Developing the sense of embarrassment

I spent a majority of my childhood in a state of painful embarrassment. I was quite shy, and was always conscious of saying or doing something foolish that would make people laugh at me. I remember distinctly a day in first grade when I hiccuped loudly and was mortified about it for a long time afterward.

I eventually realized that most people are more concerned about what others think of them than they are concerned with watching out for another person’s gaffes. And although I do not struggle with embarrassment nearly as much as I did when I was a child, I still feel the pull of the fear of what other people think of me.

Today, the Philadelphia Moms Blog and its umbrella group, the Silicon Valley Moms Group, is discussing the book Much to Your Chagrin: A Memoir of Embarrassment by Suzanne Guillette. As I read this book, along with cringing at the many truly mortifying situations the author found herself in, I thought a lot about the feeling of embarrassment. In particular, I found myself thinking about my daughters and the times when they have shown their embarrassed feelings.

It is interesting to watch my girls growing up in regards to their “sense” of embarrassment. Obviously, babies have no shame. They have no problem making embarrassing noises or pooping, spitting up, or screaming anytime, anyplace.

But at some point, children start to realize that other people are watching and that some things are not socially acceptable. And even beyond socially unacceptable, some things are just perceived to be unacceptable by the child herself. Georgia is beginning to develop this sense. If Rich and I watch her too closely when she is singing to herself, she gets embarrassed. The other night, her little face even turned red when we laughed at something cute she said. I felt terrible for making her feel that way, but I felt even worse that her sense of embarrassment is already so sensitive.

Now Rich and Audrey are on the completely opposite side of the spectrum. Rich has always been one to say that he doesn’t really get embarrassed. I have known him for 12 years now, and I truly believe him. What is his secret? He truly doesn’t care what most people think of him. He is secure in who he is, and he just isn’t going to let other people ruin his day. Audrey is not often embarrassed, and I am hoping that she is developing the same kind of sense of self.

And who knows about Sydney at this point. Right now, she just wants everything she wants, NOW, and “Ah my my sef!” (translation: all by myself) She has such a sense of humor that it is hard to imagine her doing anything but laughing at potentially embarrassing situations, but only time will tell.

I’ll just be embarrassed enough for the both of us!

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4 comments to Developing the sense of embarrassment

  • Suzanne Guillette

    Thank you for this especially thoughtful post. I do think that upbringing has a lot to do with what one internalizes as being “shameful.” I love hearing about people like your husband. I concur, knowing oneself is a surefire way to minimalize embarrassment/shame. (In fact, I very much view my book a coming of age story, rather than a string of inconsequential embarrassments.)

    Also, I applaud you for exploring this topic, in the context of raising children. It reminded me of conversation I had a few years back with my cousin, who told me that her ten year old daughter viewed playing with her doll house as a “guilty pleasure”–at first, it broke my heart to imagine that my young cousin could even be familiar with such a term. But then, these thoughts/feelings are part of life. No matter what one’s age, they can be opportunities for growth.

    Thanks so much for reading and for your thoughtful post!

  • Feener

    it is both endearing and heartbreaking to watch my girls discover the sense of embarrassment.

  • erica

    It’s so interesting that you have one child with a strong sense of embarrassment and one without. I can’t wait to see how my kids turn out in this regard too. I hope they’re strong and secure enough to not be easily embarrassed but if they’re like me, unfortunately they will be. I tried to think of ways to help my kids avoid feeling embarrassed in the future but am not sure it’s possible.

  • Suzanne Guillette

    Thank you for this especially thoughtful post. I do think that upbringing has a lot to do with what one internalizes as being "shameful." I love hearing about people like your husband. I concur, knowing oneself is a surefire way to minimalize embarrassment/shame. (In fact, I very much view my book a coming of age story, rather than a string of inconsequential embarrassments.)

    Also, I applaud you for exploring this topic, in the context of raising children. It reminded me of conversation I had a few years back with my cousin, who told me that her ten year old daughter viewed playing with her doll house as a "guilty pleasure"–at first, it broke my heart to imagine that my young cousin could even be familiar with such a term. But then, these thoughts/feelings are part of life. No matter what one's age, they can be opportunities for growth.

    Thanks so much for reading and for your thoughtful post!

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