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How to to get over embarrassment? Show yourself grace and compassion

September 10, 2022 - 11 min read


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What is embarrassment?

Why do we feel embarrassed? The science behind it

It's time to take action: Embarrassment won't stop you

Great news: You're not alone

It happened again. You said "goodnight" to a person rather than "good morning." Another embarrassing moment to add to the list of things you'll toss and turn over at night. But is it really a big deal? 

At the moment, the answer’s yes. You do make your embarrassing moments a big deal. But don't let those negative thoughts haunt you forever. Let them serve as a learning opportunity that teaches you how to get over embarrassment.

That's what we want to talk about. We want to discuss how to get over something embarrassing you said or did and why you felt embarrassed in the first place. Diving into the science behind those awkward moments will help you take action so that your embarrassment doesn't hold you back. 


What is embarrassment?

Embarrassment is the feeling that of shame or self-consciousness that happens when you do something wrong or poorly in front of someone else.

Sometimes the larger the audience, the more embarrassment. But other times, the severity could depend on how important the person is — like the shame of spilling coffee on yourself in front of a stranger compared to your boss.

When you experience embarrassment, you might feel the following:

An example of an embarrassing situation could be walking into a movie theatre and tripping, causing you to spill your popcorn and drink. Everyone in the theatre watches this happen, and you have to walk past them all to sit down with soda on your clothes. You know you could have done something to avoid tripping, and your mistake was viewed by plenty of people.

Moments like this make you want to learn how to get over public embarrassment even more.

But embarrassment is much deeper than blushing in front of others or feeling self-conscious. There's a science involved, and you're going to get to the bottom of it.

Embarrassment looks and feels different for everyone. What might impact you might not affect others. If you need help finding strategies to best manage your embarrassment, consider meeting with a BetterUp coach. Our coaches will work with you on a personalized plan to work toward achieving your goals.

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Why do we feel embarrassed? The science behind it

Embarrassment creates feelings of shame, guilt, and fear. Perhaps you’re a shy person and easily embarrassed because you haven't overcome your shyness. You could also struggle with a social anxiety disorder, like extreme embarrassment anxiety.

The fear of embarrassing yourself could limit your willingness to participate in social situations, ultimately harming your social health.

But let's break down how embarrassment happens in our brains. The amygdala is the part of our brains responsible for processing emotions. The ventral anterior insula and amygdala come together to form neural pathways in the brain, and they carry our feelings of embarrassment. Our brains process embarrassment like any other emotion. 


Here’s a list of four potential causes for our embarrassment:

  1. Cognitive appraisal thoughts: This happens when our beliefs trigger an emotional response, like believing that tripping down the stairs is embarrassing.
  2. Anticipation of negative events: Even before anyone notices our faux pas, we could anticipate people judging us or facing the consequences of our wrongdoings. 
  3. Regulation of social behavior: Throughout time, embarrassment has been a way of regulating people’s behaviors so that they stay away from situations that aren’t positive for us.
  4. Unwanted attention from others: Even if what we technically do isn’t wrong, we might end up in the spotlight and have people look at us. It might be embarrassing and uncomfortable for those who aren't comfortable with lots of attention.

But science is divided on this one. No singular theory justifies all embarrassing situations or explains the emotion. Plus, what could be majorly embarrassing to some might not even raise an eyebrow for others. So who cares? Let’s learn how to put whatever situations we think are embarrassing in the past. 


It's time to take action: Embarrassment won't stop you 

You don't want to let a fear of embarrassment control your life. You want to banish those feelings of shame healthily. When you know how to stop embarrassment from taking over your life, you'll be more confident at work and learn how to better express your feelings

Some plans of action might seem pretty daunting at first. Adopting a growth mindset and being open to trying new strategies will help, but start out with strategies that are small and realistic.

Here are five ways to manage embarrassment and get over it:

  1. Be kind to yourself: Your first response might be to beat yourself up over what happened. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion, and don't be too hard on yourself for making a mistake.
  2. Confront the situation: If you need to clean something up after an embarrassing moment, do it sooner rather than later. You'll feel better with some closure rather than knowing that you’re avoiding it.
  3. Have a laugh: Have you ever thought that your embarrassing moment is funny? Remember to look for the positives; if something's funny, don't hold back your laughter. It'll lighten the
  4. Take deep breaths: If your slip-up is causing you to panic and worry, try to slow things down. Start with mindful breathing, and do your best to instill calm in your mind and body.
  5. Talk with a friend: Find someone you feel comfortable with and discuss your situation. Listen to what advice people have to give. It might help you realize that your situation isn't the end of the world. Plus, it gives you the chance to laugh about it, discuss the lessons learned, and move on.

The worst thing to do after you've had an embarrassing moment is tear yourself down. It's not productive or useful to invalidate your feelings or undermine your abilities. If you're unsure what that looks like, we've compiled a list of things you shouldn't say to yourself after an embarrassing moment (or ever):

  • "I'm so stupid"
  • "I don't know why I even bothered"
  • "Everything I do ends up a failure"
  • "I shouldn't feel bad because others have it worse than I do"
  • "I just want to forget about it and act like it never happened"


Great news: You're not alone

Do you think you're the only person on the planet who has experienced embarrassing moments? Many people want to learn how to stop feeling embarrassed about the past. It's normal.

Studies have found that public self-consciousness, which is when we're very aware of being in the spotlight and feel easily distressed, is super common. But it's all about how we handle our embarrassing moments as actors or observers. We'll feel embarrassed at any age. It's part of life. 

The good news is that we can learn how to get over embarrassment and move on. Everyone experiences and copes with embarrassment differently. But we don't have to do this alone. It can help to talk to a good friend or family member.

But if your embarrassment causes social anxiety or hurts your mental health, speaking to a mental health professional is important. They'll help you use strategies that work for the individual situations that make you feel comfortable and safe. 

Regardless of the embarrassing situation you encounter, keep this in mind: we're all human beings who make mistakes, but none of them determines your self-worth.

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Published September 10, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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