of discomfort linked to the intimate conviction of having committed a fault.

Feeling of personal inadequacy

And yet, shame is even more devastating than guilt because it is related to the person, not just the behavior. 

Not only do we feel guilty for what we have done, but we are also ashamed of who we are. Therefore, the damage is more serious. 

Thus, shame is always a shame of ourselves. It is ourselves that we reject entirely and not only our acts.

Fear of publicly exposing our weaknesses

Another characteristic of shame is that it is triggered by public judgment of our actions. Failures will be more shameful if they have occurred in front of others or have been made known to them. 

The mere thought of others judging our vulnerabilities or publicly exposing our incompetence can be enough to trigger anticipatory or retrospective shame.

Replaying the shameful experience in our mind

Two Pink Arrows One From Left To Right Other From Right To Left Symbol For Replaying And Continuous Loop Of Same Visual Emotion

Shame is also a very "visual" emotion (we constantly play the scene in our imagination).

In contrast, guilt can only be verbal (we reproach ourselves). 

Obsessing over not disappointing others

The most crucial difference with guilt is that shame does not require a "moral fault" to occur. Indeed, a simple feeling of having failed or not having been up to the task can be enough.

Since shame depends on our personal convictions about "living up to" or "not disappointing," it is understandable that it bothers people concerned about not disappointing or always wanting to look their best.

Long-term avoidance of taking risks

When it is out of control, shame is one of the most formidable emotions affecting self-esteem. 

Suppose shame triggers a situation that is also painful at the time. In that case, it is also destructive in the long run because it will feed harmful ruminations afterward. 

These thoughts will gradually increase people's sensitivity and justify further avoidance.

Therefore, after having had a "big shame," some people may not dare to take the risk to speak again, dance, give their opinion, etc. 

Moreover, if a person experiences "repeated shames," they may gradually withdraw from any form of social risk-taking and, therefore, from any form of spontaneity.

Violent behavior

Male Clenched Fist Slamming Against Red Plastic Punching Bag Symbol Of Violent Behavior Resulting From Feeling Ashamed And Ridiculed

Shame has a powerful impact on our behaviors. This emotion also seems to provoke violent behaviors in some people since offenses to the self-esteem can increase the risk of aggression.

When we feel offended, we sometimes want to get even.

Unfortunately, this happens in so-called "honor cultures" (such as certain Mediterranean or Oriental cultures), which are violent and archaic shame cultures.

How to deal with shame: First, some background

As with all emotions, shame has a function. Shame helps us remember there are standards and rules to respect if we want to have a place in a human group, such as family, friends, or society in general.

Large Group Of People Enjoying Food And Drinks Together Sense Of Shame Of These People Causes Them To Behave In Group And Not Exhibit Antisocial Behavior

Shame has a social function

In small, appropriate doses, shame can prevent people from committing antisocial acts such as lying, betraying, stealing, and bullying the weak. 

Just as fear can make one more cautious by anticipating danger, shame can make one more aware by anticipating social rejection.

However, we must remember that all emotions can go wrong. For example, fear can turn into an anxiety disorder called phobia.

Shame as a disciplinary tool

Shame can also get out of hand, though there currently is no specific term for a "shame disorder." 

This is probably a sign that traditional societies tolerated them and dealt with them quite well: shame was a good way to keep people quiet at the time. 

For example: In the Middle Ages, criminals were set in pillories to be shamed publicly. Or, until the 1950s, the famous "dunce cap" was used to discipline students who were rowdy or had learning difficulties.

Shame drives much of our behavior

The reality is that we are much more driven by shame than we realize. Indeed, we can experience the following:

Woman With Red Hair Covers Her Face With Both Hands Feelings Of Shame Drive Her To This Behavior Of Hiding

How to deal with shame: Some exercises to try

There are many shame disorders causing self-esteem instability. Therefore, in cognitive behavioral psychotherapy, there are exercises to deal with shame.

The purpose of these exercises is to get used to embarrassment, shame, and ridicule, without being impressed. 

The public transport exercise

People In Subway Train In Subway Of New York City Perfect Place For The Public Transport Exercise To Overcome Your Shame

For example, as an exercise, you could be asked to take the subway, train, or bus and announce the stations out loud. 

If people look at you, don't hesitate to smile. However, if they do talk to you, just tell them the truth:

"I'm doing an exercise to learn how to deal with shame."

This exercise should only cause a slight feeling of shame since it is merely a ridiculous act that doesn't cause any harm to others, has no real stakes, and could only mildly annoy others.

By practicing this exercise to deal with shame, you can observe the following:

  • First, you find that you are much more uncomfortable before than after you do it. The idea of being ridiculed or out of place is far more intense and painful than actually being ridiculed or out of place. As such, we only run away from the idea of social rejection, not actual rejection. This realization is crucial because it shows the tremendous waste of avoidance. Namely, by constantly running away, we never allow ourselves to achieve anything.
  • Then, you realize that other people pay little attention to you. Sometimes the embarrassment of the people watching us is even greater than our own as we say the station names out loud.
  • Finally, as with the treatment of fears, we find that the more we prolong and repeat the exercise, the more the shame diminishes and subsides. The result can be a slight feeling of euphoria and lightness. We no longer feel the weight of shame and concern for social rejection, and it becomes a pleasant sensation.

Never face shame alone

A great piece of advice when dealing with shame is to never ever be alone in the face of shame.

Loneliness and isolation would only feed the feeling of shame. 

However, the reflex we adopt when we feel ashamed is automatically to withdraw into ourselves:

Woman In Beige Sweater With Cup Of Coffee In Hands Talks To Man Across Table About Unpleasant Feelings Of Shame

Know that even if you are ashamed to talk about what you are ashamed of, it is essential to talk about it.

Communicating your feelings to someone else allows you to distance yourself from the situation and not succumb to your shame.

Moreover, we must be careful with ruminations because they can engrave emotional wounds in our conscious and unconscious memory. 

Therefore, it is necessary to carefully clean the wounds of shame. 

An example of humiliation at work 

Woman Wearing Orange Undershirt And Warm Beige Wool Sweater Above It Hides Her Face With Her Two Hands Victim Of Bullying At Work

Let's take the example of someone humiliated in front of everyone by a work colleague.

The humiliated person was dead ashamed and decided to discuss this situation with her family and therapist.

They all gave their opinions and advice on the situation without necessarily trying to trivialize the moment and claim "it was nothing." 

They also expressed they would probably have also felt ashamed and proposed appropriate reactions:

  • Do not overestimate the negative judgment of other colleagues just because of this one person.
  • Do not isolate yourself and try to talk about it right away with people who witnessed the scene or with close friends.
  • Do not avoid the colleague in question the next day; go to them instead and ask for explanations.
  • In short, these are all very simple things. 

The next day, the person applied the advice given by family and therapist and went directly to see the colleague.

Everything went well, and the roles even reversed, for the colleague was now embarrassed and apologized for the situation.

In conclusion to this story, the fact that the victim reacted quickly and expressed feeling shame to others allowed them to give this humiliating experience a place in their mind and get rid of the feeling.

When you are in a shameful situation, it is essential not to isolate yourself and brood over the scene. Don't be afraid to talk about it and listen to other people's opinions.

Silence therapy

Afro American Woman With Beautiful Hair And Green Sweater Makes Gesture With Finger On Mouth In Context Of Silence Therapy To Address Self Confidence Issues

Some people don't dare to speak at parties for fear of saying something stupid. But after a while, if they don't talk, they think that others will notice them because they don't say anything.  

Silence is often a test for self-esteem problems, as it can trigger thoughts of personal inadequacy.

Of course, each of us is embarrassed by silence when it occurs in a group. And yet, it doesn't necessarily raise a red flag. 

While silence in a relationship isn't necessarily a bad thing, you can learn how to tolerate that silence with the help of "silence therapy."

During a psychotherapy session, the exercise is simple:

After explaining to the patient what the therapist will do, the therapist and the patient will sit face to face without talking. They can look at each other, but there is no obligation to maintain a constant gaze.

Incredibly, some people will feel very uncomfortable in this situation, even if this is just an exercise. Namely, it often results in "real life" emotional activation, as intolerance of silence can be so intense. 

Some people think that not saying anything would somehow cause their weaknesses and complexes to surface, which is why they always feel the need to keep talking.

During these exercises, the instructions given to the patient are to accept silence: smile, breathe, and be interested in what is around you.

As is often the case, the exercise is easier to perform than its anticipation, and calm is usually restored relatively quickly.

Youth and their "how embarrassing" attitude

Young adolescents often use the term "how embarrassing" in their everyday language.

For example, they may be heard saying:

"It's too embarrassing to wear that kind of clothing," or "It's too embarrassing to kiss your parents in public."

However, like adults, the exercises for dealing with shame are also practical for younger generations. For example, you could ask them to sing their favorite song out loud, dress in less fancy clothes, etc.

Cute Little Blond Girl With Blue Eyes And Red Scarf Sings A Song Into The Microphone Perfect Exercise For Her To Overcome Shame

Gradually, if young people play the game, they will begin to enjoy it and will no longer feel that sense of shame.

It is essential to teach them how to live with this emotion as soon as they feel it to help them better understand situations that may arise in their adult life. 

How to deal with shame: Conclusion

Woman With Brown Hair In White Dress Forms A Heart With Both Her Hands During Sunset Symbolizing Self Love Which Everyone Deserves

It is pretty normal to dread feelings of shame or guilt, especially when you already have low self-esteem or self-esteem problems.

However, it is vital to learn to live with these emotions and find ways to prevent them from ruining your life and that of others.

You can try several exercises to learn to deal with shame; for example, naming out loud all the stops on a public transport service.

This kind of exercise reminds us that being ridiculous never killed anyone. It also teaches us that it is only temporary if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation.

The less you ruminate on negative thoughts, the sooner you will enjoy other moments in life.

It is better to accept ourselves as imperfect human beings rather than not accepting ourselves at all or pretending to be someone we're not. 

Finally, we should realize that we are all different, with our own qualities and faults. Most importantly, everyone is worthy of self-love. That includes you, too!

About Megan Smith

Megan has been fighting overweight and her plus size since her teenage years. After trying all types of remedies without success, she started doing her own research. Megan founded Plus Size Zeal to share her findings. She also developed various detailed buying guides for plus-size people in order to make their lives easier and more comfortable. Read More