The positives of embarrassment

1_s7mWD-jN__vjdg_XufqYfwBy Omar Alnahi on Pexels

At some point in our lives, every one of us has done something so shudderingly embarrassing that we’d pay a good sum of money to reverse time and change it. Maybe you were the kid who called your teacher “mum” at school, and the sound of merciless laughter still rings in your ears today. Perhaps you completely lost your train of thought while speaking publicly, and revealed yourself as the idiot that your peers always knew you were. Maybe it was a wardrobe malfunction, in which a smidgeon of scrote was found delicately peeking through your unzipped fly.

Whatever the situation, being embarrassed fucking sucks, and the fear of experiencing such a situation influences our behaviour in negative ways. We avoid a range of potentially embarrassing situations, from something highly risky such as public speaking, to less dangerous circumstances like putting an unorthodox idea forward to our colleagues. Visual stories of what could go wrong appear in the back of our minds, zapping the courage that we need to act, and killing promising opportunities.

The evolutionary purpose of embarrassment is to clearly display regret to the people around us. We do something embarrassing, involuntarily reveal the emotion, and this communicates our repentance. If we committed a social-taboo and didn’t show embarrassment, our audience might think us heartless. As with every other emotion that we experience, embarrassment is incredibly useful. The problem occurs when our devlish, overzealous foresight causes us to avoid potentially embarrassing situations, which often contain the possibility of personal growth. We need to be vulnerable in order to live a fulfilling live. If you never put yourself out there, how will you ever achieve anything?

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ― Brene Brown

Embarrassment is solely about being accepted in our social group, but ironically, those of us who get embarrassed are liable to be liked and trusted by others, making embarrassment a powerful social glue. Even though you may feel like a complete imbecile when you inevitably mix up your words while publicly speaking, your audience will be developing an increased appreciation for you, because vulnerability is fundamentally human and loveable. Nobody wants to be friends with a cold, stand-offish android who rarely reveals emotion, let alone gets embarrassed. Vulnerability is key to fitting in with your social group. We might imagine everyone maliciously sniggering at our embarrassing faux pas, but it’s actually making you more likeable.

“I’ve been embarrassing myself since about birth.”― Phil Lester

We worry so much about fitting in that we shuck and jive our way through life, making more laughable excuses than a schoolboy truant. Sure, there’ll be times when you take a risk and end up looking a fool, but your determination and fortitude will be strengthened, with your peers appreciating you a little more. Everyone makes embarrassing mistakes, we just need to learn how to accept them with grace, and remind ourselves that they’re necessary hazards on the road to improvement.

Don’t let the fear of embarrassment dictate your actions, even if you do fuck up, you’re still winning.


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