8. Places We Go When We Fall Short

Shame, Self-compassion, Perfectionism, Guilt, Humiliation, Embarrassment


Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging, and connection.

Shame thrives on secrecy, silence, and judgment.

The antidote to shame is empathy. If we reach out and share our shame experience with someone who responds with empathy, shame dissipates.


Three elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.


Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, work perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.

Shame is the birthplace of perfectionism. Perfectionism is not striving to be our best or working toward excellence. Healthy striving is internally driven.

Perfectionism is externally driven by a simple but potentially all- consuming question: What will people think?

One of the biggest barriers to working toward mastery is perfectionism. Achieving mastery requires curiosity and viewing mistakes and failures as opportunities for learning. Perfectionism kills curiosity by telling us that we have to know everything or we risk looking “less than.”


Guilt is an emotion that we experience when we fall short of our own expectations or standards. With guilt, our focus is on having done something wrong and on doing something to set things right, like apologizing or changing a behavior.

Remorse, a subset of guilt, is what we feel when we acknowledge that we have harmed another person, we feel bad about it, and we want to atone for our behavior.


Humiliation is the intensely painful feeling that we’ve been unjustly degraded, ridiculed, or put down and that our identity has been demeaned or devalued.

Humiliation is most similar to shame in that we feel fundamentally flawed. But the most relevant distinction is that humiliation arises because someone else pointed out our flaws, and we don’t feel we deserved it. The entire key to understanding humiliation is that when it happens to us, it feels unjust.


Embarrassment is a fleeting feeling of self-conscious discomfort in response to a minor incident that was witnessed by others.

Emotion Explained Example
Shame I am bad. The focus is on self, not behavior. The result is feeling flawed and unworthy of love, belonging, and connection. Shame is not a driver of positive change.
You get back a quiz and your grade is F.

Your self-talk is I’m so stupid.
Guilt I did something bad. The focus is on behavior. Guilt is the discomfort we feel when we evaluate what we’ve done or failed to do against our values. It can drive positive change and behavior. You get back a quiz and your grade is F.

Your self-talk is Going to the party instead of studying for this quiz was so stupid (versus I’m so stupid).
Humiliation I’ve been belittled and put down by someone. This left me feeling unworthy of connection and disgusted with myself. This was unfair and I didn’t deserve this. With shame, we believe that we deserve our sense of unworthiness. With humiliation, we don’t feel we deserve it. The student sitting next to you sees the F at the top of your quiz and tells the class, “This idiot can’t even pass a quiz in here. He’s as stupid as they come.” Everyone laughs.

You feel dumb and enraged.
Embarrassment I did something that made me uncomfortable, but I know I’m not alone. Everyone does these kinds of things. Embarrassment is fleeting, sometimes funny. Your teacher is handing out quizzes and you come back from the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to your shoe.