In episode 305, I received a question from a listener who is outwardly confident but struggles with extreme feelings of embarrassment on a daily basis. In this post, I offer my thought on how you can deal with such emotions and what you can do to own the heck out of your embarrassment.
Hi Dr Duff,
Thank you for taking the time to read this question.
I am a 20 year old, female. I get extremely embarrassed. I find it crippling. Whether it’s stumbling over my sentences at work or making a joke that fell flat at a dinner table. It makes my skin crawl, my stomach turn. Makes me want to pinch my skin tight, run away. I usually end up cussing myself out on my car ride home, for how stupid I am and how I’d rather just die then have to go through this whole process again. I am outwardly a confident person, so this is a quiet issue I struggle with on a daily basis.
Is this anxiety? Self-confidence issues? What is this? I think if I understood where this came from I might be able to tame these uncontrollable feelings, better.
What a tough thing to deal with. I’m sorry that you’re struggling so much with this private experience of embarrassment and shame. I want to give you a few things to consider and tips that might make the experience less intense for you.
First off, it’s important to remember that all embarrassing scenarios take place in the past. This is something that has already happened – not something that is continuing to happen to you. Even though you are still dwelling on it, the moment has passed and the world is moving forward. Your life will continue – it is your own mind that is making you replay that event over and over. The rest of the world is moving forward from it. If anyone even noticed, they are already onto other things. If there’s something for you to learn from it, you will glean that pretty quickly. Aside from that, your dwelling only serves to torture you.
Embarrassment comes from the past
Since embarrassment takes place in the past, you can think back to the past and look at situations in which you were very embarrassed. Situations where you had these self-berating conversations in the car and felt like you would rather die than have to endure them again. What was the real practical impact of them? How many of those embarrassing moments actually made a difference in your life aside from the impact of the overthinking and dwelling that you have done about them? In all likelihood, most of the events you can think of had little to no practical effect on your life. At the time, you probably had fears and assumptions related to them. If you can think back to some of your greatest hits, the events that have really stuck with you, you might be able to think of some of the fears or assumptions that you had at the time about that event. Think about it for a moment. For instance, you may have felt like you made a bad impression on someone and ruined any potential relationship with them due to a joke that didn’t land or something that you did that you found embarrassing, even if it wasn’t pointed out. Did these fears actually come true? It’s totally okay if there is one that has seemed to come true, although I would challenge you on whether that is truly the case or just your assumption. Even if it did come true, that’s one example of how many? Chances are if you look at the statistics, you are better off assuming that these fears will NOT come true.
An unfortunate or fortunate reality of the world is that people are much more selfish than we would like to think. People are really much more focused on how people are perceiving them or preoccupied with their own thoughts to notice all of the intricacies of your behavior that you notice. You feel like these little things are broadcast out loud for everyone to see, but in reality, it takes a lot to break through the noise and make someone else notice.
Normalizing Your Embarrassment
One thing that may help to normalize your experience is to share embarrassing moments with friends of yours. Talk about things that you have done recently (or not so recently) that you found super embarrassing. They can share their own experiences and you can see that you are not just some sort of weirdo that constantly makes a fool of themselves, but rather a human that has blunders just like any other human. You can also own the experience more in the moment. Humans are quirky. That’s part of our charm. Think of all the people that you find yourself drawn to or attracted to. I bet that many of them are quirky, nerdy, dorky, or embarrassing in some way. Even huge actors have their things that make them silly. The difference is that they own them. Own your own quirks and neuroses and wear them proudly. I remember my first online talk that I did during the COVID pandemic for work, for some reason I was SUPER anxious. Like mouth dry, brain spacing out, heart pounding. Super anxious. I’m not usually like that for presentations. One thing that ended up helping me a lot was to acknowledge it. To say, “apparently I’m super anxious. I guess it’s been a while. Pardon me for the first few minutes while I gasp for breath. It’ll get better I’m sure. I promise I know what I’m talking about.” So, don’t be afraid to point out your obviously embarrassing moments. You could say something like, “yeah… that totally came out wrong. Why did you even invite me haha” People love self-awareness. You don’t need to point out every little thing that you do, because most people wouldn’t even find those things embarrassing, but we all make mistakes sometimes and when it’s obvious, just lean into it and see what happens.
There is a channel that I believe I’ve recommended on the show before called Charisma on Command. They may or may not be your style, but they do have a lot of good tips for things like this. If you have a browse around their channel, you will see things like how to turn your awkwardness into charm etc. It can help you realize that you are not a lost cause and that a lot of really well-regarded people are quite like you.
Other avenues to explore
Let’s say that social anxiety is an element here. One of the things that a lot of people with social anxiety don’t realize is that they are actually more tuned into other people than most. You are not only concerned about yourself, but you are keenly observing other people to see what they do, if they are noticing you etc. Not everyone has that sort of hyperawareness. Remind yourself of this fact when you are in social situations. You are not being observed as if you are on trial. Again, people tend to have a more selfish outlook. This is also a good reminder of the best friend trick. If you imagine a close friend of yours doing the same thing as you in this situation that you feel super embarrassed about, how would you regard them? What would you say to them?
When it comes to the questions you have about whether there are any issues here involving self-confidence, anxiety etc. that can really only be answered and looked into by yourself. By all means, if there are some nagging concerns that you have about your own self-concept or you suspect that there are deeper issues at play, get some help and dig into it. It can absolutely be the case that things about your upbringing or other mental health concerns can drive these sorts of moments of extreme embarrassment. It also wouldn’t hurt you to look a bit more into generalized anxiety coping skills. Deep breathing for instance is a big help when it comes to flushing and other physiological responses.
You can listen to this on Episode 305 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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