Embarrassment: What is It and What Causes it to Happen? 

Embarrassment is described as a "self-conscious" emotion. Someone who is embarrassed experiences fear that other people will not view them as highly due to a real or imagined failure to observe social norms. The accompanying feelings will often include awkwardness, shame, regret, guilt, or exposure. On the physiological side of embarrassment, someone who is embarrassed may either blush, stammer, or sweat, which allows others to see that they are not oblivious to their fault.

That said, the event that triggers embarrassment isn't always a negative one. An empathetic person may feel embarrassed for someone else. Someone who is complimented in front of a group of others may feel embarrassed by that. The point is that embarrassment is an individual experience, but generally speaking, feelings of embarrassment are amplified by a fear that others are watching and judging, even if it is mostly imagined. 

Like embarrassment, guilt is also considered a "self-conscious" emotion because it involves a level of self-reflection.  Guilt is a natural and necessary human response when one causes harm to another. People may feel guilty over certain acts or thoughts they believe are morally wrong, or even when they fail to do something they were supposed to do. This is part of what makes guilt important in terms of relationships, though, because it discourages one from behaviors that could damage their relationship.

Sometimes guilt can be an unnecessary burden if experienced in excess and out of proportion from what actually happened. Sometimes reflecting on one's feelings with the support of a therapist or counselor is needed for coping, particularly if an individual already struggles with a mental health disorder. Most guilt, however, can be resolved through apologizing and taking any necessary steps that follow to make up for what was done.

Diane K. Schmidt Counseling Services | 8575 W. 110th Street, Suite 304 Overland Park, KS 66210 | Phone: 913.730.6778 | Email: diane@dkschmidtcounseling.com