Henri Rousseau once wrote, “It’s not the criminal things which are hardest to confess, but the ridiculous and shameful.” We’ve all been there, strutting down the path of humiliation with our tail in between our legs.
As the queen of embarrassment, I now know what to do and what not to do while donning a dunce cap. I have learned that my idiotic acts aren’t as important as the way in which I rebound. If I can maneuver gracefully back to two feet and walk forward with confidence, my flaws have a way of deepening my bonds with people and celebrating my humanity. Humiliation strips away pretenses so that everyone can be real.
Here are six ways to lose the shame and overcome embarrassment so you can enjoy the perks.
1. Be Transparent
You think there’s a chance no one will notice the significant blood stain on your skirt courtesy of your period. Do you tie your sweater around your waist, explaining to folks that the sweater-over-your-skirt is a trending fashion that hasn’t yet made it to your town, or do you pick a trustworthy woman from the crowd and explain the situation? I propose option two.
My situation was slightly different. As I was swimming laps early in the morning with my swim group, my swimsuit split in half down the back. The lifeguard spotted my bare butt and came to my aid with a towel. At that point, I could have made up some lame excuse, like I was about to vomit and had to leave the pool. However, the lifeguard was laughing so hard, transparency was really my only option. Needless to say, it provided everyone with a morning laugh and nice start to their day.
2. Keep It Simple
Related to the first point, don’t try to cover up the situation by giving complicated, long-winded explanations. Doing so is going to impact you more negatively than if you simply spill the beans. “You see the massive hole in my swim suit? Apparently I didn’t know it was there as I swam 20 laps. Funny!”
“The curse word in 15-point font found on page 7 of the annual report distributed to the senior executive team? Ah, man, that was mine. Spell check has quite the potty mouth. Oops.” No excuses. No lies. Just the simple truth.
3. Add Some Levity
When you add a little humor to embarrassment stories, they become great ice-breakers and material for cocktail parties. For example, when I meet a new mom who is beating herself for some parenting blunder, I always interrupt her. “I’m sorry,” I will say, “but I’m pretty sure I have you beat.” Then I tell the story about how my two-year-old son pushed a fellow preschooler into the 15-feet frigid waters at the City Dock in Annapolis — the boy rescued by an angel in cowboy boots eating sushi in front of the water, because his panicked mother had her baby girl strapped to her and couldn’t jump in to save him.
I fill in the story with the hilarious details that, of course, took me a few months to appreciate. Almost every embarrassing story has some comedic relief. The trick is to lose the shame so you can find it.
4. Share Your Story
If you start to share your humiliation tale, you might not get a chance to finish it before someone chimes in about his. People love embarrassment stories because they make us feel more human.
I didn’t have choice but to share my City Dock humiliation with fellow Annapolitans because the details of it were published in a story the next day, celebrating the heroic deed of the rescuer. After it was printed moms flocked to me and confessed “Mommy Oops” moments: a pile of dirty laundry that saved a fall, spoiled meatballs that gave the kids food poisoning, the pitcher of Sangria that filled the sippy cups, and so forth. I had so many rich, wonderful stories that I decided to compile them in a book called The Imperfect Mom: Candid Confessions of Mothers Living in the Real World.
5. Stop Apologizing
Apologizing is your natural response to embarrassment. It’s like sneezing. You HAVE to do it. Even if it hasn’t worked before to eliminate your shame, you’re convinced that the 303rd apology is what is needed to wipe the slate clean and erase this horrible moment from your memory. But a curious thing happens. You feel worse.
One apology is acceptable. It can lead to redemption. After that, you’re burying yourself deeper into shame. When you get the urge, treat it like an obsession to check if the lights are off or if the pillows are in place.
Accept this hard truth: you can’t fix what was done or what happened. The period stain on your skirt, the swimsuit splitting in half, the typo on the annual report, the kid who got pushed into the drink … you can’t undo any of these. BUT none of them are an indictment on your character, either. No need for further apologies.
6. Make a Top Five List
One technique that pushes me through a depressive episode is to revisit depressions of the past and realize I emerged not only whole, but often as a more resilient, self-aware person.
Visit humiliations in your past, where you thought you’d never recover from an embarrassment, and yet you did. Your blushing moment may have even initiated a new friendship or opened a door you thought was closed. Make a top five or top 10 list. Not only will it inspire you to rebound with grace, it may make you laugh at the power of emotions you attached to past humiliations.