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.
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.
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.
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.
While embarrassment and shame are similar, there are some clear differences. Shame often carries moral overtones that embarrassment does not; it characterizes a sense of character failing rather than a loss of social status or image. Meanwhile, embarrassment colors the gap between how one wishes to be perceived and how one believes that others actually perceive them.
Yes, this is a phenomenon known as “vicarious embarrassment.” It is possible to feel acute social pain in the wake of others' social blunders, regardless of whether the offending party is aware of their behavior or whether the behavior itself is deliberate or accidental. Vicarious embarrassment arises from our capacity for empathy.
The "vicarious spotlight effect" refers to the common phenomenon of being self-conscious about or embarrassed by a person with whom we are closely aligned in the eyes of others, such as a romantic partner or family member. People are more likely to be embarrassed by their partner, friend, or family member when the behavior is particularly negative, and when it occurs in front of strangers rather than trusted friends and family.
There's no evidence that people develop character per se after feeling humiliated, but there could be an upside: S People who act embarrassed after committing a “bad act”—like knocking over a store display—are perceived as more likable than those who don't, regardless of whether or not anything is actually done to make amends for the mistake.
Psychopathy is characterized by a lack of empathy and inability to understand the feelings of others. Psychopaths are thus unlikely to experience any of the so-called self-conscious emotions, such as embarrassment, shame, or guilt. For instance, when they get caught in a lie, a humiliating experience for most people, they are unfazed and easily change their story.
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.
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.
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.
Digital hate can be extremely ugly. Allow yourself to feel angry if you need to. Take care of yourself. Gain some perspective, so you can ignore the trolls. Find your voice, perhaps even by sharing your experiences online on your blog or social media. Recognize the digital humiliation, but know that it doesn’t define you or dictate your future.
Like a wound that won’t heal, extreme embarrassment can be a trigger for self-destructive behaviors and even suicidal thoughts and action. Men are especially vulnerable when they are suddenly confronted by proof that they are not as smart, powerful, or brave as they think they should be. The resulting shame and embarrassment can drive them to harmful acts.