Shame at Work – Definition

The Seven Self-Limits

We all have a set of unconscious Self-Limits that restrict what we say and do at work.

They’re intended to help keep us safe. To stop us from doing or saying anything which might make us look stupid, bite off more than we can chew or annoy the people around us. Most of the time they’re helpful, moderating our behaviour so we can get on with others and not over-stretch ourselves.

But at other times, the Self-Limits can really get in the way of what we actually want to achieve. Holding us back, making us try too hard in the wrong ways, and sucking the joy out of what we do get done!

Shame is one of those Self-Limits.


Shame is when we’re making a judgement or comparison about ourselves that is unhelpful.

Now, not all self-judgements or comparisons are unhelpful – some are useful. For example, if I notice that my failure-rate at a specific task is higher than other people’s failure rates, I can start to look at what might be causing it. And see if I can improve.

Unhelpful self-judgements or comparisons

But unhelpful self-judgements or comparisons are when I compare my self to a standard I haven’t defined, and then regard myself as ‘bad’ or a failure for not having reached that standard.

Instead, I just tell myself:

I’m not good enough


If only I was better

And instead of helping me to progress I might over-compensate. Putting too much effort into the wrong priorities or trying too hard just at the wrong times. And when effort goes in the wrong direction that can paradoxically lead to failure anyway. Shame also tends to rub-off on the people around us in the wrong way. Either our shameful judgements about ourselves mean that we don’t contribute to the team in a positive and helpful way. Or we can start to look at other people the same way  – “I’m not good enough – and neither is he!”

The Way out of Shame

As with all the Self-Limits, to first step to overcoming the negative parts of shame is to become much more aware of it. And I’ll cover recognising shame in the next couple of articles.

Look out for more in this series using the link at the top of this page.

Trust yourself.