The journal was lying on my bed when I walked into the room—the brightly colored cover in stark contrast to the white comforter. I hadn’t heard my 10-year-old daughter get out of bed, but she must have because there it was beckoning me.
I bought her the back-and-forth, mother-daughter journal a few years ago, and every now and then it appears like this on my bed. Some thoughts are easier to write than they are to speak; so I sat down, found the silky ribbon marker, and opened up to take a peek at what her tween heart wanted me to know.
What I read gave my own heart a little tug. She said she was being haunted by an embarrassing experience she had over a year ago. It was a very public embarrassment. She was on stage in front of hundreds of people and her performance didn’t go as planned.
We talked about and worked through many emotions right after the event, and I thought she was young enough (she was nine at the time) that she had just bounced back and never thought about it again. In the journal, however, she said that sometimes the memory pops into her head and floods her with nauseating embarrassment. She wrote, “Mom, I don’t want to be haunted anymore. Please respond and tell me what to do.”
My heart broke for her pain and I also felt the heavy burden of her plea, Please respond and tell me what to do. Oh, the responsibility! There are still moments in my life that I look back on with pangs of embarrassment.
None of us has this life perfectly figured out, and there will be pain and embarrassment along the way for all of us. But as a mom, I feel responsible for helping my daughter develop healthy coping skills for the stress, setbacks, and disappointments of life. So what should I tell her?
I started where I always start when I have a question: research. What are the experts saying about dealing with embarrassment? The famous shame researcher, author, and TED speaker, Dr. Brené Brown, was an obvious place to start. I love her empowering words on living bravely through shame attacks. So I mixed my own experiences with Dr. Brown’s research, and these are the thoughts I shared with my daughter.
Dr. Brown says the first step in dealing with shame is to practice courage and reach out. “Shame hates it when we reach out and tell our story. It hates having words wrapped around it—it can’t survive being shared” (The Gifts of Imperfection). Talking to someone you trust about how you are feeling is one of the best ways to work through the pain and discomfort of embarrassment. Acknowledging your shame alleviates some of its power.
Cultivate a Kind Inner Voice
You will talk to yourself more than anyone else will talk to you in your whole life, so cultivate a kind inner voice. The first thing to realize is that you are not alone. Everyone makes mistakes and has experiences from their past that cause them to feel embarrassed. No one is perfect. You can be wonderful and imperfect at the same time. Dr. Brown says to talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you really love and whom you are trying to comfort.
Own the Story
“If you own this story you get to write the ending” (Brown, Daring Greatly). I have always liked the anecdote about how Thomas Edison tried more than ten thousand combinations of materials before he found the one that became the light bulb. When people asked him how he could continue after failing so many times, he said he didn’t see the other attempts as failures. He had successfully identified ten thousand ways that didn’t work and each attempt brought him closer to the one that would. He could have told himself a million other (equally true) stories about his failures, but he chose to tell himself that his failures were progress. You are in charge of the story you tell yourself. Tell yourself one of learning and progress.
That night, after my daughter found the journal waiting on her bed and read my letter, she came running into my room with tears running down her face. We hugged and then settled in for a tender chat about the experience. I told her how brave and beautiful she was. We talked about reaching out, cultivating a kind inner voice, writing her own story and to paraphrase the author Elizabeth Gilbert from her book Big Magic, about how to chop up that embarrassment and use it as bait to catch another great experience in life.
She left my room a lighter, less haunted version of herself. Life is filled with ups and downs. I can’t stop hard things from happening to my daughter, but I can try to expose her to ideas that she can use to deal with them as they come.
QUESTION: What advice do you wish you had received as a kid to deal with embarrassment?
CHALLENGE: Do you have any embarrassing moments from your past that haunt you? Try sharing them with a trusted friend to see if it lessens their power. Do a mini-lesson this week and teach these strategies to your family.
Edited by Kimberly Price
Image provided by the author.
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I like that your daughter was able to write down her feelings about the embarrassing event. I’m not a writer. I don’t even like to write. However, I find that if I start writing about negative events or emotions, I am able to find perspective and let go of them.
The other trick I use is to ask myself if this will matter in 5 years. Most things won’t, unless I choose to hang on to them:-).