Get Over an Embarrassing Moment

When you’re in the heat of an embarrassing moment, you might feel like you’re the only person on Earth. And yet, embarrassment is one of the most universal emotions. It’s exhibited by humans all around the world, and even by other species.[1] Many might consider embarrassment as an entirely negative emotion, but it actually serves an important social function when it comes time to figuring out who to trust and build relationships with.[2] Nevertheless, it's not good to let feelings of embarrassment take control and ruin experiences. To get over an embarrassing moment, learn to respond externally in a lighthearted way and minimize the incident internally. If you can't get past your embarrassment, consider if another underlying issue might be the cause. And beyond all else, keep in mind: rather than distancing you from everyone else around you, the capacity to experience embarrassment is actually one of the aspects of yourself that connects you to others the most.


Responding to the Incident

  1. Laugh at yourself. Recent research suggests laughing and humor are both key components of health in general. [3] The easiest way to get over the anxiety produced from an embarrassing moment is thus to simply laugh at yourself and the situation that just occurred. This way, it's easier for others to laugh with you than at you.
    • The fact that you even get embarrassed is a great way to connect you to other people, as it’s something almost everyone has likely experienced at some point in their life.[4] If you are willing to laugh at yourself, an embarrassing moment can serve as a great jumping off point to sparking interesting conversations or making new friends.
    • You can also try making the situation funny. If you approach the situation with good humor, it will become less embarrassing and more like a light joke. For example, if you fall off your chair, say something like, "I do all my own stunts!"
  2. Admit you were embarrassed. When an embarrassing moment happens, it's best to accept it. You can't go back in time, so what's the point of being in total denial? Admit to yourself – and others if appropriate – that you had an embarrassing moment. This can be a great way to start conversations with others, as they will likely have embarrassing moments to share with you as well. [5]
  3. Explain why the moment occurred. There may be circumstances that cause your embarrassing moment which are understandable and explainable. For example, you may have called someone by the wrong name all day. But when you reflect on the incident, you realize that you’ve been thinking about another person quite a bit. [6]
    • For example, you could say, “I’m sorry I’ve been calling you Shawn. I have been thinking about a good friend of mine who is going through a rough time, and I’m a little distracted.”
  4. Ask others to help you. Perhaps you spilled coffee all over some important papers at a meeting, or you tripped and dropped a stack of books on your principal’s foot. Ask the other person to help you pick up your things. This will redirect the situation away from your embarrassment to the task at hand.[6]

Minimizing the Incident

  1. Take deep breaths. After an embarrassing moment has happened anxiety will tend to spike in most people. Blood rushes to the face, heart rate and blood pressure increase, shortness of breath occurs, and higher levels of perspiration starts to collect throughout much of the body.[7] To calm yourself down, take some deep breaths and reassess the situation. This will help with the physiological response that you experience (blushing, for example). It will also help you avoid saying or doing anything else that could add to the embarrassment factor. Take a minute to calm down, and then proceed.
  2. Don't make a spectacle of yourself. The worst thing to do when an embarrassing moment happens is to make a huge scene about it. When an embarrassing moment happens, try to avoid screaming, shouting, running away on the brink of tears, or flat-out crying in public. The bigger a scene you make out of the moment, the more the moment will be engraved into people's minds. Keep in mind that it is just another moment that will quickly pass. If your reaction is mild, people are more likely to forget that anything ever happened.
  3. Tell yourself that this moment wasn’t very embarrassing. You have to face the fact that something bad has just happened to you. But, remember, it's only embarrassing if you tell yourself it is. If you get over it and tell yourself it isn't, you won't feel embarrassed.
    • It’s likely the case that you are much more critical of yourself than anyone else. Psychologists have found that in cases of anxiety or embarrassment, people tend to become overly preoccupied with themselves to the extent that they greatly overestimate how much everyone else is actually paying attention to them. [8]
    • With this in mind, if an embarrassing moment happened to you, it’s probably the case that anyone who was around you was paying more attention to themselves than to you.
  4. Do something to distract yourself. After the embarrassing moment, do something to get your mind off of it. Try reading, playing your favorite sport, watching TV, listening to music, etc. Turning your attention to an activity prevents you from focusing on your embarrassing moment.
  5. Take a lesson from the embarrassing moment. Okay, so you've been embarrassed, but take it as a lesson and learn from it. Did you trip and fall in front of your crush? Avoid wearing high heels. Did you pass out while giving a speech? Research how to calm your nerves before giving a presentation.

Addressing an Underlying Issue

  1. Reflect on your emotions that stem from this moment. Keep in mind that you can learn about yourself by what you get embarrassed by. Think about the situation you were in. Ask yourself, “What was it about that situation that made me embarrassed?” It might not always simply be about the people you were actually around.[9]
    • For example, if you get overly embarrassed after failing at something you are typically very good at, you might be setting overly high expectations for yourself. In each moment of embarrassment, reflect on what your emotion can tell you about your expectations of yourself and others in general.
  2. Consider whether or not you might have an anxiety disorder. While the title of this article is how to get over an embarrassing moment, certain people tend to have embarrassing moments quite a lot. It might even happen every day. If embarrassing moments seem to come up for you continuously, without your control, it could be the case that you have a social phobia. This is actually a type of anxiety disorder that has been shown to be highly correlated with persistent emotions of embarrassment. This makes it very difficult for you to simply get over embarrassing moments when they occur.[10]
    • If you can’t seem to simply shake off embarrassing emotions when they arise, and they seem to be coming up for you a lot, consider taking steps towards treating yourself for anxiety.
  3. See a mental health counselor. If you feel there may be underlying issues that cause your embarrassment to be more severe than normal, it can help to talk with a counselor. This person can help you figure out your emotions and understand why you feel this way. He can also give you strategies for how to reduce the level of embarrassment that you feel.
  4. Practice mindfulness meditation. If you can’t stop thinking about the embarrassing moment, try meditating. Remember, the embarrassing moment is in the past. Try to keep yourself in the present. Mindfulness meditation is a technique that helps you be aware and nonjudgmental about your thoughts and emotions. It can be helpful to keep your thoughts about the embarrassing moment from taking over.[11], [12]
    • Sit quietly for 10-15 minutes, breathing deeply. Focus on your breath.
    • Acknowledge each thought as it enters your mind. Identify the emotion that you're feeling. Say to yourself, "I feel embarrassment."
    • Accept the emotions that you're feeling, tell yourself, "I can accept my embarrassment."
    • Acknowledge that this is a temporary feeling. Say to yourself, "I know this feeling is temporary. It will subside. What do I need for myself right now?" Give yourself space and validation for your feelings, but recognize that your thoughts and responses may distort the reality of the situation.
    • Bring your attention and awareness back to your breath. As further thoughts pass through your mind, repeat the process to acknowledge them and let them go.
    • You can also search online for guided mindfulness meditation exercises.

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Sources and Citations

  1. Waal, F. de. (2010). The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society (1 edition). New York: Broadway Books.
  3. Bennett, M. P., & Lengacher, C. (2008). Humor and Laughter May Influence Health: III. Laughter and Health Outcomes. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 5(1), 37–40.
  4. Stocks, E. L., Lishner, D. A., Waits, B. L., & Downum, E. M. (2011). I’m Embarrassed for You: The Effect of Valuing and Perspective Taking on Empathic Embarrassment and Empathic Concern. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41(1), 1–26.
  6. 6.0 6.1
  7. Hofmann, S. G., Moscovitch, D. A., & Kim, H.-J. (2006). Autonomic correlates of social anxiety and embarrassment in shy and non-shy individuals. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 61(2), 134–142.
  8. Mellings, T. M. B., & Alden, L. E. (2000). Cognitive processes in social anxiety: the effects of self-focus, rumination and anticipatory processing. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 38(3), 243–257.
  9. Muris, P., & Meesters, C. (2013). Small or Big in the Eyes of the Other: On the Developmental Psychopathology of Self-Conscious Emotions as Shame, Guilt, and Pride. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 17(1), 19–40.
  10. Gerlach, A. L., Wilhelm, F. H., & Roth, W. T. (2003). Embarrassment and social phobia: the role of parasympathetic activation. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 17(2), 197–210.
  11. Siegel, R. D. (2010). The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems (1 edition). New York: The Guilford Press.

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