A true story contributed by Caitlyn Robbins:
Throughout middle school, I was best friends with a very ambitious, very talented girl. As her ever present side-kick, I followed her many places. One spring, I even followed her on stage for our school talent show. I voiced my doubts, but she said that she could absolutely not do it alone. So I acquiesced.
Angela had a brave, rippling voice, an unshakable stage presence, and sparkling features. While I was a sweet girl, I had no singing voice; nor much stage presence at the time. So you can imagine my dismay when, of the two microphones we were handed, mine was the only one that functioned.
I realized the dilemma as soon as we started singing, but I kept going. I got through the choreography, kept singing, and Angela accompanied me as best she could. Still, my absurd notes rose above hers, and my red-hot humiliation followed suit. In that moment of mortification, I felt destined to be an outcast.
I almost didn’t make it to school the next day. I ended up going and decided to lie low. After a while, I noticed something. The more that people laughed about what had happened, the more I felt connected to them. I laughed with them. By laughing together, they proved to me that no matter how lame I felt, I was still a part of them. If I had remained hidden away, I never would have given myself the chance to feel anything other than separate.
Sometimes half the work of getting over an embarrassing incident is simply feeling the embarrassment, and giving voice, gesture, and laughter to it. This helps us reconnect with everyone else. My acknowledgement of what happened made me feel that I was one with my peers again.
What does the research say?
Researchers on the subjects of both embarrassment and shame posit you can actually amp up your resistance to these incidents by uncovering what has been covered up. Here are some basic techniques to do just that:
- Understand your feelings: Uncover your feelings to yourself, for your own viewing. Think deeply about the causes and events which led to your embarrassment, seeking to understand the situation as if from outside yourself.
- Think from an outside perspective: Seeing the wider picture can help you to judge whether or not the wrongs you committed are ones which truly trap you into feeling embarrassed. Embarrassment is sometimes (not always) unnecessary, and you need not live your life as prisoner to it. To see whether this is true, try these tricks to open up your perspective on the issue:
- It’s a common mistake: Seeing the wider story can often reveal that yours is a mistake made by many, and this can act as a great starting point for finding the courage to uncover your embarrassment or shame to others.
- It’s only embarrassing in certain social settings: Taking an objective point of view can reveal that some things are embarrassing only within the group you are currently surrounded by. In this case, there may be others outside this group who will understand you. If you find that your embarrassment is only valid in certain social circles, perhaps you should question whether continuing the feeling is even logical.
- Who’s the judge: Looking at the issue from outside yourself can help you examine the standards by which you are judging your mistake. Every mistake is simply a failure to live up to a set of expectations you have for yourself, or that others have for you. It is important to discover who you believe you are disappointing, what the rules were that you broke, as well as what high standards you did not achieve.
- Talk to others: Look around yourself and figure out who you will go to in moments of embarrassment. This is someone who trusts you enough to tell you their own secrets, because that way you will feel more comfortable trusting this person with yours. Perhaps at first it may seem that there is no one, but search widely and there is always someone who needs someone to talk to.
- Learn the vocabulary: When we do venture into the scary moment of releasing our darkest secrets for another to hear, use specific vocabulary in expressing the story. If we lump embarrassment or shame in with other emotions such as anger, fear, or sadness, we risk confusing ourselves, and diminishing the opportunity to fix the true problem at hand.
My embarrassing moment on stage was one that passed in a few days as I laughed over the event, an action which acknowledged my own embarrassment, rather than hiding it. Everyone suffers from shame or embarrassment in their lives. When you keep in mind these feelings are universal, there is no longer any reason to hide.
Brown, C. B. (2012). Daring greatly: how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books.
Keltner, D. (2009). Born to Blush. Greater Good Berkeley. Retrieved December 18, 2012, from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/born_to_blush