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Overcoming Shame From Failure

by Dr. Kara White, Psy.D. in Active, Articles, Blog, Self Improvement Comments: 0 tags: Communication

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.

Childhood Anxiety


Just like adults, children often struggle with anxiety too. They often worry about their grades, fitting in with their peers, or separating from parents. Although most children will worry, some kids experience excessive distress that causes severe impairment in their academic and social functioning. A study showed that 8% of teens between 13-18 years old reported having an anxiety disorder, with many of the symptoms appearing at the age of 6 (NIMH).

How do you know your child is struggling with anxiety? Here are some signs that may indicate that symptoms of anxiety:

1. Experiences excessive fear that is developmentally inappropriate
2. Has difficulty with transitions or coping with unexpected changes in their routine
3. Avoids or refuses to participate in particular activities
4. Experiences physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachaches
5. Cries, is irritable, or displays anger outbursts due to anxiety.

Sometimes it can be very frustrating to parent a child who feels anxious. However, there are helpful strategies that can ease the worry a child experiences. Here are some tips for parents and caregivers to consider if the child struggling with anxiety.

1. Label their feelings. Talk to your child about what anxiety is and the symptoms they may be experiencing. Parents should emphasize that anxiety is a normal feeling and that everyone experiences worry. Giving the anxiety a label or name will empower the child to challenge their fears.

2. Model how to cope with stressful situations. Parents are in the best position to show how to cope with anxiety. Try to demonstrate problem-solving strategies or positive self-talk when there opportunities arise.

3. Praise for small accomplishments. Children who worry often avoid things or situations that they are anxious of. Provide positive reinforcement when attempt to face their fears or take steps to challenge their worries.

4. Warning for transitions. If possible, give your child some warning of when transitions will be coming up. For example, preparing your child ready to start or end school can begin a few weeks prior to the transition. Give them opportunity to ask questions and express their worries.

5. Don’t punish your child for behaviors related to anxiety. Sometimes children may be irritable or oppositional. Often anxious children are not be trying to be purposefully disobedient but these behaviors are a result of avoiding things they fear and worry.

6. Seek professional help. If the anxiety becomes severe and interferes with your child’s functioning, it may be time to consider getting help. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment to address anxiety.


Information from the National Institute of Mental Health (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders-in-children-and-adolescents/index.shtml) and “Practice Parameter for the Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents with Anxiety Disorders.” 2007. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 46(2): 267-283.

Kids Healing from Tragedy


Talking with Kids about a Tragedy: Three Tips for Parents

  1. Spend time talking with your children
    Let them know that they are welcome to ask questions and express their concerns and feelings. You should remain open to answering new questions and providing helpful information and support. You might not know all the answers and it is OK to say that. At the same time, don’t push them to talk if they don’t want to. Let them know you are available when they are ready.
  2. Help children feel safe.
    Talk with children about their concerns over safety and discuss changes that are occurring in the community to promote safety. Encourage your child to voice their concerns to you or to teachers at school.
  3. Limit media exposure
    Protect your child from too much media coverage about the attacks, including on the Internet, radio, television, or other technologies (e.g., texting, Facebook, Twitter). Explain to them that media coverage and social media technologies can trigger fears of the attacks happeningagain and also spread rumors. Let them know they can distract themselves with another activity or that they can talk to you about how they are feeling.

Additional Resources from the The National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Talking to Children about the Bombings

After a Crisis, Remember SAFETY

Cornerstone Counseling Center of Chicago