Have you had embarrassing experiences? Want to hear some of mine?
When I was a teen, I met a woman in her 20s who was on the run from another state for some small crime. We hung out a few times and then I got metal braces on my teeth. When she saw me in them, she asked me how old I was. When I told her I was 16, she told me that she did not want any trouble with the local law. I went from being somebody to being a child, just like that. I felt embarrassed.
I asked a group of students to share some of their embarrassing experiences, and share they did. Many things can go wrong in life! We say the wrong thing, we have clothing malfunctions. If something can go wrong, it will, for somebody.
You might wonder why we have an emotion of embarrassment. There are at least two reasons. First, embarrassment helps us learn. Second, embarrassment helps us gain forgiveness from others for social mistakes we make that harm them.
For instance, one day 20 years ago when I was teaching, I had a half sneeze. I kept teaching, and after several minutes a young male student raised his hand and told me that I had something hanging out of my nose. I wiped the mucous away and kept teaching. I still cringe when I recall the experience, but I learned from it to check my nose after any type of sneeze.
Another time I was opening a small hot-sauce package on a plane and managed to squirt it on to the white pants of the man sitting next to me. I apologised in an embarrassed way, and he said not to worry about it. I smoothed over an awkward situation by showing embarrassment.
Individuals who have social anxiety disorder feel embarrassed often, including sometimes for no good reason. They start to withdraw from social settings to avoid embarrassment.
How do we move past feeling embarrassed about something?
Keeping our social errors in perspective helps. A typical faux pas has no lasting effect on others or on their view of us.
Giving ourselves permission to be imperfect helps even more. Everyone makes mistakes. We can apologise; we can make amends. We can learn from experience and do better in the future.
We will never reach perfection, but we might get better. I now teach snot-free.
[Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash}