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What Can We Do With Embarrassment?

Updated on June 6, 2018
denise.w.anderson profile image

An Education Specialist, Denise teaches the principles of Emotional Health for the establishment and maintenance of high quality families.

I had it all planned out. I would walk onto the stage in my grubby clothes, pretending to be a janitor cleaning up after the show. My friend would yell his goodbye from stage right, and I would respond with a "See ya tomorrow!" Upon finding myself alone, I would sit down at the piano and play Beethoven's Sonata Patatique. After a stirring performance, I would get up and bow, and the curtains would fall to the sound of the applause.

It all sounded perfect. Unfortunately, everything did not go as planned! The audience did not get the acting part of me coming out looking like a janitor, nor did they hear my friend exit on stage right. My performance was certainly not stirring, and the curtain broke, therefore it didn't fall when I was finished! I walked off the stage with no applause, just a grumbling and complaining audience!

How often do you feel embarrassment?

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When we add humiliation to the mishaps in our lives, we are only setting ourselves up for a healthy dose of embarrassment!
When we add humiliation to the mishaps in our lives, we are only setting ourselves up for a healthy dose of embarrassment!

Embarrassment is a difficult emotion to experience. When we feel it, we often turn on ourselves with hurtful criticism, accusations, and condemnation. We tear down our own feelings of self worth, saying things like:

  • Who do you think you are?
  • What were you doing, anyway?
  • Where did you come up with that idea?
  • When will you ever learn?
  • Why didn't you do it a different way?
  • How are you going to get out of this mess?


In order to turn the tide on our embarrassment, we have to first deal with our inner critic, the part of us that takes the negative and blows it out of proportion. The distorted thought patterns of exaggeration, black and white thinking, and assumptions are like three strikes against us in the bottom of the ninth inning.

If we are not able to recognize and refute these thought patterns, we will be out of the game for sure. Examples are in the table below and more information on what to do about them are in the the paragraphs that follow.

Examples

Exaggeration
Black & White Thinking
Assumptions
This must be the thousandth time I did that
I am always forgetting things
He thinks I'm really a jerk
This pile is a mile high
I never seem to get anything right
They are looking at me, I can tell
I've given him at least a hundred reasons
I screw up every time
I know I will get fired
I've misspelled so many words I can't count them
I must be the worst one in the office
They must be planning to move me to a different position

Exaggeration

When we are embarrassed, We see things as worse than they really are. We think that our weaknesses are a big neon sign, flashing bright colors, advertising our latest blunders like a blockbuster movie on an outdoor advertising marquee!

We look at others and compare our perceived ineptness and stupidity to their appropriate behavior, and think that we have certainly been given the short end of the lottery ticket. What we don't realize, is that in making these comparisons, we are looking at others' strengths. We do not see their mistakes and weaknesses.

In order to keep ourselves from feeling humiliated, we have to do a reality check. Asking ourselves the following questions is helpful:

  • What is happening?
  • What am I thinking about doing?
  • What are the consequence if I do it?
  • Is that really what I want?
  • What would be better for myself and others in the long run?

As we ask ourselves these questions, we usually come to realize that our mistakes do not happen all the time. We have days when we do many things well, and we need to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. After all, we are human, and human beings make mistakes, especially during the learning process!

A wholesome sense of humor will be a safety valve that will enable you to apply the lighter touch to heavy problems and to learn some lessons in problem-solving that 'sweat and tears' often fail to dissolve.

— Hugh B. Brown

Black and white thinking

When we are embarrassed, we tend to think in extremes. Words like "never" and "always" get thrown at us like snowballs on a children's playground in the winter. We don't give ourselves any time to duck, and we know right where to throw for it to hurt the most! For example:

  • I always screw up!
  • The boss never sees me when I do it right!
  • I always forget where I am supposed to go!
  • I never know when he will show up!

These unrealistic expectations we put upon ourselves leave us feeling hopeless. We can't seem to get on top of them! The best way to deal with this type of distorted thinking is to remind ourselves that although we are not perfect, the red flags of never and always are simply not true.

The key to our ability to overcome embarrassment is to listen to the "Voice of Truth" rather than the inner critic that tears us down. The song Voice of Truth by Casting Crowns in the video below gives additional examples of distorted thinking, as well as things that the "Voice of Truth" will tell us instead.

Assumptions

Embarrassment leads us to make assumptions based on inaccurate perceptions of our reality. We assume that we know what people are thinking about us, how they feel toward what we have done, and that our future relationships with them are tainted because of our ineptness.

We think are able to "read" others' faces, their actions, and the meaning behind their words. Unfortunately, we may not be accurate in what we "think" others are "thinking." We cannot read minds. We are only human, we do know know all things.

Only God is able to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart. Our judgement is faulty at best and if we make decisions based on inaccurate information, we are putting ourselves in jeopardy. We will act in ways that do not make sense to others, causing further issues in our relationships.

The best way to deal with embarrassment is laughter.
The best way to deal with embarrassment is laughter.

Oops!*

I burned the toast! Oops! I spilled the milk! I buttoned my shirt crooked! I left my zipper undone! How could I have forgotten? Oh, no! I dropped it! I tripped on my own foot! I dialed the wrong number! I threw out that sack. You mean it wasn't garbage?

I yelled at the wrong person! I thought you said something else! Oh, you mean that isn't your name? I hung up the phone and I didn't mean to! I gave you the wrong address! I deleted the file I wanted to save! I printed the document upside down!

What was I thinking when I ordered that?! I used the recipe I thought I threw away! I locked myself out! I took someone else's medicine! Today isn't garbage day, yesterday was?! I signaled to turn left and I turned right! I can't believe I did that?!

Mistakes are painful reminders of our humanity. Without them we would all be in the same realm as deity....perfect. Make no mistake about it, we were not sent here as a mistake, nor is it a mistake that we make mistakes.

It would be a mistake, however, to give up because of our mistakes. It is in learning from our mistakes and overcoming the effects of them that brings about perfection. For did not the Master Teacher overcome the world, and say that we could do the same?

I blew it! I played the wrong note, sewed the zipper in wrong, handed in the wrong paper, read the wrong directions, used the wrong amount on the recipe, wrote out the check wrong, pushed the wrong button, put it in the wrong file, plugged it in the wrong way, filled out that form wrong........ OOPS!

Remember, embarrassment is best dealt with using a healthy dose of laughter.

*Oops! written by Denise W. Anderson.

© 2014 Denise W Anderson

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    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      16 months ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      That is a great attitude to have, Claire-louise! If we can laugh at ourselves, then embarrassment just flies out the window!

    • Claire-louise profile image

      Claire Raymond 

      16 months ago from UK

      Haha I gave up on embarrassment ages ago! I am so clumsy that I have had to give up on it!

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Thanks, teaches. The life of a teacher is a difficult one. Not only are you teaching others, but in the process of learning as well. Being able to laugh at yourself gives students a way to get close to you. That relationship makes all the difference when life's lessons are at their toughest!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      3 years ago

      Denise, this was so well written and helps people understand humor can really put things in a good light when embarrassed. I've used humor many times to overcome the emotional aspect of making a mistake.

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Thanks, ChitrangadaSharan. I think that most of us mellow as we age. We don't worry so much about what other people think of us, and we have more wisdom and understanding from our past experience. I appreciate you stopping by and leaving comments!

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      3 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Excellent hub and you tackled this so well!

      I have had my moments of embarrassments, but mostly in my younger days. As we age we do not bother much about this. As you said I realize that the other person is also not perfect.

      Nice, engaging and insightful hub as always. Thanks and voted up!

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      That is good advice, MsDora. The key is realizing that we are not alone in making mistakes. Life is full of them, no matter who we are. Our ability to be kind to ourselves gives us room to relax and enjoy the process! Thanks for your comments!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks, Denise for handling this sensitive topic with adequate sensitivity. I have a friend who says, "The reason I survive embarrassment is because I know that other people mess up even when I don't see." That's good, I think, but surviving because we recognize our humanity--like you suggest--seems better. Great counsel!

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      That is a great way to handle it, Janice! When we use humor to diffuse our embarrassment, it makes life a lot easier to handle! Embarrassment can affect us very deeply unless we turn off that inner critic! Our self-worth can be destroyed in mere seconds!

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      That is a good point, Kate. Some people come by humor naturally, and others do not. Personally, I am one of those who have to cultivate it! I appreciate your wisdom and comments!

    • profile image

      Janice Horner 

      3 years ago

      Whenever I become embarrassed my face goes scarlet red! If I've misunderstood someone or something, I turn it into a joke! If it's a serious embarrassment that is going to get me into trouble my entire body shakes inside! It is, as said above, a very uncomfortable emotion. Fortunately, I don't often have to experience it!

    • Kate Mc Bride profile image

      Kate McBride 

      3 years ago from Donegal Ireland

      Thanks Denise as usual for a good read full of wisdom and common sense. Some people who have a natural sense of humour can lose it through hard times and others who don't have it naturally have to cultivate it to make their lives easier. Looking forward to reading more from you soon again.

      Cheers :-)

      Kate

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      You are right, DDE, we all feel embarrassed at some point or another. It is a very uncomfortable emotion, and feeling out of place is a great way to describe it! When we get embarrassed, we fear that we will never amount to much of anything, but thankfully, things do get better! Thanks for your comments.

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      I'm glad that you found it humorous, Eric. At the time, I was devastated. As I look back on that event now, nearly forty years later, I can laugh at myself! Age softens our difficult experiences. We realize that they will pass, and there is no need to get upset about them. Thanks for stopping by!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Embarrassment can make feel so out of place. At some point we have all felt embarrassment.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      3 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Funny on this -- maybe it is age, I do all kinds of stuff to be embarrassed about but don't generally get that way anymore. This was a great read and very helpful in keeping moving forward.

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