Here’s How to Overcome Embarrassment and Improve Your Self-Confidence

Douglas Engelbart

The rate at which a person can mature is directly proportional to the embarrassment he can tolerate.

Are you feeling somewhat embarrassed?

When you’re embarrassment you feel somewhat uneasy, maybe ashamed, somewhat humiliated and kind of self-conscious. On the surface we don’t normally classify embarrassment as a fear, however for the purpose of this discussion it’s important to look at it in this way.

Embarrassment often manifests when a weakness or an inadequacy has been made public. You might also feel embarrassed because you’re feeling guilty about something you did that has now become public knowledge. Likewise you might end up feeling embarrassed when you’re caught doing something that is socially unacceptable. These events can often make you feel incredibly uncomfortable and self-conscious. All of a sudden the hidden secrets you’ve been holding close to your heart are now in the public realm. It’s just difficult to bear. You are now open to judgment, ridicule, rejection and criticism. All of a sudden it seems as though embarrassment isn’t the only fear you have to deal with.

You’ve probably heard the saying that some people have absolutely no shame. These are the kinds of people that don’t often concern themselves with what others think or say about them. These are the kinds of people who never get embarrassed and are often very open about every aspect of their lives. They don’t care about being rejected or criticized. In fact, they seem to revel in the fact that other people don’t approve of their decisions, actions or behavior. They think this way because they feel comfortable and secure in their own skin. They are confident and have high levels of self-esteem and self-belief.

In contrast, a person who is afraid of being embarrassed is often very insecure. They have very low levels of self-esteem, and they are always fearing judgment, ridicule and criticism. These are the kinds of people who often try to please others. They try their hardest to live up to other people’s expectations of them. However, they tend to feel that they are not quite good enough. As a result they are afraid to make mistakes and afraid of failing. This makes them hesitant in their actions and that is when the fear of embarrassment manifests in their lives.

Suffering from the fear of embarrassment can actually be quite debilitating. It will tend to stifle your confidence while completely undermining your social and personal growth. It will discourage you from taking the necessary risks that will help you take advantage of opportunities and get ahead in this world, and it will prevent you from attempting new things. You will rarely if ever step outside your comfort zone because you fear that you will not look favorable in other people’s eyes. It could also very well be that you’re somewhat of a perfectionist. Unless you do things perfectly, you will never be good enough. And if you’re not good enough, then obviously that makes you a failure.

Overcoming Embarrassment

The Perfectionist Trap

It’s important to understand that nobody is perfect. Perfection is only an opinion. What’s perfect for one person is far from perfect for another person. Therefore perfection depends entirely on the standards you set yourself and on the expectations you have of yourself in the situation you are attempting to work through. The moment you lower your standards and expectations and make them more realistic and achievable is the moment you will begin ridding yourself of the fear of embarrassment. In fact, it’s important to remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes. Mistakes are a part of life. For this very reason it’s critical to allow yourself room to make mistakes and to fail at times. Everything that happens is simply a learning experience, and other people will often respect that.

We all know that nobody else is perfect. We all know that everyone makes mistakes. We all know that people fail at times. In fact, often when trying new things, people fail more often then they succeed. However, it’s the growth that we get from our failures and mistakes that makes all the difference in the end. It’s this growth that helps us gain the experience and confidence we need to do things better the next time around.

Subdue Your Critical Voice

When it comes to making mistakes, failing and feeling embarrassed, it’s important to understand that you are always your biggest critic. You might think that other people will judge and criticize you. Yes, some people might, but most people won’t. Most people will actually empathize with you. They will relate with what you’re going through because at one time or another they were in exactly your position. Yes, events and circumstances might have been different. However, they were certainly there making mistakes and feeling somewhat embarrassed and ashamed of themselves. It’s all normal. In fact, you might be surprised that many of these people might not even care less. They are so absorbed in their own world and in their own problems that they might only give you a few moments of their conscious attention.

Given all this, the reality is that it’s not other people who make you feel self-conscious, it’s rather your own critical voice that is creating these problems.

Consider for a moment that what makes you feel embarrassed actually inspires and excites another person. Or, how about what makes you feel embarrassed actually challenges and motivates someone else. Therefore embarrassment isn’t so much what happens to you, but rather how you interpret what happens to you. And all this comes back to that critical voice inside your head that is making you feel absolutely miserable.

Prepare yourself to tune-out that critical voice, and move forward with greater confidence.

What to do Before Embarrassment Strikes

There are certain things you can do before you step into an uncomfortable situation where you might feel a little embarrassed and uncertain. The guidelines that follow will hopefully provide you with a variety of ways you can potentially prepare yourself for moments of embarrassment — helping you handle those awkward moments far more effectively.

At this stage, it’s all about building your anti-embarrassment muscle. This muscle must be flexed and strengthened, so that when you go out into the world you can bear the brunt of the challenges that life throws your way.

Subdue Your Expectations

The first thing you must do is subdue your expectations. If your expectations provide you with no room to make mistakes and goof up a little, then you’re simply setting yourself up for failure. It’s therefore important to subdue the expectations you have about yourself and the expectations you have about yourself in this particular situation. Ask yourself:

What are my expectations?

What expectations do I have of myself?

What expectations do I have of myself in this particular situation?

Are my expectations realistic and reasonable?

Do they allow me room to make mistakes?

How could I reasonably adjust my expectations?

Be open to the fact that you will make mistakes. Mistakes are a normal and natural part of life. It’s okay to goof up. In fact you shouldn’t be embarrassed when things don’t turn out as expected. Everyone is fallible, and nobody is ever perfect no matter how things may appear to be on the surface. You must therefore accept the fact that mistakes will be made and as such you must let go of your perfectionist nature.

It’s okay that I’m not perfect…

It’s okay to make mistakes…

It’s perfectly okay to fail as long as I learn from this experience…

Feel comfortable in the fact that you are imperfect. Every mistake you make you will learn from and do better next time.

Learn to Handle Fear

Embarrassment is a type of fear. It’s closely tied to the fear of uncertainty, rejection and criticism. Once you learn to handle these fears successfully, you will feel far more confident when stepping into uncomfortable situations that might potentially embarrass you.

Spend time learning how to handle the following types of fear:

As you build your fear muscle you will suddenly gain more certainty, and with certainty will come motivation and confidence. And that could be all you need to handle your feelings of embarrassment.

Preparation and Attention to Detail

It’s paramount that you focus on developing two critical things. First, you must develop your mental alertness and awareness. This is important because while performing certain tasks and activities you will need to be mentally alert and aware of everything that is going on around you. When you’re in this mental state of awareness you will be far more likely to change direction at a moments notice and respond to unexpected events and circumstances. What this really means is that you are less likely to get embarrassed because you are paying attention to all the details. There will be no surprises because you are ready for everything and flexible enough to change your decisions, behavior and actions at a moments notice.

Developing alertness and awareness comes with time. However, the most important thing you can do is to learn to be more mindful. Be mindful of the moment, and pay attention to the process of how you’re doing things. Also be mindful of the results you get from doing these things and how this effects and influences the things around you.

The second thing you must do that will reduce the likelihood of feeling embarrassed is to prepare yourself thoroughly. The more thoroughly you are prepared, the more confident and capable you will be and the less likely you are to make a mistake and get embarrassed. Just spend time preparing yourself. However be careful not to over-prepare and get lost in the details. Don’t fall into the perfectionist trap. Prepare enough so that you come to understand what is required of you to ready yourself for the challenges you might face along the way.

Examine Your Limiting Beliefs

You might very well be prone to feeling embarrassed because you have a number of limiting beliefs about specific situations, or about your ability to handle your emotions within a specific situation.

One way to overcome your limiting beliefs is to begin questioning the validity of each belief. Actually spend time throwing doubts upon these beliefs by asking yourself:

What belief is causing me to feel embarrassed?

What do I believe about myself or about the situation I find myself in?

Is this a realistic belief to have?

What doesn’t make sense about this belief?

Where’s the evidence that disproves this belief?

Who could provide me with another perspective that could disprove this belief?

Gain other people’s perspectives and thoughts about your beliefs. Listen to what they say. You might be surprised with how they view things. Maybe your belief is not as legitimate as you originally made it out to be.

Work on Developing Your Confidence

The more confidence you have in yourself and your own ability, the less likely you are to feel embarrassed. It’s actually a fact that the more confidence someone has, the less likely they are to succumb to the fear or criticism, rejection, making mistakes and failure. It takes a lot to make a confident person feel embarrassed because they feel comfortable in their own skin and they are willing to take the necessary risks to step outside their comfort zone, to expand their horizons and stretch themselves in a variety of ways.

It’s also a fact that the more knowledge and experience you gain, the more confident you will feel about yourself and your circumstances. Confidence essentially comes through trial and error. It comes from making mistakes and learning from them. You might not know what to do initially, however over time you learn and grow from your experience, and this provides you with the confidence you need to move forward successfully.

Purposefully Put Yourself in Uncomfortable Situations

To strengthen your levels of confidence and to build that anti-embarrassment muscle you must purposefully put yourself into uncomfortable situations.

An uncomfortable situation means something that is likely to make you feel somewhat uneasy and potentially embarrassed. Of course initially it’s important not to do this with things that have significant meaning in your life. Instead do it with less important things. For instance, how about playing a new sport you haven’t played before. Initially you probably won’t be very good, but who really cares. You’ll make mistakes, embarrass yourself, laugh it off and have some fun. Nobody cares, and you shouldn’t care either. Use this experience to build your anti-embarrassment muscle. And then the next week do something else uncomfortable.

Hopefully over time you will realize that embarrassment is just a little bit of fun. It’s a learning experience. Everyone gets embarrassed and it’s not really a big deal.

Visualize Yourself Handling Embarrassment

The subconscious mind can’t tell the difference between something that is real and something that is only imagined in your mind. This is very important because it means that you can work through embarrassing moments first in your imagination before tackling them in the real world. In fact the more you visualize yourself successfully and calmly handling an embarrassing moment in your imagination, the more confidence you will have in yourself to be able to tackle this situation much more effectively in the real world.

Take some time to sit in a quiet place and close your eyes. Visualize all the events and circumstances surrounding this activity you are embarrassed about and see everything working out in your favor. However, all of a sudden something unexpected happens and you feel a little embarrassed. Your emotions could easily and quickly get out of control. However, you calmly center yourself, subdue your emotions and laugh things off. You bring a light-hearted nature into everything you do, and as a result it’s very difficult for you to feel embarrassed.

Prepare for Future Embarrassment

Moving on from the previous point, take time to reflect on all the ways you’ve been embarrassed in the past. Have a good think about the specific situations that have made you feel uneasy. Within these situations are lessons you must learn that may very well help you in the present moment. Also have a think about all the things you might potentially feel embarrassed about in the future. Ask yourself:

What could potentially embarrass me in the future?

How will I respond during these moments?

How must I prepare myself to successfully and calmly handle these circumstances?

By visualizing all the different possible embarrassing scenarios that you could potentially confront in the future, and then picturing in your mind how you will work through them successfully will help you to gain the confidence you need to make better decisions moving forward. Then when it comes time to do the real thing in the real world, you will be ready for anything that might come your way. Preparation is the key.

What to do Before Embarrassment

What to do During Moments of Embarrassment

Okay, so you’ve done all this prior work to help build that anti-embarrassment muscle. In fact, you feel as though you’ve prepared as thoroughly as you possibly could. You’ve learned how to handle different types of fears, you’ve subdued your expectations, worked on developing your confidence, spent time visualizing handling embarrassing moments calmly and successfully, and even purposefully put yourself into uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing situations in an attempt to desensitize yourself emotionally. However, now you’re faced with the real thing. Something has happened, you feel somewhat uncertain and you are on the verge of one of the most embarrassing moments of your life. What to do?

Here are some guidelines and suggestions to help you handle the fear of embarrassment in the moment.

Stay Calm, Cool and Collected

The most important things you must do is stay cool, calm and collected. Take several deep breaths, count backwards from ten and settle yourself down by coming back to the present moment.

Within these critical few moments become mindful of where you are, what you’re doing, and of your immediate surroundings. Don’t regret the past or worry about the future. Just settle in the present moment. When you become aware of the moment you will no longer be thinking about other people or about what you’re feeling embarrassed about. Instead you will be focused on yourself and on the peaceful sound of your breath.

Take Responsibility

The second most important thing you must do during these uncomfortable moments is to take responsibility for what just happened. Don’t deny what happened, don’t try to hide behind your flaws or mistakes. Just take responsibility for what you did and for what transpired. It doesn’t even matter if it’s not your fault. You’re in this situation, and you must now gracefully work through this situation successfully. Blaming, chucking a tantrum or shamelessly walking away will not help you here.

If you made a mistake, own up to it. If something unexpected happened that made you feel uncomfortable, then embrace these circumstances. You can’t change what happened. However, you can most certainly begin anew right now in this very moment.

Think Positively and Creatively

The third most important thing is to think positively and creatively about the situation.

Yes, of course you might be in a little bit of a pickle. Things are uncomfortable and you are feeling somewhat embarrassed. It’s important not to allow your emotions to get the better of you. As such, it’s critical that you think positively. Maybe things aren’t as bad as you initially made them out to be. Maybe you could put a positive spin on this situation. And just maybe this is a perfect opportunity in disguise.

Staying optimistic and viewing the situation in a positive light will immediately open a world of possibilities. No longer will you be the victim of circumstance, but instead you will become the master of your own destiny.

Once you’re in control, begin thinking creatively about how you will get through this situation successfully. You can for instance do this by envisioning yourself as a comedian on stage entertaining people. A comedian makes mistakes, goofs up and as a result stimulates laughter. Maybe you just need to laugh at yourself to help ease the tension you are feeling. If that’s not appropriate in your situation, then alternatively imagine yourself as an actor acting out a role in a movie. See yourself acting out a script within a movie. This might very well help desensitize you from the events and circumstances. And finally, how about imagining yourself as a cartoon character? What would Bart Simpson do in your situation? Actually maybe that’s not such a great example. 😉

Don’t Take Yourself too Seriously

Moving on from the previous point, it’s important not to take yourself too seriously. You will goof up, things will happen unexpectedly and that’s all okay. It’s not so much what happens to you but rather how you respond to what happens that makes all the difference in the end. And how you respond to an embarrassing situation should be relaxed and light-hearted. Learn to laugh at your mistakes, circumstances and mishaps. Don’t get upset over trivial matters.

Consider for a moment that what seems embarrassing for you, might not at all be embarrassing for others. For all you know, other people haven’t even noticed your mistakes or mishaps. Or maybe they have absolutely no idea why you would be feeling embarrassed about these circumstances in the first place. These are all legitimate perspectives. However, you will never get to the point of seeing things this way if you take yourself too seriously.

Don’t Succumb to Peer Expectations

Everyone has their own personal standards and expectations of themselves and of others. You can’t change this. Other people are entitled to have their own opinions and viewpoints. They are free to expect certain things from you, however this doesn’t mean that you must put external pressure on yourself to meet other people’s expectations of you. Instead clarify your own expectations, live up to your own standards, and do things at your own pace and in your own way.

Don’t Retaliate Defensively

If you’re criticized, laughed at or judged, it’s important you don’t retaliate negatively or defensively. Don’t blame other people for what happened. Don’t lash out angrily. Emotional outbursts can only make the situation much more unbearable and can potentially make you feel regretful and even more embarrassed. Instead control your emotional responses, be open to the possibilities and take responsibility for keeping a cool head.

Don’t Focus on Embarrassing Circumstances

Once the embarrassing moment has passed, just move on with what you need to do. There is no point in dwelling on things. You probably have better things to do, and you have the rest of your life to live. Don’t allow this one moment to ruin the rest of your day, your week or even the remainder of this year. It’s not worth it. Accept that it happened, learn from the experience, but don’t obsess yourself with endless regrets and “what if” scenarios. This is never helpful and will just effect other areas of your life in negative ways.

What to do During Embarrassment

What to do After You Have Been Embarrassed

Finally, the moment of embarrassment has passed. You’re out in the clear and can move on with your life. Well, at least that should be the case. However, many people continue to relive their embarrassing moments in their imaginations for days, weeks, months and sometimes years. In fact, some people never seem to get over the shame and/or embarrassment they felt in that moment. Their entire lives are now in an emotional ruin and all of a sudden they have these phobias where they can no longer bear to see themselves in certain situations. This is not good. It’s not good because these phobias don’t only affect them in specific situations, they now tend to expand into other areas of their lives ruining their relationships, career prospects and health. It’s certainly no way to live.

Living with the fear of embarrassment is never helpful. It can actually be very debilitating and hurtful in the long-run. What happened, happened. You either dealt with the situation successfully and calmly, or you didn’t. Nothing can be changed. At least nothing in the past. However, you can certainly learn from your experience and use it to help lay a stronger foundation for the future.

So whether you completely embarrassed yourself, or managed to work through an embarrassing situation successfully and calmly, you will hopefully find the following guidelines helpful to help you gain the most from every potentially embarrassing experience.

Forgive Yourself

No matter what happened, no matter how you responded, and no matter what ended up transpiring, it’s very important you forgive yourself and walk away with no regrets. It is only through forgiveness that you will be able to move on with your life. Holding onto things will only hold you back and prevent you from moving forward. Living with regret doesn’t help anyone feel better in the long-term.

Stop Apologizing for Your Mistakes

It’s important to keep reminding yourself that you’re not perfect, and never will be perfect. Perfection is all in the eye of the beholder. What looks like perfection for one person is far from perfect for another person. Therefore stop apologizing for your mistakes. Instead, embrace your mistakes. Mistakes are powerful learning tools you can use to help you make better choices and decisions in the future.

Distract Yourself Mentally

Initially it might be difficult to get the embarrassing event and circumstances out of your head. In fact, you might at the moment be blowing them out of proportion in your imagination. That’s perfectly okay and understandable. In such instances give yourself permission to distract yourself temporarily from such thoughts so that you can get on with the rest of your life — up until the moment you can take the time to reflect on what happened and learn from the experience.

The most important thing is not to allow these embarrassing circumstances to eat away at other areas of your life including your relationships with others, your career, your health, and personal achievement.

There are numerous harmless ways you can distract yourself. For instance you can distract yourself through exercise, by socializing, or listening to your favorite uplifting music, etc. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these are only temporary distractions that give you time to settle yourself down. Once you’ve settled down, it’s critical you take time to have a think about what happened and analyze the situation to help improve your circumstances the next time around.

As a side note, it’s important not to indulge in addictions as a form of distraction. These forms of distraction will often interfere with important areas of your life and can actually make your circumstances far more complicated.

Take Time to Contemplate

In order to grow from the experience you must learn from the experience. And in order to learn from the experience you must be open to the possibilities and you must be willing to change.

Take time to have a good think about the events that took place that led to the moment of embarrassment. Ask yourself:

What happened?

How did I respond to what happened?

Was I careless or simply unprepared? Why?

What was funny about the situation?

What can I learn from this experience?

What will I do differently the next time around?

It’s important to note down and analyze whether you were simply careless or unprepared. A lack of preparation and carelessness might very well have been the cause of your embarrassment. If unprepared, then you might need to prepare more thoroughly the next time around so that you have a clearer understanding of what you need to do. If on the other hand you were careless, then you might need to be more aware, focused and mindful of the moment. Either way you are encouraging yourself to think more thoughtfully about your circumstances, and this can only help build your confidence moving forward.

What to do After Embarrassment

Gain a Different Perspective of the Situation

So far you’ve probably only viewed your embarrassing situation one way and this might be making you feel absolutely miserable. However, consider the possibility that there are a number of different ways you could potentially view this embarrassing moment. Ask yourself:

How else could I view this situation?

How could seeing things this way be of value?

Maybe seeing things as an experiment or as a performance of some sort may help you shift your perspective about the situation in a more positive and helpful way. It doesn’t even matter if these viewpoints make any sense. Just maybe seeing things in a slightly different light will open up the possibility that things are not as bad as they initially seemed to be. And this can provide you with the hope you need to approach the situation more confidently the next time around.

Gain Inspiration from Others

If you’re stuck on ideas and unable to find new and helpful perspectives to help you reconstruct your embarrassing moment, then it’s always helpful to have a chat with other people to gain their perspectives and opinions. In fact, find a trusted friend and share your embarrassing moment with them. Let them have a little bit of a chuckle, and don’t hesitate to share their laughter. This might very well help you relax and settle down your runaway thoughts.

Once the initial laughter dies down, ask your friend to share their own embarrassing stories. Maybe there are some valuable lessons within their experience that you could potentially use to feel better about your own experience.

In the end we always learn best through stories. When you share stories of your own life experiences with others, you learn from the act of sharing and listening to other people’s perspectives and opinions. And when others share stories with you, you also learn as you try and put yourself in their shoes and live through their experience in your own way. Then you take the lessons and try to apply them into your own life. That’s how we learn. And that’s how you must learn to overcome your fear of embarrassment.

Time to Assimilate these Concepts

Fear of Embarrassment

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Adam is a life coach, mind mapper, doodler and visual thinker. He founded IQ Matrix in 2009 and has created over 350 self-growth mind maps. He also has a Free 40 Day How to Doodle Course where he teaches how to doodle using simple daily lessons. Read more about Adam's story, and how he created the concept for IQ Matrix. Feel free to also get in touch and send Adam a message here.