Caroline Cranshaw: How to get past your past and free yourself from embarrassment

Publish Date
Wednesday, 7 March 2018, 2:00PM
Photo / Getty

Photo / Getty

I don't think there's a human alive that hasn't experienced some type of public humiliation. And these embarrassing experiences can affect our self-esteem and how we see ourselves for the rest of our lives. After working with thousands of clients to overcome their insecurities, I find a lot of our trauma stems in childhood. Deep down inside, there’s still that traumatised, ashamed child inside of us.

There's the kid that was caught picking their nose in assembly, the kid sent home with nits, the girl shamed for experimenting sexually at school camp, the kid with a learning disability, the kid from the poor family or the one who has embarrassing parents. The list goes on and on. Pretty much everyone can think of one or ten embarrassing experiences that you wished never happened. When you dwell on those experiences, your subconscious mind will try to find ways of preventing a situation like that from ever happening again.

To appreciate why embarrassment is such a debilitating emotion, it’s essential to understand that over millions of years of evolution, our brains are hardwired to keep us safe. And to be publicly embarrassed in more primitive times could lead to rejection, being kicked out of the tribe and ultimately death.

So How Do You Get Over the Trauma of An Embarrassing Event (Or Year)?

1. Heal the Part of You That's Traumatised

We are not just one personality, we have a team inside of us. We all have a mini version of multiple personalities. We have an inner child, an angry teenager, critical parent plus a few more. We just don't have conscious awareness of them. When you experience trauma, a part of you may develop as a self-protection mechanism to keep you safe. That part of you is going to do whatever it can to avoid going to the trauma again.

To help heal this part, close your eyes, take some deep breaths and imagine the part of you that's still embarrassed by what happened, is there with you now. It may look just like you, it may look like a younger version of you, it may look completely different. Just imagine you can have a conversation, telling them how sorry you are for what they went through and letting them know that you love them and accept them exactly how they are. And they don't need to worry about keeping you safe anymore, that your current adult self is going to be in charge of that for now. Imagine giving them a hug and tell them whatever they need to hear.

It's truly amazing what can come up with this exercise, and how healing it is. This is the part of you that could be holding you back in so many ways that you're not even aware of, so you don't experience embarrassment like that, ever again.

2. Scramble the Memory

These humiliating experiences sometimes become horrible home movies that we watch over and over again. Which strengthens the negative feelings, the trauma and the fear of being shamed every time you play it.

One of my favourite techniques to get over a traumatic experience is the rewind technique. Your subconscious records everything that happens to you and makes playlists out of it which become programs that you operate from. We want to delete that old program of shame and trauma so you hardly ever even think about it.

Imagine a screen in front of you and think of a time when you've been embarrassed, or publicly humiliated. Imagine that the memories of that event playing on that screen like an old home movie. At the same time to also imagine that there are monkeys, clowns and cartoon characters dancing around, superimposed over the memories, while circus music played in the background making the memories as silly, and as ridiculous as possible.

Rewind and fast forward the memories, making the memories blurry and scrambled. Then watch the screen float off in the distance until it’s a tiny little speck and watch it explode into a million little pieces and then blow away in the wind. This visualisation is like putting a scratch in the record and corrupting these memories, and in turn, clearing the trauma and negative associations triggered by those events.

3. Embrace Your Shame

We are all born happy and confident. And then something happens to cause us shame, so we covered it up to hide our insecurities. We all wear masks and are actors in this play called life. Most of us have something deep down that we are terrified of someone else seeing. We may be afraid that we are dumb, boring, perverted, unattractive or unworthy. To compensate, we do everything in our power to appear overly intelligent, interesting, virtuous, good-looking and above others.

The problem is people always know when you're putting on an act. And the more perfect you try to appear, the more people can't relate to you. By embracing what you're afraid of being seen as, you actually set yourself free, which helps you to take off the mask you may be hiding behind.

Do Any Of These Words Trigger You?

Greedy, Liar, Phony, Cheap, Jealous, Vindictive, Controlling, Thick, Slow, Nasty, Possessive, Bitchy, Wimp, Mean, Evil, Geek, Prudish, Womanizer, Angry, Secretive, Codependent, Alcoholic, Predator, Weirdo, Addict, Sick, Fat, Disgusting, Stupid, Idiot, Fearful, Crazy, Murderer, Foolish, Emotional, Ugly, Sloppy, Loud mouth, Big mouth, Passive-aggressive, Jerk, Fake, Offensive, Inappropriate, Irresponsible, Incompetent, Lazy, Lush, Stingy, Dumb, Traitor, Immature, Gossip, Desperate, Childish, Gold digger, Hormonal, Insensitive, Scary, Perverted, Psycho, Needy, Defensive, Sad, Arrogant, Slut, Deceitful, Judgmental, Superficial, Violent, Thoughtless, Hypocrite, Condescending, Competitive, Power hungry, Insane, Racist, White trash, Anxious.

Nose picker, Loser, Worthless, Failure, Envious, Critical, Whore, Dirty, Bitter, Shameless, Bossy, Old, Cold, Heartless, Resentful, Racist, Snob, Faggot, Dyke, Dominating, Sleazy, Overbearing, Thief, Cheater, Trashy, Devious, Conniving, Insecure, Depressed, Whiney, Asshole, Ball buster, Unlovable, Delinquent, Scared, Hyper, Nosy, Intrusive, Perfectionist, Anal, Know-it-all, Ass-kisser, Malicious, Resentful, Righteous, Freak, Useless,  Destructive, Confrontational, Weak, Impatient, Full of shit, Self-destructive, Ruthless, Oversensitive, Tasteless, Ridiculous.

We all have every trait inside of us, good and bad. We need our murderer to keep us safe if someone tries to hurt us, our pervert to have really great sex, our bitch to stand up for ourselves, and our dumb idiot to let loose and have a good time. People can call you many different things, but you are not what people call you. You decide what you are, and what names you answer to. The words that trigger us tend to be ones we have been called in childhood or traits that our family members either had or called other people.

I find a good exercise is to figure out what word really triggers you then look yourself in the mirror and call yourself that name until it no longer bothers you. Sounds counterintuitive but stay with me. When you embrace your negative traits, which let’s face it, we all have - you are more able to own your positive traits. When you own your negative and positive traits, you become more authentic and real. Which is what helps people connect with you. When they think they’re like you - they like you…

We often define ourselves by events and actions, which is not who we are. What happened in the past doesn't define you. How you view yourself and what beliefs you have about yourself - is what does. And luckily that’s something you can change at any time. It’s up to you to decide your own self-worth and everyone else will take you at that value. I believe our traumas make us better people, more empathetic, stronger, and more determined than we would've been otherwise. And if nothing else they make great stories. Sharing our embarrassing stories and laughing is sometimes the best therapy there is.

Caroline Cranshaw is a hypnotherapist, founder and trainer at the New Zealand Integrative Hypnotherapy Training Institute and the author of The Smoking Cure. Find out more about her at nzhypnotherapy.co.nz