In the dictionary embarrass means to make someone feel awkward or ashamed. There is also an archaic definition that means to impede someone’s progress. Reading the definition I thought, “How did the meaning of the word move from impeding someone’s progress to making someone feel awkward? How are these two elements related?”
As I was looking at images of people being embarrassed, one action stood out — the need to cover oneself in some way (the mouth, eyes, or private parts). Isn’t it interesting that the feeling of shame comes with a feeling of exposure, where a very private part of ourselves is exposed?
I wonder if an earlier understanding of being embarrassed also meant that our reputation was harmed and that we were no longer viable as someone to be listened to or respected. Research into the etymology of “embarrass” indicates that the word originally meant “put behind bars” or “to have a noose” around one’s neck. The word seems to have been introduced into the British court system. One theory is that the courts would decree punishment that required the offender to wear a noose around their head in public to let them know he/she had committed a crime. Of course, this kind of punishment must have been embarrassing!
The way we look at shame has changed so much over the years. Imagine that the court system meted out punishment intended to shame someone. The shaming process itself was not only personally embarrassing but also would serve to impede someone’s ability to advance socially.
When I think of Rodin’s statue of Eve, I think of the ideal metaphor for embarrassment. Eve realizes she is naked and covers her face with her arms.
There are ways to mitigate the feeling of embarrassment. Here are my recommendations (my own private list). You might think of others for yourself.
- Always live life consistent with your own set of principles and values. If you have not crossed those principles, there is probably very little to be embarrassed about.
- Try not to wear the “mask”. Many people try to be something different in public than who they are in private. If your public and private persona match, I think it is less likely you will become embarrassed.
- From time to time, in spite of all the honest and transparency you have lived by, you may feel embarrassed. For me, those times are when the perception of who I am is out of whack with who I think I am. Then, I feel embarrassed because others are thinking of me in a way not consistent with who I really am. If that happens, be ready to do two things.
- Be ready to explain calmly how that is not who you are. Cite who you are to clarify.
- If others still don’t see it, walk away. Perhaps they are not capable of seeing who you are due to very different life experiences.
- Finally, realize that there are times that you may be embarrassed through no fault of your own. Listen to my story below!
There was a time I was very embarrassed. That was when we had a guest visit from abroad and later found bedbugs in the guest room. I fought with those mean little creatures for months on end trying to rid the household of their persistent ways. Twice I thought I had eradicated the pests, but they found a way back six months later. Finally, I persisted in conquering the battles. But, I really did not want to expose this personal tragedy and be ostracized by friends and colleagues. And, when I look back and remember that story I definitely know that the embarrassment was worse and caused me to hold back from opportunities. Exposing my problem, freed me to solve it with help!
So, don’t feel embarrassed, get help if you need it and have fun with living!
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