Expert Insight: Seeing the Funny Side of Our Mistakes

“One way to encourage clients to accept themselves is to remind them that it is human to err and make mistakes. This will enable them to see themselves as human and learn to replace self-judgement with humility and laughter, rather than being crippled by shame. When clients are able to laugh rather than become embarrassed by awkward situations, they are able to redefine their experience and maintain social bonds. In this way, good-natured humour and laughter has a positive effect in disrupting the cycle of shame (Scheff 1990). Moreover, shared laughter is quintessentially human and a powerful tool for connecting to others.”

Christiane Sanderson, “Counselling Skills for Working with Shame”

I once heard of a woman who was at a wedding when she spotted that another guest had her skirt hitched into her knickers.

Familiar with the unwritten rule of the Sisterhood that we must inform each other when this happens, the woman discreetly told the other guest so she could make the necessary adjustment. Rather than laughing it off, the woman was so mortified she immediately went home.

I felt for that woman. Her shame was so immense she missed out on the wedding celebration. She also missed out on the chance to bond with the woman who told her and have a good laugh.

When we’re in the grip of shame, it’s hard to see the funny side.

I’m not talking about when our mistake has led to serious and negative consequences for ourselves or others.

I mean when we’ve had a mishap, made a gaffe, or suffered a “wardrobe malfunction”. What woman hasn’t had their skirt hitched into their underwear at some point in their lives? (Back me up here, sisters.)

It’s liberating to reclaim embarrassing experiences and reframe them as funny stories.

Try it.

Think of an experience that was mortifying but not too damaging. Can you retell it now with the intention of making yourself or someone else laugh? Maybe think of it as your hilarious chat show anecdote or an amusing episode for your memoir (as ever, happy for you to share).

By describing it in a funny way, we stop taking ourselves quite so seriously and, as Christiane Sanderson says, we redefine the experience and “disrupt the cycle of shame”. The more we can do this, the less we turn to food to escape from it.

Personally, I think experiences like the one above are best handled like Rachel from “Friends”.

“Copacabana” anyone?

©️ Julie de Rohan 2019.


Sanderson, C. (2015) “Counselling Skills for Working with Shame”. London: Jessica Kingsley.

Scheff, T.J. (1990) “Microsociology: Emotion, Discourse and Social Structure”. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

31 thoughts on “Expert Insight: Seeing the Funny Side of Our Mistakes

  1. Great insight, Julie – and I can’t watch the Rachel singing Copacabana scene too often! Thanks for the thought-provoking post and the laugh on a chilly November evening! Lxx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. 25 years on and it’s still so funny – Jennifer Aniston’s comic timing is genius. It is a bit chilly here in Old Blighty, isn’t it? Time to wrap up warm and get cosy. Good to hear from you, Lol. Hope you’ve had a lovely weekend.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. The Copacabana scene was great. As I think about Rachel in Friends, she made so many ‘funny’ mistakes and it makes her human, relatable and funny.
    I once caught my boss with the skirt up walking through the whole ward and I ran after her to tell her discretely. I see no problem in it. Laughing is the best medicine.
    When I came back last time from therapy I noticed my zip was undone and I was so sad and angry that I made such a stupid ‘mistake’. Everything that goes ‘wrong’ (not everything but) I see as my fault and as a ‘prove’ that I’m still not improving my mental health. That makes me sad. I try to laugh about it, to tell it to a friend but sometimes …. I need to a Rachel and less of a Monica 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder if one of the reasons we love “Friends” is because they’re not afraid to look silly. As you say, it makes them “human and relatable”. I’m sorry to hear you blame yourself for every minor mistake. We all get it wrong – I know I do – so you’re not alone. Perhaps we should all be more like Rachel and less Monica. Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences, I really appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Love it – I’d forgotten that episode and can’t stop laughing 🙂 I laugh at my mistakes in my personal life, but was mad at myself when I got emotional and started crying in a management meeting at work … I thought the next meeting would be really awkward, so I took a jumbo box of tissues and put it down in front of me. It broke the ice so we could all chuckle about it. It would’ve been even better to sing Copacabana!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Crying at work is the worst, isn’t it? I love how you owned it, though. Not just a box of tissues – a jumbo box of tissues. That episode of “Friends” is brilliant. Rachel’s bridesmaid’s outfit alone makes me laugh. Great to hear your experience, Karen, many thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It was just so awful at the time, so hard to process, but it didn’t take long to see how hilarious it was. I still tease my mother that I was scarred for life 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for the laugh! What a way to start the day lol! Let me just say that when I was a kid, relatives took my brother and I miniature golfing. I asked to use the loo numerous times and was put off. Let’s just say that Erin pee peed at Putt Putt and leave at that. The family still laughs about it and yes….I laugh too!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Funnily enough, I was just pondering some of my own future posts, and this came up as a subject.
    A lot of things, I have just had to let go. A lot of things I used to mess up, immediately after my stroke, I have mastered them now and can laugh about them. Some things I still get wrong, I feel embarrassed about them, but I know in the end I just have to shrug. My typos are an example, although this comment looks okay.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It must be so difficult when things you used to do quite easily become challenging following a stroke – I can only imagine how hard that is. I really like your attitude – you may feel embarrassed initially but know you’ll shrug it off in the long run. I’m glad you were considering a post along the same lines as this one – clearly great minds think alike! Thank you so much sharing your experience, it’s good to hear your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s often hard to think quick on our feet after we feel embarrassed. Some people think embarrassment is such a terrible thing that they never tell you that there is something wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right. That’s why it can be helpful to reframe the experience as a funny story afterwards. It can be useful in learning to handle shame and embarrassment. Many thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Another terrific post Julie – l don’t get embarassed, l tend to embarass others more – however – story of my life – is to basically try where possible to laugh it off – good post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh I can identify. Once I went to a funeral of a my husbands family… Already cringe worthy considering how they feel about me. I was with his cousins wife. I came out the loo with my long Indian top hitched into my tights. Revealing a rather luscious behind…
    So I walk around and my husband quickly comes to my rescue. The cousins wife had been watching the reactions and never blinked.
    It was that and other times that put me on reserve towards her. She remained the cousins wife and I didn’t allow her into my circle of friends. Sooo… She hated it. Yeats went past and many altercations later from her, and snubbing of me, she passed on Friday from cancer. The relationship had ground to a halt some five years earlier after her husband’s funeral. No matter how much I’d tried or been more than enough, it was not good enough.
    It took my then 13yr old son to make me quit trying. His logic was that which I didn’t stem, would continue. Sad. I’ve already loved her… Who is without faults? None of us.
    I will always miss her but am wiser for her part in my journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds like it was a really challenging relationship, Kavitha. Sometimes we try and try to find a way through with people but, sadly, it just can’t be found. I’m sorry to hear she’s passed away, you must be feeling such a range of emotions. I hope you’re OK.

      Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.