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What Can We Do With Embarrassment?

Updated on December 29, 2020
denise.w.anderson profile image

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

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 Happens

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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Embarrassment Brings Out Our Inner Critic

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 we 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 not 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.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Denise W Anderson

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