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Mindful : October 2017
Is It Embarrassment or Shame? Tripping on your way into a meeting. Realizing you’ve had something green in your teeth all day. Calling someone you’ve met many times by the wrong name. Embarrassment arises from numerous scenarios, but there’s always a com- mon thread: You blunder in front of others, and in that moment, you fear that it makes you look bad. It shares some physical traits with shame—heat rising to the face, increased heart rate, wanting to disap- pear. But unlike with shame, those sensations are fleeting. And in retrospect, at least, you can often find humor in the whole mishap. Yes, you might have been socially out of step—but not morally so. Your goof doesn’t make you a bad person. In other words, embarrassment isn’t a self- view; it’s a momentary one. Shame, on the other hand, lingers, sinking deeply into your psyche and coloring your view of yourself. It’s not a momentary falter; it’s a mark on your character. It makes you feel alone and isolated, and is never, ever amusing. Feeling ashamed is usually tied to morals, your own and/or the moral standards of the community. When shame arises, you feel exposed, your self-perceived unworthiness revealed, to others, yes, but also undeni- ably to yourself. Trait Shame versus State Shame State Shame is the emotion that comes from appraising yourself as bad or inadequate in the moment, based on the imagined or real negative evaluations of others. State shame is when a kid does poorly on a test, and thinks, “I’m so stupid!” staring at the wrong answers, but that self- view doesn’t last or impact his or her ability to take on new learning challenges. Trait Shame is a core view of your self across all situations, not just in one moment. It’s an ever- present, negative fixed view. People who experience it are more likely to evaluate even ambiguous events as being due to their personal flaws. Using the analogy above, trait shame might mean not even studying for the test because you believe you’re incapable of doing well. October 2017 mindful 55 emotions