How to overcome shame, according to science

How to overcome shame, according to science

The fear of being ashamed can be overwhelming and can hinder the performance of daily activities. How to master it


Have you ever asked a woman if she was  pregnant and she responded with a stern “No”? If so, did you instantly feel the need for the earth to swallow you? It is likely that from that moment you have refrained from making any comment about someone’s physique. It’s just an example but the fear of a shameful situation is so serious that it prevents some people from doing such normal things as asking questions at public meetings or seeing the gynecologist for a major checkup.

How can these fears be overcome ? New research published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, may have found the answer.

The key to dealing with an overwhelming fear of feeling humiliated or embarrassed in public may be in the perspective we take , the study suggests.

For example, when reading a previous anecdote, you will probably put yourself in the place of the “actor”, that is, one who feels the need to disappear before the blunder of the comment. But what would happen if you could limit yourself to a more distant and strictly observant perspective,like that of the reader of this news?

If you were able to adopt the perspective of an observer every time you imagined a potentially uncomfortable social situation , you would have the key. This is how researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (USA) came to this conclusion.Jiang and his team conducted three experiments , each with an ad that presented an embarrassing situation.

In the first experiment, the participants had to look at an advertisement in which someone farted during a yoga class . The second announcement featured people looking to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. The third presented a scenario in which someone accidentally belches in front of a potential partner.

The researchers asked the participants how they would feel in these three situations (to what degree they identified with the ‘actor’ or with the perspective of the ‘observer’), and also tested their reactions.


The study found that people who adopted the actor’s perspective tended to be much more self-aware in social situations, but that when participants consciously tried to adopt an observer’s perspective, their levels of self-consciousness were reduced. 

Therefore, training yourself to be an observer and not an actor can significantly decrease the levels of discomfort and help us to be less evasive.

These findings have profound implications in marketing psychology explains Li Jiang, leader of the work. “Avoiding embarrassment forms the basis of attempts to motivate consumers to buy a wide variety of products, from detergents that can fix stains around someone’s neck, to dishwashing liquid that can eliminate unsightly stains on dishes.”

“Shame prevents us from asking for advice on what we should do, for example, about our growing mortgage bills or unwanted pregnancies.In many cases, if we want to help ourselves, and others, we must overcome our  fear of shame in social situations, “he concludes.

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