Feeling Self-Conscious


Linda Qiu, Staff Writer

The shame and horror of embarrassing moments fade after they have passed, but when you’re in the middle of one, it can feel like the whole world is looking down on you. Embarrassment is a ‘self-conscious’ emotion, which is an emotion classified as something experienced in relation to others when we behave in a way against social standards or norms. Embarrassment becomes part of our lives earlier than you think. According to Christine R. Harris, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego, kids begin showing signs of self-consciousness at age three. Fortunately, most people develop thicker skins and a stronger sense of personal identity after their teenage years.

Though embarrassment is nearly always classified as a negative emotion, closely related to both guilt and shame, it has some positive outcomes. People who experience embarrassment are more likely to be trusted and forgiven than those who don’t. When others see that you have experienced embarrassment, they note that you care about making mistakes and worry about the impact you cause on others. In comparison, people who don’t express embarrassment outwardly may come off as shameless and thus less trustworthy.

Furthermore, the anticipation of being embarrassed helps you better prepare for challenging situations you may face in the future. Potential embarrassment is a huge motivating factor to work harder and plan ahead. For example, if you have an important group presentation coming soon, you’ll want to review the content and your performance not only to maintain your grade, but also not to disappoint or shame your group members. And if you’ve already messed up on group presentations before, you feel even more motivated to work harder because you don’t want to experience it again.

Embarrassment shines a light on things we value, like meeting expectations or not letting people we care about down. It may make you uncomfortable, but there are ways you can deal with it.

When in an awkward situation, you can address it rather than avoiding it. Call yourself out. When you make fun of your own situation, you look confident and courageous. Also, practice self-kindness. If you find yourself being embarrassed often, take notes on these moments and remember to stay calm when they occur. Understand that embarrassment is a perfectly normal emotion to experience. Recognize that as a human, you are inherently imperfect, just like all other humans. Let go of past embarrassment with the knowledge that you did your best.