#593 – Finally


Today I finally got my grades for algebra. I pulled down an 85.76% for the semester, for a solid B. I’m very, very happy with this, given the struggles I had with the second half of the semester.

Today has also been a very lazy day, and I’m going to enjoy it while I can, despite feeling guilty that I didn’t do more around the house.

It’s a far cry from last year this time, when I was doing very little because that’s all I could do at the time. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, but what was once the status quo feels like so much less today. I know I was doing the best that I could, and I’m trying to go easy on myself about it, but the guilt about not doing more today and about not doing more then is still fairly strong.

Diagnosis and Definitions


Today’s a two-parter, since I have two completely separate things to talk about today. First, the results of my wife’s (and my) visit to the doctor.

We have strep throat.

We’re now on antibiotics that should help us feel better within 24 hours, but we still have to take two capsules a day for ten days, which is no problem for us, since we are already medicated anyway. So there’s the medical update, Dr. McCoy. (Callback to yesterday’s post, in case you missed it.)

What I really want to talk to you about today is the new book that I’m reading, called Daring Greatly by, once again, Brené Brown. In this book she discusses the subject of vulnerability. I’m still early in the book, but once again, her writing style has proven to be approachable and educational.

Today’s passage dealt with the definitions of four words that are involved with the concept of vulnerability: shame, guilt, humiliation, and embarrassment.

The reason these four words are important is that they’re often used interchangeably, but each has a specific definition that is, as she writes, “much more than semantics.”

I’ve discussed the difference between shame and guilt in this blog before. Shame essentially means “I am bad,” where guilt boils down to “I did something bad.” But what about humiliation and embarrassment?

Humiliation differs from shame because, as Brené quotes Donald Klein in her book, “People believe they deserve their shame; they do not believe they deserve their humiliation.” It’s the difference in saying “I’m an idiot” versus “who is he to talk about me like that, it’s not fair!”

The other important difference between humiliation and shame is that someone that’s experiencing humiliation is less likely to “shut down, act out, or fight back” since they’re not internalizing the triggering statement.

Embarrassment is the least concerning of the four, and the thing which sets embarrassment apart from the others is the realization that you’re not alone in what you’re experiencing, that there are others that have done the same thing or very close to it, and you’re eventually going to let it go. It will pass rather than manifest into destructive self-talk. In time, the situation might even become humorous and the source of a great story to share with friends.

Being able to transfer shaming situations into situations of guilt is a sticking point for me right now, and it’s an important one – it’s a considerable portion of why I’m on disability, because any negative situation immediately turns to shame in my mind and I turn that into obsessive thoughts and eventually self-destructive behaviors. I need to be able to turn shame into guilt or humiliation or preferably embarrassment in real time rather than doing it months or years or even decades down the line. (An embarrassing situation in fourth grade haunted me as shame into my 40s, until I finally turned it into embarrassment.)

I think this needs to be brought up in my next therapy session. It seems like this might be one of the keys to getting back to work. That’s an encouraging thought.


Working Definitions


So, I did something that I said I wasn’t going to do; namely, I’ve started reading I Thought It Was Just Me by Brené Brown instead of re-reading another of her books, The Gifts of Imperfection, which I recently finished. In today’s reading, the book defines embarrassment, guilt, humiliation, and shame, and differentiates between each term.

Embarrassment is a fleeting emotion, and considered much less serious than either guilt or shame. An example of this would be walking out of a public restroom with toilet paper stuck to the sole of your shoe – a momentary flush, and the almost immediate realization that you aren’t the first person to do it, and you certainly won’t be the last – you are not alone in your experience, in other words.

Brown writes that the difference between guilt and shame is that guilt says “I did something bad,” and shame says “I am bad.” Guilt deals with a person’s actions rather than their identity, like shame does. Repetitive instances of guilt can lead to shame, however, as being consistently told that you’ve done something bad or wrong can oftentimes make that switch in the brain to feeling that you are bad or wrong.

The difference in humiliation and shame is that people experiencing humiliation don’t feel that they deserve the action or statement that’s causing the emotion, whereas people experiencing shame feel that they do deserve to feel that way. Again, repeated humiliation can evolve into shame – if you hear something often enough, you start to believe it yourself.

These definitions are very handy to have as I start to pick apart my own feelings of shame. They will be helpful in determining which emotion I’m experiencing in the future, when in the past it’s all felt like the same thing. I think correctly identifying what I’m experiencing will be a first step to overcoming the worst of it.