10 Real Ways to Overcome Embarrassment


I recently wrote a post for Blisstree.com on overcoming embarrassments. You can find it here. I’ve excerpted from it below.

There’s a reason why we say we’re dying of embarrassment. Because while we’re in the midst of an embarrassing episode, dying really does seems like the better option. No human being I know is immune from them; however, I seem to have a knack at collecting a large variety. After a recent incident that made me want to hide in a corner of the world without Wi-Fi, my writing and spiritual mentor gave me great advice. “It’s okay to be embarrassed,” he said. “It’s cleansing. This one has already passed, and passed nicely, like a kidney stone after the first day. You may relax.”

Of course that didn’t stop me from feeling embarrassed some more. So after collecting some nuggets from friends and professionals, I compiled these 10 ways to really deal with embarrassment in real life. I hope they help you feel better the next time your client, colleague, or date tells you that you’re wearing toilet paper on the sole of your shoe.

1. Keep the right tense.

All embarrassment takes place in the past. Theoretically, if you were able to stay in the moment perfectly, you wouldn’t feel an ounce of embarrassment – because all those messages inside your brain belong to a different time and place. Now I realize being present to the moment is virtually impossible when you are experiencing that twisted knot inside your stomach that says things like, “You can’t be trusted with anything, you idiot!” and are feeling the physiological symptoms of embarrassment (somewhat like the flu), but if you can remember for even a minute here or there to pull your attention to the present, you will be relieved of needless angst.

2. Stop apologizing.

This one is counter-intuitive for me. I honestly think that if I apologize I will return to feeling normal. Even if I have apologized like five minutes prior to that moment. I suppose I am an apology addict. “Just one more apology and I’ll feel okay.” No. You won’t. In fact, you will feel worse. Because, again, your attention is on the past, not on the present, where you don’t need to apologize for anything. So stop it already.

3. Be you. Neurotic you.

St. Francis de Sales had four words of advice for pursuing spiritual excellence: “Be you very well.” That even goes for neurotics, like me, who wear their psychiatric charts on their sleeves, and are so transparent that every thought they have is registered like a bulletin on their faces. I supposed when you are made that way – or, rather, if you choose to live that way – you will experience far more embarrassment than, say, a person who tucks away her emotions for only safe people to see. But if Francis is right, that’s the price I have to pay for being me.

4. Visit humiliations past.

This one will help you keep things in perspective. You know when you thought you really were going to die – or at least you wanted to? In hindsight, not a huge deal, right? As an exercise, you should list your top five embarrassments. Mine are:

  • Upon being prompted to tell “the thumb” joke to the Vice President of Doubleday, I proceeded to tell the wrong, very off-color one, which, I feared at the time, would kill our book contract.
  • At my first job out of college, I was the only one to dress up for Halloween. I went as the building security guard (borrowed the uniform and all), and only he thought it was funny.
  • Published on the front page of the Annapolis paper (on my birthday) was the story about how my two-year-old pushed another other two-year-old (the one that I was watching) into the frigid waters of the Chesapeake Bay only to be rescued by a passerby.
  • In line to purchase Notre Dame football tickets the first week of college, where a mob pushed their way forward, I was stung by a bee and, without my kit, had to call an ambulance.
  • I was almost arrested for sexual harassment my senior year at Saint Mary’s College because the creative but blunt note that I left for the director of the homeless shelter (as instructed by one of his good friends, mind you) was set on top of a set of lingerie some other woman had sent him. Thus he assumed I was the lingerie stalker.
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    Therese Borchard
    I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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    3 Responses
    1. …you mean it’s not JUST “me because I’m crazy/a nut/a space cadet/take pills/have hospitalization records”?? lol 😉 thanks for this… in all seriousness I am relieved that it’s not just my fault that it’s this hard. Cheers! Jen (Kevin’s pain in the ass 😉 )