Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 16.3. Embarrassment

16.3 Embarrassment

Six of the participants talked about embarrassment 21 times in the interviews (appendix 4). Embarrassment seems to have many features common with shame, such as blushing and looking down, but in a more mild form than shame. This is explained by Ivar and Helga who seem to mean that there is a connection between embarrassment and shame but not between embarrassment and guilt.

Ivar:                            Shameful and embarrassing, yes ((Nods his head)) but not guilty ((Shakes his head)).

Helga:                         It’s really embarrassing. I’m ashamed of being on rehabilitation and being on social security.

Keltner and Buswell (1996, 1997) argue differently than Ivar and Helga and state that embarrassment is an emotion distinct from both guilt and shame in that it involves experience and nonverbal displays that are different from those of other emotions. Rather than playing a role in morality, embarrassment may serve to placate others when one has done something wrong – it is not as serious as shame or guilt – (Keltner 1995, 2003) or it may prevent loss of face and serve to assure obedience to important social norms (Leary, Landel and Sandler 1996; Miller and Leary 1992).

It might be that there are different forms for embarrassment. Dagny speaks of two such modes of expressing embarrassment; first severe embarrassment where she signals her shame by hiding behind her hands and secondly; blushing in a romantic situation. The intensity of these two forms of embarrassment is very different. It seems that the intensity of embarrassment can be gauged through a number of different bodily signs. Ruth expires heavily out and looks away when blushing, and Helga holds her hands in front of her face when she feels that she is blushing.

Dagny:                        I was so embarrassed about talking so much about myself, and she had experienced things that were much worse… the hair on my arms stood straight up… Two things cause me to blush. When I’m embarrassed ((Holds  her right hand up in front of her face and looks down)), but I can also blush because someone really has a crush on me, I blush then, too, it’s romantic in a way, sweet.

Ruth_1:           ((Breathes heavily and looks away)) When she told me about it, I could feel that I was blushing. I didn’t blush because of the situation, but because of the abuser and what he had done. I was stunned.

Helga:                         ((Holds her hands in front of her face)) Now I can feel my face turning red… Now I’m hot again… My face must be blood-red.

Dagny shows how the more severe form for embarrassment can be shown non-verbally by holding her hand in front of her face and looking down. These might also be considered as markers for shame (appendix 20). While the less severe form for embarrassment is shown by blushing. Lewis (2000) argues, like Dagny, that there are two kinds of embarrassment; he calls the first type embarrassment and says it is more severe than the second kind, shyness. But both types differ from shame. He goes on to argue that embarrassment and shyness are often confused. Shyness can be viewed as sheepishness, bashfulness, uneasiness or psychological discomfort in social situations. Shyness does not seem to rely on self-evaluation the way embarrassment often does. Embarrassment seems to be less severe than shame. People who are embarrassed do not assume the posture of an individual who wants to hide, disappear or die. Their bodies reflect an ambivalent approach-and-avoidance posture. Thus from a behavioral point of view, shame and embarrassment appear to be different emotions.

In this section I have discussed embarrassment and conclude that it seems to differ from shame in emotional intensity. Embarrassment and shame seem to be related since both emotions depend on self-evaluation. Shyness, often confused with embarrassment, does not require the same degree of self-evaluation.

The participants in the interviews mention different emotions a total of 166 times (appendix 4). Whether emotions are repressed or disclosed seems to play an important role in the process of healing shame. Shame seems to engulf the whole self; it includes all of one’s emotions. Viewing one’s emotions as positive and expressing them in front of others involves courage. It involves coming out of one’s hiding place and the risk of rejection. Viewing one’s emotions as negative and repressing them seems to have many negative consequences.  I will now take a closer look at self-harming as one of many handling strategies for coping with shame. Repressed, negative emotions can create so much inner pain that a number of people seek temporary relief through different types of self-punishment.

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