Daily Archives: September 10, 2012

Expat women’s guide to guilt, shame, and embarrassment — and how these three emotions create a very different impact

by Margarita

As women we are pretty much used to feeling guilty.

As expat women we are used to watching our guilt grow in direct proportion to the proliferation of experiences of things going wrong, of failing at something, or of feeling sorry for ourselves. If there were a tournament on guilt, expat women would probably win it, hands down.

And while this isn’t something to be proud of, it is definitely something to learn from. Having so much experience with feeling guilty can translate into developing resilience for feeling guilty. And since guilt can easily poison your life, why not work on recognizing it, pinning it down, and eliminating it from your life?

Ready? Set? Go?

Not so fast.

First I wanted to draw a very significant distinction between guilt and another emotion that many confuse with guilt – shame. Brené Brown’s groundbreaking work on shame (see her TED video here) identifies shame as a state of mind that is even more poisonous than guilt. While guilt makes us feel bad for what we did, shame makes us feel bad for who we are.

For instance:

  • Guilt: I feel bad because I am not earning money.
  • Shame: I am worthless because I am not earning money.
  • Guilt: I feel guilty for going out while leaving children with a nanny.
  • Shame: I am a bad parent for going out while leaving children with a nanny.
  • Guilt: I feel bad because I am having trouble making friends.
  • Shame: I am flawed because I am having trouble making friends.

Get the difference? Shame attacks us at our core, it attacks the inside of who we are, it pins us down as unworthy, useless, bad, and damaged.

Brené Brown’s definition of shame is: Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging. Women often experience shame when they are entangled in a web of layered, conflicting and competing social-community expectations. Shame leaves women feeling trapped, powerless and isolated.”

The last sentence in this definition is the key when it comes to distinguishing between shame and guilt (and embarrassment).

Being embarrassed and feeling guilty is often the result of doing something wrong and, as a result, this “doing” may inspire us to change our ways, make amends, grow, and learn.

Feeling shame has a different effect. It isolates us, makes us feel trapped and powerless. It can literally destroy us… if we let it.

So the next time you feel a familiar pang of guilt coming on, look closely.

  • Is it guilt or is it shame? Is it about your “doing” or about your “being”?
  • How culturally-determined is your shame? In other words, how did the expectations of a culture in which you grew up contributed to you feeling shameful? What’s your shame’s trigger?
  • What can you do about this trigger?

We will be doing a lot of work around guilt and shame in our Expat Women Academy program that starts on October 1, 2012. It’s a one of a kind program that provides expat women with strategies to overcome expatriate challenges.

There are three different ways of joining the program — and all of them provide a money-back-guarantee. So join us for the Expat Women Academy and kiss those feelings of guilt or shame good-bye!