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 and 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?

 

References

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.

 

Can You Forgive Yourself?

I saw a quote the other day that stopped me in my tracks:

“When you keep criticizing your kids, they don’t stop loving you, they stop loving themselves”.

Its stark simplicity hit me hard.

It’s absolutely true. If children are criticised relentlessly, they don’t start hating their parents, they start hating themselves.

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Food for Thought: The Rush to Forgiveness

“Genuine forgiveness does not deny anger but faces it head-on.” – Alice Miller

“I forgive them”. This is what victims of crime sometimes say when they’re interviewed on the news days, or even hours, after some terrible violation has been committed against them. Perhaps they were brutally attacked. Perhaps someone they love was murdered.

“I forgive the people who did this to me”, they say.

I always feel a sense of concern when I hear this.

Their forgiveness seems so immediate.  It makes me wonder what happened to their feelings.

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Why Should We Be Ashamed of Our Bodies?

You’re sitting in a café having coffee with a friend. Every few minutes you surreptitiously tug at your top so it doesn’t cling to the contour of your stomach.

You receive an invitation to your school reunion.  You’d love to go but feel you can’t because you’ve put on weight and you worry about what people will think.

You regularly scan your body in a full-length mirror, thinking “God, look at my thighs/belly/insert other body part here”.  When you’ve examined all your “defects”, you mutter a conclusive “ugh” before walking away from your reflection in disgust.

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Food for Thought: Unlocking Self-Compassion

“I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent.  They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line.  Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be”.

– Kristen Neff

That self-critical voice has such authority, doesn’t it?  We think “if I just strive to be the person it tells me I should be, then one day I’ll be OK”.

But that day will never come.

The day will never come when that negative voice in our head says “well done, you’re worthy, now you deserve to look after yourself”. Its sole motivation is to make us feel not good enough, not smart enough, not thin enough, not successful enough, not enough, not enough, not enough…

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Food for Thought: Knowing Yourself

“You’ve got to know yourself so you can at last be yourself” – D.H. Lawrence

We know when we meet someone who’s at ease with themselves.  They know who they are and they’re comfortable in their own skin. There’s no need for them to impress, play games or apologise for themselves.

If all we’ve ever experienced is disharmony within, we might envy them. “I wish I were like that”, we think.  “Life must be so uncomplicated for them”.

The irony is that in order to be ourselves we often believe we need to be someone else entirely – someone better.  Or, at the very least, we must “fix” what we believe is “wrong” about us.

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Are You Committed to Your Destination?

I remember the day I wanted to give up.

I was at home.  It was a warm, bright morning and sunlight was streaming into the study.  I was heading towards the door but, as I passed my desk, something stopped me.

A simple thought.

“This is too hard”.

I’d worked so hard to understand my issues with food and myself but, despite my efforts, I couldn’t make enough sense of them to consistently affect my eating behaviour.  Although my bingeing had stopped, I was still eating when I knew I wasn’t hungry.  It felt like an impossible struggle with no way out.

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