When I was a kid, we spent every Saturday night with The Wilson*’s, family friends whose son, Steve, is a couple months younger than I. Most Saturday nights, he and I hung out while our parents played epic games of Monopoly in ours or their living room or watched Saturday Night Live.
One evening at Johnnie’s, an Oklahoma City institution that served burgers and huge waxy bags of fries. I sat at the kids table with Steve and his best friend. As usual when they were together, I was the easy target of their boy pranks.
They sat across from me in the brown vinyl booth and tore their straw wrappers into pieces. They chewed on the paper until it was soggy and sticky and then blew the spitwads through their straw at me. One stuck to the lens of my glasses and one landed in my mouth. The other pieces rained around me in a shower of embarrassing grossness. It was awful.
and I didn’t know what to do.
Literally, I didn’t know what to do in the moment. Wipe the soggy paper off of my face and finish my fries? Cry? Tell on them? Fire back?
What do you do when you’re embarrassed?
That night at Johnnie’s, I froze and shut down. That’s still what I want to do when I think people are rejecting me and I feel embarrassed. I don’t get spit on anymore–well, by my peers, at least. They’re more likely to do something just as bad like say no. Or they might disagree. Or, the horror, they might not like me.
But that crappy feeling is still there just like it was when I was a kid with gummy paper stuck to my face.
It Doesn’t Work
Shutting down keeps me from rich experiences. When I guard against the feeling of embarrassment with all my (little kid) might, I miss out on so much.
I don’t tell my husband I think he’s foxy.
I don’t reach out to clients when I know I can help.
I don’t say my opinion, ask the question, take a guess.
What do you miss when you’re holding back?
A Plan For Grown-Ups
1. Feel it. Embarrassment is just a feeling, like anger or fear. Feelings only last about 90 seconds. They operate like labor contractions. They swell and their intensity peaks and then they wane pretty quickly. Then there’s a break. This happens every single time. There might be another wave of that feeling, but that one will only last about 90 seconds too. Then there will be another break. I bet you can do anything for 90 seconds if you know it’s going to end.
2. Listen to your thoughts. If you’re not scrambling to get away from the feeling (I repeat: it will end very quickly), you can listen for the thoughts cruising around in your head. When you hear them, ask yourself “is that true?”
3. Go embarrass yourself.
It’s harder to deal with something unpleasant when you’re surprised, so practice this a couple of times.
Action: Make a list of 5 things that embarrass you. Now, pick one of those things and go do it. You’ll be ready for that feeling when it shows up. Feel it. Repeat.
*names changed to protect the guilty
Photo Via studiostoer