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.
Don’t take the advice above unless you’re definitely self-conscious about how you appear in public. Unself-conscious, low-embarrassment people become more embarrassed when they take the point of view of an observer. Suddenly, in their minds, they’re in the spotlight – and that’s uncomfortable. Embarrassing, even.
If you’re not self-conscious, keep doing whatever it is you’re doing, because it’s working for you. But tell all your more bashful friends to try this mental trick each time they feel their cheeks begin to redden: Turn the tables and imagine yourself as a witness to what’s happening.
You should feel an increase in compassion, and a reduction in distress.
This one is counterintuitive 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.
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.
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 2-year-old pushed another other 2-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.
Now I use that expression because when my twin sister and I were juniors in high school, some punk spray-painted our red car with the nice message, “Dumb-ass blonde.” The great thing about being a twin, though, is that we didn’t know which one of us it was for. So I assumed it was for her, and she assumed the warm and fuzzy note was mine. But neither of us was going to drive that thing. To school? Wasn’t going to happen. And we were late. So my mom said, “For the love of God, it’s not a big deal. I will drive the car.” Later on, we heard stories that my mom would be at an intersection getting honked at, and she waved to them like she were Queen Elizabeth.
She had the right attitude. She got in the car and drove it around town. And that’s what you have to do. So even as I never ever wanted to step foot in that homeless shelter again (where I was almost arrested for sexual harassment), I returned the next week for my duty, praying to God the director was not there. And I walked into work the day after dressing up as the security guard, turned in his uniform, and told him that he was the only one in that building with a sense of humor. And the preschool of moms that had heard about my afternoon with the ducks? Well, I didn’t win any play dates from then on, but I also didn’t pull my son out of the school in fear of their opinions of me. I got back in the car.