The Emotional Intelligence of Shame

ByCindy M. Nelson, M.B.A., C.S.L.C.

The Emotional Intelligence of Shame

emotional intelligence feeling of shame leadership development coaching

The feeling of Shame is the emotion that you feel when you do something that doesn’t serve yourself or others well.  The purpose of the uncomfortable feeling of Shame is to help you to own what you did, so that you don’t do it again.  It’s your internal barometer, telling you something is out of whack with your integrity.  In its essence, Shame leads to remorse.  Remorse leads to you learning a lesson (i.e. growing/expanding and not repeating the same action in the future).  There is a difference between Shame and Guilt.  Guilt is self-judgement, otherwise known as “beating yourself up”.  Guilt solves nothing whereas Shame creates remorse which emotionally connects you to the effect that your actions had on yourself or others.  It’s a sense of connectedness with yourself and others at a loving/caring level where you feel empathy as opposed to telling yourself how horrible of a person you are.

It takes courage to feel the shame that arises when you act less than perfectly.  No one likes to feel badly inside.  Let’s look at the example I gave last week.  To recap, I made a totally insensitive comment to an individual.  I was working in a facility which provided assisted living for developmentally disabled individuals.  I had accidently broken something on a resident’s wheelchair. When he asked me why I did that, my 16-year old response was, “Because I am retarded”.  I explained last week that I felt really embarrassed as a result.  Well, the other emotion I felt was shame. 

Let’s look at the ways I could have processed what happened that day.  After I made the comment, I could have:  1) Ignored it and said “who cares”; no one else was in the room.  2) Rationalized it by thinking, “I’m just a teenager and that’s how we talk… big deal!”.  3) Minimized it by thinking, “He probably didn’t understand what I said anyway” or “Maybe he didn’t hear me”.  4) Beat myself up over it.  I could have gone home and called one of my girlfriends and told her what happened, telling her that I am such a horrible person, saying “I can’t go back there.  I’m obviously not cut out for this kind of work”.  5) Own what I did and apologize to the resident.

Which “solution” is best?  I chose to suck it up (a.k.a. actually feel the shame and remorse), admit I was wrong, and apologize.  I don’t know that at age 16 I consciously processed the remorse I felt inside, however, I did learn from the experience.  As you can imagine, from that day forward, I became extremely aware of the words I used when speaking to others.  Even to this day, I really pay attention when I speak about sensitive subjects or about groups of individuals who have a specific designation.  The benefit that resulted from the shame I felt that day was an increase in my social intelligence.

Note: Feelings arise in order to tell you that something is out of harmony.  In this case, the crappy feeling (shame) only lasted a few minutes until I apologized.  Then I felt better and was back in balance.  Emotions are supposed to blow in (think “in motion”) just long enough to guide you as to what action to take to get back in balance.  In this case, shame “blew in” for good reason.  And, it “blew out” as soon as I apologized.

Next week, we’ll take a look at the feeling of Worry and what its purpose is.

This blog post was provided by Cindy M. Nelson, M.B.A., C.S.L.C. from Anakh Leadership Coaching LLC.  We specialize in developing business leaders and professionals by increasing their self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and overall effectiveness thereby increasing professional success and personal satisfaction in their lives.  For more information, please go to aleadershipcoach.com.

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About the author

Cindy M. Nelson, M.B.A., C.S.L.C. administrator

As a Certified Spiritual Life Coach, I specialize in emotional and social intelligence coaching for business leaders and key managers to increase effectiveness and overall satisfaction in both business and personal arenas. I provide one-on-one coaching in person or over the phone.