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Apr
05

Overcoming Shame From Failure

John Maxwell, in his book Failing Forward, tells the story of an experiment with a ceramics class. The teacher divided the class and assigned one half the task of spending the entire semester developing the perfect pot. The other half would be graded based on how many pots were made. It turns out, at the end of the course, the half that focused on quantity created the more perfect pot than the half focused on quality. His test proved that mastery comes with failure.

No matter where you are in your journey, moving through hurt, failure, or adversity is something we all have to embrace. When I was faced with great difficulty, I felt I had two options: be overcome with panic and despair, or find a way to go through it. My faith, support of family and friends, self-awareness, and intentional action to get help and help myself, enabled me to rise above adversity and become stronger.

In periods of difficulty, it is easy to be overwhelmed with emotion such as fear, panic, anger, confusion, and doubt. All of these emotions are difficult to feel, express, and work through to find relief. However, one emotion, that is particularly troubling in these instances, is shame. Shame, a universal experience, seems to fit in the category with embarrassment and guilt, but it is different. Brené Brown, from her book Daring Greatly, defines it as an “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging ” (2012, p. 69). Failure easily triggers this experience.

I know I am in shame when I am irritable, avoiding people, experiencing a low mood, and start to become critical of others. I, then, take a moment to reflect on what has happened recently, to identify my trigger. Sometimes, I feel shame related to being a wife, such as not feeling sexy enough, not connecting or communicating enough, or fearing I have done something to create emotional distance. Other times, I may feel shame about needing clarity or stability during change.

When feeling shame from failure, how can we develop resilience? Brené Brown (2007) recommends you follow these steps:

  1. Understand how shame feels on you and what triggered it
  2. Reality-check your thoughts that tell us being imperfect means being inadequate
  3. Share the story with a trusted person
  4. Talk about how you’re feeling and ask for what you need

To read more about shame resilience, go to www.brenebrown.com to find her booklist and blog.


Brown, B. (2007). I thought it was just me (but it isn’t): Telling the truth about perfectionism, inadequacy and power. New York, NY: Gotham Books.

Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books.

Maxwell, J. (2000). Failing forward: Turning mistakes into stepping stones for success. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

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