“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.
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”.
Sanderson, C. (2015) Counselling Skills for Working with Shame. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Scheff, T.J. (1990) Microsociology: Emotion, Discourse and Social Structure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.