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What Is Embarrassment?

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What is embarrassment? Embarrassment is a form of emotion that makes us feel professionally or socially wrong in regards to words, thoughts and actions, as perceived and pointed out to us by other people. This can result in some loss of personal dignity or honor, but the type and amount is all Dependant on the situation at the time.

Embarrassment has been confused by some with shame. Shame is different in that the person who has been shamed has done something that to others or society is considered to be wrong morally.

There are two main forms of embarrassment, including professional and personal. Each one has distinctive, but similar characteristics.


Professional embarrassment or official embarrassment is defined by a lack of confidence in actions taken or the deliberate ignoring of evidence in work. When this involves embarrassment at work or on official business, this may have come as a result of the loss of materials, money or even life. Some examples of these include corrupt government practices, failure in public policies, unethical forms of behavior, personal actions and habits of a public figure that face legal redress or public opinion, or alternatively official people caught in personal situations that cause them embarrassment.

Such forms of embarrassment do not need to be major in nature. The tiniest miscalculation or error can result in more official or public embarrassment, especially if this relates to safety of people. One example of this can be found in the Challenger space shuttle disaster, where human error prior to the launch resulted in the deaths of all the astronauts, NASA was publicly embarrassed and the errors/miscalculations could have been avoided had proper action been taken.

Of course, not every professional type embarrassment becomes so publicly known. Some events occur that create embarrassment, but for the person themselves. An example of this is when a political candidate loses an election. The person involved has not done anything wrong, but the hopes of many of the people supporting this person were dashed and as a result the candidate will feel embarrassment. Alternatively, a medical researcher can propose a theory that is widely upheld by the medical community, only to find that they did not account for something in that theory and someone proves the theory to be invalid. The researcher would not be publicly embarrassed as much as they would feel a lower level of personal embarrassment.

Generally speaking, official or public embarrassment results in a public outrage, the denial of any involvement on the part of the person who caused the embarrassing situation, or an attempt to make the embarrassment not look as bad or serious as it appears. In some cases, the embarrassed party will take steps to remedy the situation by issuing press releases/statements, resign their position, move, avoid the press or the general public, accept a demotion or loss of employment and may even behave as if there was nothing that occurred.


Embarrassment can be more personal. In this case the person can have unwanted intrusion into their personal affairs or mistakes. Their character may even be questioned by others, especially when the embarrassment is as a result of such actions a lying, losing a competition, burping, passing wind or being caught in the act of sex. In some cultures, incorrect forms of dress are considered embarrassing.

Another form of this embarrassment can come as the result of what other people do to the embarrassed person. Some examples include a parent showing baby pictures to the boyfriend of their daughter that they hardly know, unwarranted comments or criticism about the way that person is attired or behaving, being the topic of unknown gossip, personal rejection, being pushed into being a focal point of attention, or seeing someone else getting embarrassed.

When a person is personally embarrassed, for whatever reason, they can experience one or all of the following reactions:

• Blushing

• Nervousness

• Sweating

• Fidgeting

• Stammering

• Twitching

Most people will initially try to cover up their feeling of embarrassment by laughing in a nervous fashion or donning a weak smile. This is perfectly normal in situations where a breach of etiquette has occurred. In more embarrassing situations, though, a person, may faint, cry or even runaway.

Embarrassment is a normal reaction to situations where a loss of face, mistake or even a willful error has been made. Each person has a different response to embarrassing situations, and Dependant on the person’s standards and the situation itself, the person may not feel embarrassed at all.

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