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How to Get Over Social Embarrassment

Use these three steps to stop obsessing the next day.

Key points

  • Start by making a list of what you’re worried about—and only include objective facts.
  • Forgive yourself for being human and tell yourself, “I’m allowed not to be perfect.”
  • Make a plan to make amends if needed.
Verbaska_Studio/Canva Pro
Source: Verbaska_Studio/Canva Pro

Whether or not we suffer from social anxiety, it’s happened to all of us at one time or another: We go on a date or to a party, or attend a meeting at work. We say or do something we later regret, and we suffer the next day (or week).

If you find yourself tied up in knots because you think you embarrassed yourself socially, don’t let shame undermine your confidence.

Instead, walk yourself through the following three steps. You’ll either let it go or fix it. Either way, you’ll be able to get on the other side of it as quickly as possible.

Step 1: List your “crimes”

Make a list of things you did, or didn’t do, that you’re worried about. Make sure they’re about your behavior, not others’ reactions.

For each item on the list, ask yourself, “Is this an objective fact?” An objective fact is empirically true, not just something that feels true to you.

Example of an objective fact: You spilled a drink on someone.

Example of something that only feels true: You made a fool of yourself.

If it’s not an objective fact, chances are other people would be surprised to know that you’re worried about it. Even if it is, they probably didn’t notice, or if they did, quickly forgot about it.

Talk back to the worry; recognize it as a symptom of anxiety and be curious, not judgmental, about it. If your “crime” is not an objective fact, it’s OK to take yourself off the hook.

If your feelings won’t leave you alone about it, try some Constructive Wallowing to get past it quickly. (See my book of that title for detailed instructions.)

If something on your list is an objective fact, move to Step 2.

Step 2: Assess the damage

Remember, all that should be left on your list are objective facts. For each one, ask yourself, “Is this a big deal?”

It may be a fact that you spilled your drink on someone, but how big a deal was it really?
Maybe the person hardly noticed, laughed it off, and was nice to you the rest of the time. Apparently, no harm was done.

Forgive yourself for being human and let it go. Everyone does silly stuff sometimes. Get used to telling yourself, "I'm allowed not to be perfect."

But if you spilled your drink on someone who’s hiring for a position you want, then yes, you may have damaged your chances of getting that job. (Especially if the job involves handling liquids.)

For each item that is a big deal, go to Step 3.

Step 3: Make repairs

Plan to follow up with the person or people involved. Check in with them if necessary, to make sure there really is a problem.

Be prepared to make amends in whatever way makes sense.

For example, you might tell the person you spilled your drink on, “I feel bad about spilling my drink on your dress, and I’d love to have it dry cleaned for you.”

By calmly taking appropriate action, you’ll come across as more socially adept, not less. Being proactive will also improve your self-esteem as your personal effectiveness increases.

Everyone makes mistakes. But we can learn to assess damage accurately and take appropriate action when needed—increasing our social confidence in the process.