My 12-year-old came to me last night and reported that he felt very ashamed. Apparently, he said something stupid to a friend. Then, the friend got angry and went and twisted it and told other kids what he said. It didn’t go over well so the whole basketball team was miffed at him. I hate that that happened, but most of us have been there before.
Have you ever said something stupid?
Here are the first few situations that popped into my head where I have said something stupid.
- I once told a girl that I didn’t know well that her boobs “looked really fabulous today.” I just said it in a random, girlie girl, “we are all friends” kinda way and had no idea that she had just returned from plastic surgery after getting a breast enlargement. She must have thought I knew and was torturing her because she turned blood red and never spoke to me again. (Nice, Cherilynn.)
- I told my boss with only one week left at work to “not talk to me in that manner. I am an adult and a ___year-old woman and would like to be talked to in a way that isn’t hostile and sarcastic.” He flipped out and I immediately realized that I could no longer use him as a reference. Just one week left of work? (Not smart, Cherilynn.)
- I told my supposedly new boss in a final interview that “I was incredibly good at corporate politics” and that I could “play the political game really well.” I was maybe 24 years old and blabbering out of nervousness. The interviewer’s eyes got really wide and she looked at me with total paranoia. Clearly, I was not very good at corporate politics. Needless to say, I did not get the job.
I hope you laughed when you read those.
How do we recover from our gaffes?
The best way to cope when we suffer from a verbal snafu is to:
- Try to learn from the feelings of shame that these situations create.
- Use the mistake to practice humility.
- Find the learning lessons in the mistake.
- Practice laughing at yourself.
Shame is one of the hardest of human emotions to bear. And it is normal for people to want to run from this negative feeling. Do not do this. Why?
If you try to run from this feeling and not look at it (I am not kidding), it will stay tucked away inside you as this powerful yucky feeling. When you spend time allowing it to come out, it loses some of its power and won’t get triggered so severely when another “shame opportunity” rears its ugly head. (And it will, people. That’s just how life is.)
How do you overcome your shame?
One way is to get to know it a little better. Spend some time today or this week getting to know and remembering those shame memories so you can overcome them.
Ask yourself, when you feel shame, where do you feel it? Many people blush or turn red. I feel this heavy feeling in the middle of my chest. Think of a memory that really brings up that feeling. Where is it? What does it feel like?
Interestingly, a lot of our shame-based feelings get set when we are children. And if you came from a home where there was any dysfunction, you will probably feel shame much more strongly than you deserve. When you recognize it and allow yourself to feel it in your body, it loses some of its negative power.
In addition, when these feelings come up, forgive yourself, tell yourself things like:
- You aren’t perfect.
- You are human.
- You will make mistakes.
- It is okay.
Then, move on.
There is great learning in our shame. In my case, I should have said something sooner to the boss that had a habit of treating me and the other social workers so poorly. That would have decreased the venom when I finally got up the courage to say something to him.
What else did I learn from those experiences? … to stop and think (instead of talking) when I’m nervous. Say less.
Luckily, over the years I have learned to keep my mouth shut more often. However, I am a spontaneous, open, expressive woman and that is just going to get me into trouble sometimes. Luckily, most people are pretty forgiving. Now that I am older, I don’t feel nearly as shameful as I used to. I have also learned that apologies are often accepted.
It is hard to recover when we make big bloopers and embarrass ourselves. When this happens, though, we have to shake it off, apologize when appropriate, and then move forward.
Share the stupid things you have said to other people.
Please share some funny stories about things you may have said that were less than ideal! We can all use a good laugh and the knowledge that we are not alone in our fallibility. Feel free to use a fake name if you want.
Cherilynn Veland is a therapist living in Chicago.
She also blogs about home, work, life and love