It’s a beautiful day, you are walking around, the music is in line, the outlook is beautiful, your sweater matches your pants, the person you see just sent you a nice text, nobody you know is actively sick or angry with you, your dreams are, if not about to come true, not incredibly far away, and yet there you are, suddenly overwhelmed by the memory of something stupid you said ten years ago .
It is the power of embarrassment. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been. It doesn’t matter how hard you tried to remake yourself. Embarrassment doesn’t care that you made amends with who you were; embarrassment doesn’t care about your various retroactive justifications for doing or saying what you did, or why what you said and did wasn’t so serious. Embarrassment will seize you, even years later. For this week Giz asks, we contacted a number of experts to find out why.
Professor, Psychology, UC Berkeley, whose research interests include emotion and social interaction, among others
The embarrassment touches on the dimensions of our core social identity, who we hope others will see us for, and how we deviate from those aspirations. People have recurring themes in what embarrasses them throughout life, such as telling stories and indulging in jokes, with friends, engaging in personal revelations with others, or knowing how to behave when having fun. ‘formal events. So we are embarrassed by what happened 10 years ago because these themes are still vital for us today, in terms of desired social identity.
Professor of Psychology and Director of the Emotion and Self Lab at the University of British Columbia, and the author oF PRIDE: the secret of success
For emotions that concern the ego – including embarrassment, but also pride, shame, and guilt – we can feel them again long after experiencing them initially, even 10 years later, for the elicitor is the self– and it’s always with us. Other emotions are not like that. You might feel an intense fear of encountering danger, remember this event years later and remember how scared you were, but if you are currently safe you will no longer feel that fear. On the other hand, if you think back to that time, you said that horrible thing in front of your boss or friend, and you were completely mortified, you can easily find that same place of mortification, because the thing that caused the emotion – YOU – is still there. You’re still the person who did this, so reminding yourself that you did it can be almost as bad – or even just as bad – as actually doing it. On the bright side, think back to a time when you did something that made you very proud of yourself, such as a major achievement, and you will find that you can regain the same feelings of pride that you had at that time, because you who caused the event are also still with you, and can still be a source of those feelings of well-being.
Professor, Psychology, Clemson University
I think we’re embarrassed not only by things that happened to us 10 years ago, but also by what happened to other people (empathetic embarrassment). The moment we initially feel embarrassed, the situation has created a difficult situation for us to present to us – we are embarrassed because we have failed in our efforts to make a desired impression. That’s why the first thing we do when we stumble on the stairs is look around to see if anyone has seen us. The visceral feeling we have and the realization that we cannot undo this situation makes us feel self-conscious every time we think about it. We regret that the situation has happened and often reflect on ways in which we could have prevented the situation from happening. Embarrassment is a strong emotion that helps explain why we continue to feel it even years later.
Distinguished Regents Professor Emeritus, Psychology, Sam Houston State University, whose research interests include embarrassment and shame
Even 10 years later, if you just start imagining the circumstances that made you so dramatically embarrassed, you can cause further embarrassment – just by remembering what it was like. Embarrassment is a powerful emotion, and vivid events tend to be more memorable (this also applies to anger and many other emotions).
Embarrassment – the emotion of misstep, of social mishap – depends on worrying about what others think of us. A lot of the things we do in private aren’t at all bothersome, until the sudden threat of discovery arises. Even when we are not discovered, just thinking about what others might have thought, if they had known, can cause some embarrassment.
It’s a phenomenon that speaks to the social power of embarrassment, which is an intriguing emotion. It probably exists because it has provided a reliable signal to others that we recognize our transgression – that we have been disappointed with it, regret it, and can be expected to behave more appropriately. in the future. It reassures others because it serves as a genuine non-verbal apology.
When people can do whatever they want and ignore the opinions of others – if people can’t feel embarrassed (which can be true for psychopaths) – they’re not trustworthy . Expert advice is that when you’re wrong in public, it’s okay to become self-conscious – embarrassment capacity is normal, it adapts. When we make mistakes and then act embarrassed, people like us better and trust us more than they would have if we had been completely unfazed and unfazed by our misbehavior.
Psychologist and professor at the Wright Institute
Some memories have more intensity and emotional vividness than others and, therefore, they are more likely to be recalled. Embarrassing times are usually surprising and emotionally very exciting.
Embarrassment is a subset of the emotion of shame, often triggered in situations where we feel a grimace or a jerk and fear being diminished in the eyes of others. Shame is experienced as exposure to external or internal judgment, or it can arise in the context of a broken connection with another. A shameful response tells us that at the moment we have encountered an obstacle to maintaining this link. Usually, when shame is on, we feel bad about who we are – all of our selves – which makes us want to hide or disappear.
We may not like to remember our embarrassments, but these memories and the uncomfortable emotions attached to them are part of an adaptive process that protects us; that is, memory allows us to apply past experiences and information to present and future possibilities. Experiences of shame (embarrassment) evolved as a helpful response to error. How we deal with our embarrassments is essential to healthy learning and our ability to interact socially and intimately.
Repeatedly reliving embarrassment in our mind can negatively affect how we feel, the way we behave in public, and our overall mood. We are not our embarrassing mistakes. Instead, the mistakes we make can help us learn. So it’s important to take a look at our responses and be curious as to why we responded the way we did. As such, a past embarrassment is much like a person in our lives who has given us important information to use in the present and the future.
The self-observation which is often brought on by shame of embarrassment and felt as regret offers an opportunity to learn, change, improve, or do something differently next time. People who are successful in their endeavors or careers often use the emotions they feel. Rather than responding defensively to what they are feeling, they reflect, self-assess and learn.
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