Think of the reason you, your friend, whoever, lies about their height (5’10 =/= “six feet tall” boys). Think of the reason you or someone you know sugarcoats the fact they are unemployed or live at home with mom and dad. Think of the reason some hypothetical guy (not you, of course) avoids doing the things he isn’t spectacular at, like chatting up the pretty girl standing a few feet away on the subway.
Why do we make those bad decisions?
Short answer: because we want to be held in high esteem by EVERYONE. We want the whole damn world to think we’re flawless and perfect. And if we have to choose, we’d rather people think NOTHING about us than think, “That dude isn’t very good at initiating subway chats.”
Our brains are screwy. We feel existentially out of whack when we sense others are judging us. We chuck whatever it is that jeopardizes their respect for us so they keep on loving us, keep on telling us we’re okay, or just keep on ignoring us. We exert a lot of effort manipulating other people’s perceptions. We conform, we deny, and we lie if necessary.
That’s what embarrassment does: we sense someone might not think “good” things about us and we do ridiculous shit to change their mind, never mind if their opinions are true or false.
Which is why embarrassment is a bullshit emotion
If someone thinks negative, untrue things about you, then you just keep on living. Assert your truth through your actions. No need for embarrassment.
If someone thinks negative, TRUE things about you–say that you tried to hit on a girl on the subway and it went terribly–then you still just keep on living. You may be worried they are forming a blanket negative opinion based on one data point. Assert your whole truth through your words and actions (ie, say “Yeah, that interaction went terribly. It happens”). STILL no need for embarrassment.
Ultimately, the reputation that matters most is your reputation with yourself. Keep it spotless by behaving in accordance with your values, and you’ll never have reason to feel shame again.
The cost of embarrassment
Sometimes embarrassment causes people to deny reality to themselves – like when a gay man refuses to accept he wants to bone other men. Other times, embarrassment results in an insane attempt to control the perceptions of strangers – like when that same man marries a woman to escape the judgment of his community.
It’s a miserable lie or a complete fucking hassle. Every time. You might not feel it like the gay guy from Alabama when you balk on speaking to the pretty girl on the subway, but acting through embarrassment is a lie and a bitch. Every. Single. Time.
And that’s only half the reason embarrassment is a bullshit emotion. The other half? Because all the negative feelings embarrassment generates are also completely unwarranted. As long as you are a good person and you are honest, nothing you do and nothing you are is worthy of shame.
Here’s what I’ve realized: I am good. I try really hard to be. When I fuck up, it’s cause I’ve made a miscalculation, a mistake with good intentions. If I do something that makes me feel embarrassed it was done while trying to do the best I could.
So I trip up an escalator, I cum in sixty seconds, I get fired from my job, beat up in a fight, blown off by a girl – I’m cool with all that. Shit happens. It does not define me. I own it and move on without apology.
If I AM something that makes me feel embarrassed, then I slap myself in the head. Because whatever I am, short, stunted, deformed, gay, old, whatever – it isn’t changing. I can’t control it. So I refuse to feel shame for it.
Note: If you’re embarrassed and you can change it, like if you’re overweight, you should. Not because you’re embarrassed, but because you’ll feel way better if you’re in shape. The point is to drop embarrassment over the things you can’t control (like other people’s perceptions) and change the things you can.
Your mental flowchart should look like this:
But what about when everyone else judges you and it’s almost impossible to not feel embarrassed?
Nothing you do and nothing you are is worthy of shame. Learn how to deal with embarrassment: kill it.
If you’re living right by your own values, who gives a fuck what anyone else thinks? Sure, take the feedback of others as an opportunity to reevaluate your positions every now and then. But remember, there are 7 billion people with 7 billion isolated worlds in their heads. You cannot please them all. You can’t even please most of them. In trying to, you make yourself the most vanilla un-individual in the world. You deny what makes you, you. You become depressed and fake and boring.
So stop trying to be okay by everyone. Stop trying to control the opinions of strangers. That shit does not matter.
Figure out your values and live by them. Be your unadulterated self. All the time, regardless of the audience. Make mistakes. Chat up that girl on the subway and get rejected. Fail publicly, get laughed at. You’ve got nothing to lose and no reason to ever feel crappy about it.
Own everything you are. Own everything you do. Even the things you regret. Claim your fuck-ups, your weirdness, your unpopular actions and you are free.