Embarrassed? Here's How to Get Over It Quickly

A simple strategy provides relief to the highly self-conscious.

Posted Apr 03, 2018

Iceteaimages / DollarPhotoClub
Source: Iceteaimages / DollarPhotoClub

Most of us know what it’s like to be embarrassed. We all have at least a few stories of humiliation and shame. Everyone – except maybe the Queen of England – is capable of the occasional public faux pas.

But for the truly self-conscious, embarrassment is more than just a sometime thing. It’s a constant threat.

At work, at the store, even among friends, there are so many things that could suddenly go wrong. It’s enough to make a socially self-conscious person break out in a sweat.

Maybe you’ll use the wrong word, and be corrected in front of others.

Maybe you’d like to use a certain machine at the gym, but don’t want to be seen trying to figure it out.

Maybe someone will ask you a question you should know the answer to, and you’ll be stumped.

If you get embarrassed easily, new research can help you reduce distress around events that used to leave you in a frenzy of awkwardness.

It’s as easy as taking another’s perspective.

"Empathy Neglect"

Imagine you’re participating in a group discussion and someone else uses a word incorrectly. How harshly do you judge her? Probably not as harshly as she judges herself.

The person who’s embarrassed, especially if he tends toward self-consciousness, is entirely self-focused when things go wrong. So much so, that he experiences what researchers call “empathy-neglect.” That is, he neglects to take into account the considerable empathy observers feel for someone in an embarrassing situation.

The deeply self-conscious person will also fail to realize, unless he takes an outside perspective, that other people frequently don’t even notice embarrassing blunders.

An effective reaction to your own embarrassment, if you’re self-conscious, is therefore to immediately imagine the incident from the perspective of an observer. Remember how forgiving you yourself are when you see someone else slip up, and act accordingly.

For example, Self-Conscious Steve accidentally spills a bit of punch while serving his date a cup from the punch bowl. He’s embarrassed because his date, Rebecca, is right there to witness his clumsiness.

But when Steve pictures the situation the other way around, with Rebecca accidentally spilling a bit of punch as he watches, he realizes it’s no big deal. Changing perspective lends him confidence.

In the Spotlight

Don’t take the advice above unless you’re definitely self-conscious about how you appear in public. Unself-conscious, low-embarrassment people become more embarrassed when they take the point of view of an observer. Suddenly, in their minds, they’re in the spotlight – and that’s uncomfortable. Embarrassing, even.

If you’re not self-conscious, keep doing whatever it is you’re doing, because it’s working for you. But tell all your more bashful friends to try this mental trick each time they feel their cheeks begin to redden: Turn the tables and imagine yourself as a witness to what’s happening.

You should feel an increase in compassion, and a reduction in distress.

References

Jiang, L., Drolet, A. & Scott, C.A. Motiv Emot (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-018-9673-7