Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Managing Embarrassment

How to share in your humanity and laugh at yourself.

Key points

  • Embarrassment can make people want to hide, but being embarrassed is common to everyone.
  • Self-compassion allows people to speak kindly to themselves and see embarrassment as an equalizer, not an isolator.
  • If individuals can laugh at themselves, they can find freedom from shame.
Roland Steinmann / Pixabay
Source: Roland Steinmann / Pixabay

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve done today? I’m sure you can think of something. Or if you can’t, perhaps you try hard to shove any embarrassing times out of your head, only for them to return at the most inconvenient times, like when you’re trying to sleep or right before an important social event that you feel ill-equipped to deal with.

When we get embarrassed, we want to hide. Just crawl into a hole. The fear of judgment and rejection can eat away at our psyche until isolation seems like the only option.

But self-isolation only furthers our sense that we deserve separation. That we’re so awkward and socially inept that we should reject all attempts at connection—for our sake and the sake of others.

Isolation strengthens the notion that when we do bad things, we are bad and need to sit alone in our badness.

It is also not the answer. Yet, if isolation isn’t the answer, then what is?


One possibility is self-compassion. Self-compassion is not the same as self-pity. Rather, it is the understanding that we all are part of the same human experience and share in the same human condition. That every one of us is fallible and imperfect.

When we slip up, it’s not just us; it’s us joining the ranks of all the other slip-ups and misses that we all run into from time to time. Let self-compassion encourage you to speak kindly of yourself and say you’re no different than the next person. Especially in all your sufferings and foibles.

Laughing at Yourself

Another tool is to learn to laugh at yourself. We are conditioned most of the time to take ourselves so seriously that when we make a mistake, we forget a big fact: Mistakes are often funny!

Case in point: I’m currently on a trans-continental flight to Denver for training. I’m about 30 minutes in, wondering what the topic of this post will be. As someone who tries to be environmentally conscious, I carry my own refillable, insulated water bottle with me. I love this thing; it’s blue and shiny with a straw and it's vacuum-sealed, so it keeps everything cold. It works great. Except when I’m thousands of feet in the air in a pressurized cabin.

Feeling a bit thirsty, I opened the spout to get a drink and proceeded to shoot a geyser of ice-cold water about one foot in the air all over myself and my neighbor. The poor woman didn’t acknowledge it or me, except for a subtle and stoic wipe of the side of her face that I had just splattered. She did not say a word to me.

Was this embarrassing? Absolutely. Was this also funny? Yes. Am I uncomfortable as I sit here (for the remaining 3.5 hours) in a puddle, looking like I wet myself? Oh yeah. Am I human? Also yes, and I appreciate comedy and boy, was that a bit.

Inviting Someone to Laugh With You

The most powerful tool of all for living with the reality that embarrassment is part of life is learning to invite others into the mess with you.

There is something very freeing about doing something stupid and sending a text to a close friend to say: “You won’t believe what I just did.” Inviting others to laugh with you (and maybe at you a little) is an act of rebellion in a world where we’re taught that embarrassment is shameful and you should hide your face from everyone because of it.

We’re so isolated in our society, and shame and embarrassment are big contributors to that. Yet, we always have the option to take ourselves out of the hole and into the light where all of the other embarrassing people hang out.

I’ll be there, probably still in wet pants.

More from Stephanie Cox MS
More from Psychology Today