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Embarrassment is a painful but important emotional state. Most researchers believe that the purpose of embarrassment is to make people feel badly about their social or personal mistakes as a form of internal (or societal) feedback, so that they learn not to repeat the error. The accompanying physiological changes, including blushing, sweating, or stammering, may signal to others that a person recognizes their own error, and so is not cold-hearted or oblivious.

What Is Embarrassment?

Frequently grouped with shame and guilt, embarrassment is considered a “self-conscious emotion,” and it can have a profoundly negative impact on a person’s thoughts or behavior. The embarrassed individual becomes conscious of a real (or imagined) failure to comply with social norms and fears that others won’t view them as highly as a result. The ensuing embarrassment may be accompanied by feelings of awkwardness, exposure, shame, guilt, or regret.

It’s notable that the inciting event may be either positive or negative. For example, someone may feel just as embarrassed by being called beautiful in front of a group of people as they are by forgetting someone’s name or falling in public. A person can feel embarrassed for themselves or on behalf of someone else (if they are particularly empathic, or if they are secretly concerned that the other person’s supposed failings will also reflect negatively on them). Embarrassment is a highly individual experience and is often intensified by the fear that everyone is watching (and judging) when most of the time, almost no one will even notice.

Does everyone get embarrassed?

Practically everyone finds themselves in an awkward or humiliating situation at some point in their lives. The question is: How strongly does it affect them? Some people can shake off their embarrassment when they make a mistake or violate a social norm. Others who fear the disapproval of the group might be consumed by shame.

Are some people more prone to embarrassment than others?

Yes, individuals with social anxiety are particularly sensitive to embarrassment. They go out of their way to avoid social interactions where they might make a mistake or otherwise embarrass themselves. Fortunately, people can beat their social anxiety by gradually exposing themselves to the very social scenarios that make them so uncomfortable to begin with.

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How to Overcome Embarrassment

Many people will bounce back from an embarrassing incident quickly. Others who are more sensitive may develop feelings of anxiety or panic whenever they think about it, which can be often if they are prone to rumination. They may even try to avoid specific social interactions for fear of being humiliated again. Just one embarrassing experience can be detrimental to someone’s confidence and sense of self-worth over a long period of time. Great embarrassment can lead to anxiety, depression, and, in extreme cases, the impulse to self-harm.

One of the best ways to get over embarrassment is to laugh about it. In fact, people who can shrug laugh off an embarrassing moment are generally viewed as more trustworthy, likable, and sociable. Realizing that everyone makes mistakes can help. Gaining some perspective about the real weight of the mistake and how much people actually noticed it is valuable as well.

How can I get over a humiliating experience?

Getting over humiliation can be tricky. First, recognize that you’re not alone: Many people have had similar experiences, and you can learn from how they responded. Call upon your support network. Though it may be tempting, think twice before you lash out, and avoid hiding out. Try to view the humiliating incident as an opportunity to build resilience.

How can I stop worrying about what others think of me?

Embarrassment (not unlike shame) frequently occurs when you worry too much about what others think of you. One way to ease these fears is to focus less on yourself and more on others, trying to be kind and considerate. In addition, you can learn to develop “attentional control,” so you can focus on the positive instead of wallowing in embarrassment.

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