5 tips for people who are easily embarrassed

By Rosie Cappuccino,
updated on Apr 9, 2024

5 tips for people who are easily embarrassed

We all have moments when we want the ground to swallow us up, but what can we do when we find ourselves blushing and staring at our feet too often?

While no emotions are truly negative because they serve important functions, such as alerting us to danger or inviting us to connect with others, embarrassment can feel deeply uncomfortable.

As you may know only too well, this emotion is associated with feeling hot, blushing, an averted gaze, and a desire to hide. Embarrassment is a self-conscious emotion that makes us feel both awkward and exposed, like our flaws are ‘in the spotlight’. We tend to feel it either when we anticipate negative appraisal by others, such as forgetting someone’s name, or when we don’t know what to do or say next – for example, receiving an unexpected gift.

Embarrassment is commonly described as a prosocial emotion that evolved to support social cohesion. But what can we do when we experience this normal, yet bothersome, emotion too frequently?

Notice your shared humanity

Psychotherapist Laura Wood explains that embarrassment can often be associated with the ‘spotlight effect’, where you feel like everyone is focused on and judging you. The spotlight effect can feel particularly strong if embarrassment leads to flushed cheeks.

But, by noticing our common humanity we can feel less ‘in the spotlight’ and more connected to others, making it easier to comfort ourselves and say ‘I am only human’.

Common humanity is one of the three elements of self-compassion, as defined by Dr Kristin Neff. As humans, we all make mistakes, have personal difficulties, and feel pain. To become more aware of our shared humanity, notice the common ground (including struggles) you have with others. Even if someone’s life looks idyllic, remember you only see one part of it – especially on endlessly edited social media.

Practise cognitive defusion

When we have done something that made us feel embarrassed, it’s easy to replay it in our minds and feel that hot wave of embarrassment all over again. Ruminating increases anxiety about the future (‘Will that happen again?’) and sadness about the past (‘I wish I could go back and change the scenario’).

Cognitive defusion, a technique derived from acceptance and commitment therapy, can change our relationship with our thoughts. This technique helps us focus on the process of thinking, rather than getting tangled up in the content of our thoughts.

Viewing our thoughts as words or images passing through the mind can reduce their power. One way of practising cognitive defusion is to imagine your thoughts as clouds floating through the sky, or trains departing a station. You could also envision your thoughts being projected on to a cinema screen as you observe from afar, or clicking the ‘X’ on thoughts as if your mind were an internet browser.

Act opposite to the emotion

“If you feel frequently embarrassed, you are probably aware of how it physically feels for you,” says Laura Wood. “For example, you may have a racing heart, increased body temperature, and a want to escape the situation.” She advises calming the nervous system with grounding exercises, such as mindful breathing or noticing things around you with your five senses.

It can be helpful to act opposite to the urges and body language associated with embarrassment, too. For example, holding your head up with a forward gaze and staying in the situation if you can. While it’s natural to avoid people who were present when you felt embarrassed, allow yourself the opportunity to realise that everything is OK, and build new positive associations.


Nurture a growth mindset

As embarrassment tends to arise when we anticipate negative appraisal by others, or when we don’t know what to do or say next, it tends to happen when we have ventured outside our comfort zone. So, first of all, celebrate yourself for being brave enough to challenge yourself or try something new.

Secondly, nurture a growth mindset by recognising that every setback is an opportunity to develop your skill set. Be open to asking questions if there is support you need or something you don’t know. As Laura explains, embarrassment may be “alerting you to something that perhaps you need to address, whether that be something within yourself or outside of yourself such as a relationship – and sharing your thoughts and feelings with a trusted friend, family member or therapist is a great way to start”.

Acknowledge your strengths

It is reassuring to know that people don’t tend to judge those who are feeling embarrassed negatively – and there may even be benefits to it, with a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showing that easily embarrassed individuals may be more prosocial, and more likely to be viewed by others as more trustworthy and generous.

A moment of embarrassment can even be a catalyst for connections with others; when someone sees you’re only human, it can be comforting. Furthermore, as Laura notes: “Embarrassment shows that you care. You care about the opinions of the people around you because you value them. This often correlates with traits such as being considerate, thoughtful, and reflective.”

By Rosie Cappuccino

Rosie Cappuccino is a Mind Media Award-winning blogger, and author of ‘Talking About BPD: A Stigma-Free Guide to Living a Calmer, Happier Life with Borderline Personality Disorder’.

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