How to Handle Embarrassment and Get Over It

Written by: Ankita Kathad – MA (Clinical Psychology)

Last updated date : April 29, 2022

We all feel embarrassed. It is an emotion that most of us face in our lifetime. Some might have felt it when they fell on the road. Someone could have felt it when they said a bad word in public. We can feel ashamed for ourselves or on behalf of others. This emotion is different for everyone. It affects us all differently. Some people can laugh it off. Some people are deeply affected by it. This article, therefore, focuses on how to handle embarrassment and get over it.

Chapter 1:

Signs of Embarrassment

  • Our cheeks become flushed
  • We may internally or externally claim ‘oops!’
  • We try to escape the situation as soon as possible
  • Our eyes may lower down
  • We will start to explain our actions

An embarrassed person may feel guilty and exposed. The event that triggers embarrassment can be a positive one. For example, someone can call us cute and we may feel embarrassed. This could be because we are caught off guard. The event can be a negative one. For instance, when we suddenly sneeze in a meeting. The reason for feeling ashamed is because think that people judge us. We think others are only observing us. In addition to this, we also feel that we are breaking a social norm.


Chapter 2:

Do People Experience Embarrassment Differently?

Embarrasment is an emotional response to an event. It is a state where we become awkward. It brings some amount of discomfort. Let us take an example, A child who forgets his speech on stage will experience awkwardness. He will try to remember his speech in his mind. But in a period of silence, he will feel embarrassed. This discomfort can be mild for some people. It can be severe for some.

The amount of awkwardness depends on several factors. Firstly it depends on the number of observers. If many people are watching, the shame will be severe. Secondly, it depends on who is watching. For instance, when we make a mistake in front of strangers, we are more embarrassed. When the damage caused by our mistake is huge, we face a lot of guilt and shame. For instance, if fumbling in a meeting has cost our company some loss, we feel terrible.

This emotion is also related to experience. Some people may have faced severe criticism for a mistake in past. This is why they will be affected more by an embarrassing event. Some children have very strict parents at home, They are always scolded for small mistakes. This can make them sensitive to any events. When they grow up, they have a strong ‘inner-critic’. This inner critic acts as a voice that is constantly shouting at the person for small mistakes. For example, if a child has given a wrong answer in class, the inner critic may say, “you couldn’t answer that. You are good for nothing.”

Additionally, when a person is very self-conscious, they will feel more shame and guilt about an embarrassing event. In this case, a person feels that everyone is only looking at them.


Chapter 3:

Psychological Reasons for a Harsh Inner-Critic

  • Parenting: Children who are raised by strict parents can have poor self-esteem. They may have a constant need to be perfect in life. Parents would have set great expectations for them. This is why the children may need to excel. Sometimes when the parents are too permissive, children feel shocked at hearing any criticism from others. This happens because parents have never been assertive with them. When they are in an awkward situation, they may not know how to handle embarrassment.
  • Mental disorder: When someone is going through depression, they feel hopeless and worthless. They feel that their actions let down others around them. Depressed people have negative thoughts. They may not know how to positively handle embarrassment or get over it. They can have maladaptive thought patterns. An anxious person who is hyper-alert may feel that everyone will make fun of them if they make a mistake.
  • Social and cultural factors: If culture places a lot of importance on morals and values, a person will feel more embarrassed after breaking a social norm. Some societies teach children to handle embarrassment constructively. However some reprimand children for even a small mistake.

Chapter 4:

How to Handle Embarrassment?

Many of us can overcome embarrassment. We can do it by laughing it off. We can even forget the incident and move ahead in life. However, some people keep thinking about the event. They feel deeply hurt and therefore avoid social interactions where there are chances of embarrassment. For some, their self-esteem gets hurt and therefore they begin to avoid people or places where they felt awkward. Following are some methods to handle embarrassment:

  • Acceptance: We must accept that we are all humans. We can all fail and have flaws. When we accept this, we forgive ourselves for small mistakes. Accepting that everyone makes mistakes also makes us feel less lonely. Accepting ourselves makes us handle embarrassment healthily and constructively.
  • Reduce concern: We must not worry about what others think of us. In most situations, people are least bothered by what we do. We may fall down the stairs and people may forget it in the next ten minutes. It is important to realise that others don’t always look at us. They have a life of their own.
  • Introspect: Whenever we think that we have committed a mistake, we must introspect. We must not criticize ourselves. Introspection helps us understand whether the mistakes can often be rectified. When we introspect, we realise that it is not fair to be hard on ourselves. It will also help in understanding the intensity of the mistake. We can understand that small mistakes don’t matter much.

Chapter 5:

How to Deal With Embarrassment?

Like some wounds that leave a scar, embarrassment can leave many negative memories with people. For someone who is going through depression, they may feel that they are truly stupid and not worthy of love. It can be traumatic for many. For instance, if you have made a big blunder in your first job interview, there are chances of losing a very good job. That embarrassment can stay with you for a long time. Many people can have suicidal thoughts. Therefore it is important to learn how to deal with embarrassment.

  • Laugh it off!: When you laugh at your embarrassing moment, you don’t ruminate over the embarrassing moment. You simply shrug it off. You don’t remember the even for a longer time once you forget about it.
  • Maintain a thought journal: This can be a place where you can vent out your emotions. Feel comfortable with the awkward situation. You can write what could have been done differently, if at all. You can also rethink the situation and write it down. When we rethink, we realise that there are many factors involved in a situation. For example, when you fall in public, you can realise that there was water on the floor.
  • Call friends or family: Getting a third person’s perspective helps us understand that we are not alone. Many people face awkward moments. Our loved ones also make us feel belonged. We feel heard.
  • Channelize your energy: Instead of thinking about the awkward moment, think of ways how you can divert your thoughts. After an embarrassing event, go eat a favourite dish, write a song or read a book.

Chapter 6:

Letting Go of Embarrassment

Finally, it is alright to be in situations where you feel embarrassed. We can also feel embarrassed for others. For instance, when our partners or siblings make a mistake, we feel awkward. Making mistakes is a part of everyone’s life and we all learn through our mistakes. Every day we can do a simple exercise where we take five minutes and let go of any negative emotions or self-criticising thoughts that we may have. This simple exercise can teach us the quality of forgiveness.

We can practice gratitude daily. This makes letting go of any awkward situation easier. Finally, we should realise that being embarrassed serves a very important purpose. It makes it easier for us to understand what others go through. It teaches us that we can never always be perfect. We get a chance to improve ourselves. At times it just makes everyone laugh in a tense situation.

Epsychonline website offers you information and well researched articles on embarrassment. These articles are written by experts and are easy to understand. Do check them out!