How To Get Over Feeling Embarrassed & Start Owning It

Photo: getty
embarrassed woman laughing
Self

Embarrassment. It happens to everyone, at some point or another. And more often than you'd probably like.

Your first experience with it most likely occurred during childhood, before you even have the words to describe it.

You may have thought it was fear. Or worry. Or guilt. Or a messy combination of all of those.

It wasn't. It was embarrassment.

RELATED: 6 Ways To Recover From A Painfully Awkward (And Totally Embarrassing) Moment

Can you learn how to get over embarrassment?

You’ve all seen pictures of people with "that look" on their faces. And you’ve looked that way too. Eyes cast downwards, averting other people’s gazes. Cheeks hot and red.

You feel your heart pounding in your chest. It feels like you could cry. Or run away. Or both. It’s dreadful.

You’re hoping no one noticed but quite sure someone did. And if they did, you hope they won’t say anything to anyone else — ever! 

What are they thinking about you? How will you live it down?

Feeling embarrassed is longing for the Earth to open up and swallow you whole — is that really too much to ask?

You feel driven to pull away from others. You definitely never want to think about, speak about, or hear about the embarrassing incident ever again.

It's a curious mix of heightened energy like you need to escape or fight off a threat while feeling socially unsafe because you’re sure you’re being harshly judged or criticized by the people around you.

Or you're sure you've irreparably hurt them.

Maybe you’ve forgotten someone’s name. Or you didn’t know something that your friends think everyone should know and everyone laughs. Or you’ve been teased or called a name.

Or you made a public mistake — played the wrong note in a recital; blurted out the wrong answer in class, or tripped and fell while walking confidently on a runway... or just while walking down the street.

Embarrassing situations — we've all been there.

I remember being teased about a boy I had a crush on when I was 12. At the dinner table. By my Aunt. It wasn't pleasant.

In university, I chuckled out loud as I fleetingly read the note that was being passed in front of me from a friend seated to my left to another friend sitting at my right.

The highly respected and much-admired professor stopped his lecture mid-sentence (it was a small lecture hall) to ask me if his fly was undone, but that even if it were, I shouldn’t be able to see it through his lectern.

He paused and looked down for effect. Then, a friend in the back row called out, "She’s turning bright red!" with some amusement. More laughter erupted.

As I have a tanned complexion, I didn’t realize I could turn red — apparently, I can! Even more embarrassed, I slunk down into my chair, my hot, red face in my hands while the class gradually re-grouped and the lecture resumed.

Those weren’t the only times, I assure you. 

RELATED: Your Definitive Guide To Being Way Less Awkward (And Meeting New People Without Being Shy)

So can you actually get over embarrassment?

Yes, you can! And you need to begin by doing the opposite of what embarrassment drives you to do.

While embarrassment wants you to forget the incident and withdraw from the community, you need to spotlight it and return to the community instead.

Notice and name it to yourself, first.

I was so embarrassed when my Aunt started talking about my crush at the dinner table.

I was so embarrassed when I laughed out loud and interrupted the lecture.

With those heightened emotions, the brain remembers those events in vivid detail. Recalling them can feel like reliving them. It can be painful and oh-so-very human.

Offer yourself the kind of validation you would offer someone you cared about.

You’re human. This is part of the human experience. Whatever has happened can't be taken back. But, don’t brush it under the rug. Acknowledge it for what it is.

Of course, I felt embarrassed when my Aunt started asking questions about my crush. It wasn’t something I wanted to discuss with my parents!

Of course, I felt embarrassed for laughing out loud during the lecture. And I was perhaps even more embarrassed for being called out for it, especially by a professor I respected.

So, try to make it right — in your head or in real life if need be.

If things were different (I wasn't a child speaking to an adult), I might have told my Aunt that I didn’t think my crush was an appropriate topic of conversation for the dinner table.

But, in reality, I just needed to recognize that this Aunt did not have good judgment about what could or could not be discussed at what time and I needed to anticipate this if I were to be spending more time in her company.

I might have apologized to the professor after class, perhaps, without throwing my friends who were passing notes under the bus. And I might have avoided sitting between those two friends again. 

While these are awkward situations that led to moments of embarrassment, it’s important to know that even situations where you’re the center of attention for good things — like getting an award or a promotion — can also feel embarrassing.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Join now for YourTango's trending articles, top expert advice and personal horoscopes delivered straight to your inbox each morning.

RELATED: How To Introduce Yourself Without Feeling Awkward

Not everyone likes to be the center of attention, even when it's for a positive reason.

Being singled out — for better or worse — makes you feel like you’re not part of the group you’re with. And that’s essentially where embarrassment really finds its sticking point. 

Anytime you feel like you’re on the outside of the group looking in — whether you’re being honored or bullied and whether you’re being thought highly of or have become the butt of the joke — you have the potential to feel embarrassed.

And it happens to everyone. Well, anyone who lives in proximity to other people at any point in their lives.

Once you’ve walked through the minefield of embarrassment — you've named it, validated it, and then done what you needed to do to make it right — you’re not quite done.

You've done half of what's needed. You've counteracted the drive to avoid thinking about it by stepping right in there.

You now need to counteract the drive to pull away from others.

If you give in to the drive to pull away from other people who care about you to hide from this painful emotion, you can often find that your embarrassment only deepens.

So how do we avoid that? You talk to a good friend. The kind who will listen and validate and offer you the kind of compassion you would offer to another person in pain.

No judgment. No opinions on what you should have done or said. No disagreement with your perspective. A friend who tries to understand your experience.

You need someone else to say, "Yeah, it’s embarrassing. I hate when that happens." Or, "I know how private a person you are. Of course, that would have felt embarrassing." Or, "I’ve been there. It’s the worst feeling, isn’t it?"

You need to know you're not alone in your embarrassment. You need to know we’re still part of the group.

Not just in the abstract sense of "humanity" but part of a community of people who know, like, and respect you and think you're "good enough" just as you are, embarrassing moments and all.

You need to know that you belong and you're in it together. In the end, that’s the real antidote to embarrassment.

RELATED: 5 Zodiac Signs Who Are Easily Embarrassed

Judith Pinto is a Registered Occupational Therapist, Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional with extensive training in Emotionally Focused Therapy (ICEEFT). For more information, visit her website.