So, you've been brave enough to admit that maybe your embarrassment is happening a little too often and wondering why you have such a strong reaction to this feeling. And I'm not talking about that kind of embarrassment you get over your trouser zip being undone in public, or wearing Kappa tracksuit bottoms (does anyone remember when they were in fashion?). I'm talking about the more deep rooted kind. The kind that stops you from asking for help when you need it, or compels you to make choices that aren't congruent to you!
We all know this feeling, some of us more than others. This kind of embarrassment can become all consuming for some, really hindering their quality of life. But it’s not the embarrassment you see, it’s the worries that come before the feeling which causes us such issues. Let’s dive in together.
Embarrassment is a feeling of self consciousness and often awkward discomfort as a result of a ‘socially unacceptable’ thing associated with us (such as a frowned upon act or behaviour or character trait or condition) being witnessed or revealed to others. We feel embarrassment when some aspect of us is witnessed by others. Underneath this, is a deep rooted fear that you will not meet the image of yourself that you would like others to hold about you e.g. ‘If I get angry at x, people will see me as a monster and not the calm, serene, buddha like personality I want them to think of me as’.
What we have to first admit to get out from under the control of embarrassment is see it for what it is : it's completely externally focused. Its about how others see you, and wanting to be valued by others. Its also about avoiding perceived social consequences.
Important distinction here needs to be made about embarrassment and shame. If I am embarrassed, I simply don't want others to see something that will undermine the way I want them to perceive me If I am ashamed, I also do not want to see it in myself. I perceive something I did or something about me to imply that I am morally wrong and reprehensible. I do not want those things to be associated with me and I feel that the eradication of them can lead to a sense of goodness, rightness, social closeness and reward.
The idea of being rejected or threatened by conflict is enough to make most people want to run. Biologically we are wired for connection, and so anything that poses a threat to that, we will want to avoid deny and disown. We would rather present a false or preferred image of ourselves even if it harms us, in order to feel accepted.
So, what should you do to cut through the embarrassment? I GOT YOU COVERED!
1) Immediately imagine the incident from the perspective of an observer and then imagine another person doing the same thing. What you'll notice is almost everything isn't as bad as we initially thought when doing this.
2) Embarrassment is all about avoiding social consequences. This brings you to a choice point, you either 1. Hiding things about yourself from others to avoid consequences. 2. Agree with the rest of society and change that thing about yourself 3. Consciously goes against society and their opinion and change other people’s minds. The cure to embarrassment is to consciously choose the potential or actual social consequence in the name of a ‘greater good’. This could mean coming to decide you want to live and act honestly and authentically as it would give a better ‘pay-out’ than avoiding the truth around society. Feeling proud about those aspects can help. Or at the very least, that the thing being seen about you will lead to greater social approval in one social sphere, even if it leads you to less social approval in another. There's also a reality to consider that by ‘exposing’ ourselves of something may actually reduce the shame and isolation someone else may experience over the same thing.
3) Practice self-empathy. If embarrassment is a regular occurrence for you, you tend to work extremely hard to maintain an acceptable image. It can feel very imprisoning and cruel. If you feel embarrassment for something, can you try to understand yourself and not be hard on yourself?
4) Take immediate responsibility for whatever has been exposed and try to make humour out of it to connect with others. You will not only feel better about yourself, but people will change how they look at you. You will most likely be back in social favor. People love when other people take responsibility and fully own their faux pas. This is because they like being around people who can own things and laugh at themselves. People love being around others who can make fun of themselves to make light of things. Think of it as turning embarrassment into connection through common embarrassment. It can help immensely if we compare whatever we feel embarrassed about to other people who have experienced similar embarrassments.
5) Expecting yourself to not care what other people think of you is unreasonable. Instead, we have to learn to feel discomfort and ‘do the thing anyway’. WE ARE ARE SOCIAL SPECIES, YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO WANT TO BE CLOSE TO PEOPLE. The sensation of embarrassment is telling you that you are at risk of losing connection. This means you are afraid. You are afraid of social consequences, real or imagined. It’s okay and a part of life. Any attempt to deny this will set you up for failure.
6) Visualize yourself handling embarrassing situations really well. This works brilliantly because we are imagining scenarios all the time, but this way we can do it constructively, instead of imagining the worst case scenario of something really unacceptable being revealed about us! This will also drastically increase your confidence.
7) If an embarrassment has happened, don't torture yourself with what if scenarios. It has already happened. Focusing any energy on how something could have gone different is fighting with what is.
Free yourself from chronic embarrassment can be one of the most liberating things to experience. What sorts of things would change if you no longer experienced this? What would you do differently? Comment below if you like, I’d love to hear from you.
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