Shame – faces of an affect in the company
Everyday working life often also means performance pressure. This often goes hand in hand with an experience of insecurity, pressure or even shame in some places. However, feelings of shame are usually experienced as extremely unpleasant and, paradoxically, often as shameful. We want to do something about this today. In this article we will discuss the (hidden) meaning and potential of shame. What am I ashamed of?
Scenes of shame in a company are commonplace and the triggers are manifold: You can be ashamed of a perceived mistake, a weakness, a defect or a flaw. Who does not know that you could not give a convincing answer to a simple question in a job interview, that you missed a lecture or could not submit work assignments in time and experience this as a great embarrassment? In public – for example in a meeting or in an open-plan office – the feeling is even stronger. For many people this is sheer horror. Another example is role conflicts at the workplace. These too can lead to embarrassment and shame due to the partial or complete incompatibility of the various roles. This is the case, for example, when a saleswoman finds herself in a conflict to provide personal and honest advice to her customer*, but is confronted with the expectation from her boss that she should concentrate on selling as many products as possible. All these examples show that shame arises precisely where we do not correspond to our own ideas about ourselves. Psychodynamically speaking, one could also say that at such moments there is a discrepancy between our ego and our ego-ideal.
Shame and contempt
Anyone who feels ashamed after such events at work would literally prefer to sink into the ground, make themselves invisible and evade the gaze of others. So we feel ashamed just when we fear being despised by our colleagues* or our superiors and being violated in our intimacy boundaries or when we think we are not living up to our role expectations.
The function of shame
But this sense of shame also has some important functions. On the one hand, it disturbs the naturalness of our self-feeling and thus creates an awareness of our own expectations and those of others. Illusionary ideas about oneself can be given up and one’s own self-image can be better adapted to reality. With regard to role conflicts, shame even has two functions. On the one hand, it motivates conformity with the desired behavior in a role – which, however, is impossible due to the incompatibility of different role expectations. On the other hand, it can lead to a revision of the self-concept and the relationships with colleagues and superiors and integrate the different role concepts. All in all, the feeling of shame can therefore also be seen as an opportunity to reflect on the situation and to do better next time or to integrate role expectations.
But in everyday work life, things often look different. After all, no one wants to expose themselves. A classic situation is the team meeting, where managers try to find out exactly what went wrong in the last project. It is not uncommon for the feeling of shame to be softened by an active act of shaming or accusing others. “XY is to blame. He didn’t update the last numbers”, it is quickly said – the shame is thus repelled and does not come to light in an obvious way, but masked as guilt.
But what helps to banish this unloved affect, which usually catches us suddenly and unexpectedly? After all, there are always situations in our daily work routine in which colleagues* or our superiors are not too nice to us. The best prevention against shame is a stable self-esteem. Those who know their own strengths and weaknesses need not fear the suspicious looks of colleagues and superiors. Those who know themselves and their own worth are also less dependent on the recognition of colleagues or superiors and can deal more easily with situations that are filled with shame. However, those who repeatedly get into shameful situations should ask themselves whether they have a built-in program of failure that needs to be worked through and understood.
Psychoanalytical business coaching can help you to perceive and uncover shame conflicts in the company and to understand the underlying dynamics. In this way it is possible to reduce the feeling of shame and to develop a confident handling of shame conflicts. If you are interested, please contact us, we will gladly advise you on your possibilities.