No doubt you’ve heard there are fears greater than death.
Public speaking comes to mind. One of the other top vote-getters is being embarrassed — humiliated, to be exact. Where does this come from?
The answer seems to come from our remote past. Early on — when humans had to fight off predators — safety came from being in groups. It was very risky to be ostracized. And the fear of being rejected from the group had dire consequences.
Fast forward. This primal fear has morphed into current scenarios in which we crave acceptance and fear rejection — even when there’s not a life-threatening situation.
“Nearly 20 million individuals at any one time suffer from some form of social anxiety,” says Kip Williams, a professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University. “They fear being rejected and abandoned.”
Let’s look at how embarrassment manifests in today’s world, with results from a survey by Mindful magazine.
What embarrasses you the most?
Ranked by percentage points, here are the survey results:
- 42 — being put on the spot
- 33 — saying the wrong thing
- 10 — being clumsy
- 7 — showing emotion
- 5 — when someone around them is being ridiculous
- 3 — public displays of affection
Who has the greatest power to embarrass you?
- 27 — complete strangers
- 24 — coworkers
- 22 — romantic partners
- 11 — siblings
- 9 — parents
- 4 — friends
- 3 — drunk uncles
How does embarrassment show up?
Forty-eight percent of the respondents said they were easily embarrassed, while 52 percent said they were not. In terms of embarrassment manifesting in the body, following are the responses, ranked by highest percentage to lowest: blushing (71), breaking into a sweat (30), laughing inappropriately (29), queasiness (18), the urge to pee (4) and watery eyes (4).
Getting over it
Asked about getting over embarrassment, 32 percent of the respondents said they don’t get over it, often ruminating about incidents for days. Twenty-nine percent said they laugh it off, while nine percent deflect attention to someone else and another eight percent slink away.
Some tips for getting over embarrassment, according to my experience and research from author and therapist, Therese Borchard, (www.thereseborchard.com) include:
Stay in the moment — All embarrassment takes place in the past. Theoretically, if you are able to totally stay in the moment, you won’t feel an ounce of embarrassment — because all those messages in your brain belong to a different time and place. This is easier said than done, especially when your stomach is tied in knots and you’re berating yourself once again with self-defeating thoughts. “I’m such a klutz.” “I’m terrible with directions.”
Stop apologizing — You may think you’ll feel better if you atone for your actions again and again. You won’t, though. In fact, you’ll feel worse. Because, again, your attention is on the past, not on the present.
Visit past humiliations — This will help you keep things in perspective. Remember when you thought you were going to die — or, at least, you wanted to? In hindsight, it wasn’t such a big deal, right? As an exercise, you may want to consider listing some of your most embarrassing moments.
Author Borchard, associate editor of Psych Central, shares the following examples:
- At my first job out of college, I was the only one to dress up for Halloween. I went as the building security guard (borrowed the uniform and all), and he was the only one who thought it was funny.
- I was almost arrested for sexual harassment my senior year at college because the creative note I left for the director of the homeless shelter was set on top of a lingerie set another woman had sent him. Thus, he assumed I was the lingerie stalker.
- Upon being prompted to tell “the thumb” joke to the Vice President of Doubleday, I proceeded to tell the wrong, very off-color joke — which I feared at the time would kill our book contract.
Learn how to be afraid — Embarrassment is essentially fear of being perceived in a negative way. So, if we learn how to be afraid, we can handle embarrassment in a way that is tolerable.
“While we can’t instantly stop ourselves from getting startled by the things that scare us, we do have the power to change how we relate to these emotions, which is all that counts,” explains Taylor Clark, author of the book, “Nerve.” “The more we learn to weave fear and anxiety into the lives we want to lead, the less beholden we are to the whims of the brain’s fear control center, the amygdala.”
Get in the car again — Bouchard relays that someone spray painted “Dumb-ass blonde” on her car when she was in high school. When she refused to drive the car to school, her mother said, “For the love of God, it’s not a big deal. I’ll drive the car.” Later on, she heard stories that her mom would be at an intersection, getting honked at, and she waved to other drives like she was Queen Elizabeth.
Remember — you’re the one in charge. And, while everyone hates being humiliated, karaoke still exists!