"We all tend to hang out from time to time in places that would deeply embarrass us if others saw us.
'Embarrassment' is much more than an involuntary reddening of the face. It is even worse than an explosive fart in a crowded library; it is a shaming of the soul. Embarrassment makes one person laugh, another cry and another lock themselves away in a room for six months before daring to show their face again. Whether you be the cinema-goer who cries bucket loads during certain films and pretend to wipe your nose or clean your spectacles to disguise your action or the six-foot-tall guy who dare not admit to having seen 'The Sound of Music' ten times as a seventeen-year-old; we have all experienced moments of monumental cringe at one time or another. And yet, it need not be the end of the world.We can all learn 'to live with' our embarrassment if we so chose; not want it, fear it, like it, but 'live with it!'
Paradoxically, the best and most proven method of learning to live with potentially embarrassing situations we come across in life is by 'practising them' and thereby 'desensitising ourselves' to their usual effect on us. There have been so many occasions in later life that might have caused me embarrassment at the time, had I not practised many years earlier 'how to live with my embarrassment without it socially immobilising me or making me blush.'
When I was young I had a weak bladder and wet the bed most nights. This wasn't the nicest of experiences for my two younger sisters, as coming from a large family with fewer beds than occupants, the three of us shared a bed until I was ten. My next source of acute embarrassment came in my teens when four friends (myself, two other boys and a girl), became involved in a 'dare'. We decided to streak naked down part of a country lane and across a field which was visible from the main road. We all disrobed and set off laughing loudly. Halfway down the lane, an older, courting couple approached from the opposite direction; and seeing them before I did, my three companions quickly ran behind the hedgerow and hid down in the long grass, leaving me to run past them in my birthday suit.
Have you ever been in the company of an ex-girlfriend or ex-wife and their new partner? There is a moment of potential embarrassment when the eyes of all three first meet, and without one word being exchanged, three lots of telepathic communication are taking place. You look directly at her present partner and give him a smug smile that lets him know 'you were there first'. He places his arm around her in a manner that unmistakenly conveys to you, 'But now she's all mine!', while she looks at you recalling the most memorable moments you once shared. Then reality sinks back in. She looks at you both and thinks, 'Why am I here? What was I doing with him then and why am I with him now? I deserve much better'. Then putting on her coat, she leaves alone as she voices, 'Knobheads, the two of you!'
Before I married my ex-wife, I recall a time we shared a room in a Scottish hotel during our courtship days. It was at the height of our passion and we slept naked. The bathroom was a communal one and was situated immediately across the landing from our room. These were the days when en-suite bathrooms were a luxury known solely to the rich, famous and titled members of society.
Being a couple of strides across the landing, we rose early the following morning and each scurried nakedly the two yards to the bathroom. In our haste to enjoy a shared bath, neither of us had brought a towel. When we finished in the bathroom we found only one towel there. The obvious course was to wrap the towel around the lower half of each of us as we returned to our room across the landing.This equal sharing of the towel offered us some preservation of our dignity.
To our horror, when we went to open our unlocked door, we couldn't. We hadn't left it off the latch and we found ourselves locked out. As the day of mobile phones had not yet arrived, I couldn't phone down to the reception desk and ask someone to come up with a spare key. Just at that moment, two ladies in their sixties (presumably spinsters, elderly sisters or widows), were walking towards us arm in arm, chatting away merrily. I needed to act fast, so I did the only thing that my mother would have advised me to do in the circumstances, the only thing any Irish gentleman would do. I removed the towel around my lower half that was giving me part-protection and draped it over the whole body of my girlfriend, fully preserving her modesty. As the two women passed by, I stood there proudly and simply said, 'Good morning, ladies'. Being ladies of higher breeding, and without seeming to look across at us as they passed by, one simply replied politely in her Miss Marple voice, 'And a very good morning to you two also.' When we entered the dining room for our breakfast half an hour later, guess who was sitting at the next table, each eating a boiled egg with the delicate grace of two old biddies who wouldn't know what 'a dirty weekend' was, even if they found themselves smack in the middle of one!
I was thirty before I changed my profession from mill manager to probation officer. Being an avid reader, I came across a book written by Arnold Allan Lazarus. Lazarus was the most unconventional of workers, but he achieved remarkable results by applying his unusual methods to the most common anxiety-producing problems. He was a South African psychologist, therapist and behaviourist who finished working his later years in America with groups of insecure individuals who became over-embarrassed by their failures and who were always saying and doing the wrong thing.
Lazarus had this marvellous ability to teach people how to 'accept' failure; not necessarily seek it out but to accept it when it came along without rejecting 'self'. Lazarus would set his group members tests and when they got the answers correct, he would mark them wrong. His clients would die with embarrassment on certain occasions and in certain circumstances. So, instead of teaching them ways of avoiding situations which created huge embarrassment, he encouraged them to put their head in the lion's mouth and see how toothless their major fear was.
Lazarus taught them to practise doing the most embarrassing things they could think of until they ceased to be embarrassed in their doing of them. He would give his group clients homework exercises to carry out between one week's group session and the next; teaching them how to reduce and eradicate their levels of embarrassment by repeatedly doing things deliberately that embarrassed them!
His weekly homework exercises would ask group members to walk up and down 52nd Street in rush hour, wearing one red sock, one yellow sock and dressed like a goblin with a two-foot-long feather in their cap and pulling the silliest face they could. During the following group session when Lazarus asked them what happened when they did this highly embarrassing thing amid thousands of passers-by, most reported back, 'Absolutely nothing at all. Everyone just passed by without comment'. A few group members even reported back, 'We made friends!'
Lazarus essentially taught his clients that they could 'immunise themselves against embarrassment' through repeated practice that desensitised their responses. He reminded them that so long as they broke no law and didn't copulate in public view in the front window of Macy's Store, nothing too bad would happen in consequence. They discovered that while they could be arrested and locked up in Sing Sing Prison if they broke the law, nothing at all would happen to them if they did silly things and wore silly clothes in public and generally made a fool of themselves; that is, nothing apart from making friends!
During my many groups that I ran over twenty years, I always used the methods of Arnold Lazarus to reduce embarrassment. Sometimes it might involve group members learning to pull the funniest face they could to a group of strangers upon first being introduced. Not surprisingly, embarrassment prevented most group newcomers being unable to do this. This exercise was an ideal icebreaker as I pointed out that I had no chance of helping any of them change their problematic behaviour if I couldn't teach them how to pull a face at life!
On other occasions, I'd teach people who could not say boo to a goose to open up the window and shout out at the top of their voice the vilest swear word they had ever heard, but would never have voiced in a thousand years, even if they were offered a million pounds to do so. Admittedly, often they'd be hard pushed to start off with a 'damn', but once they'd learned to let themselves go after weeks of training, they rarely finished up with anything less than the 's...', 'b......' or 'f...' word being shouted out the window in their loudest of voices!
Having said all that, I would imagine the most embarrassing thing to happen to anyone is 'dying.' Departing life leaves us all without the ability to further influence it. We become dependent on someone else to dress us properly for our last outing by selecting clothes to our liking for the funeral. Indeed, the day of our funeral is the one occasion when we just know that as soon as we have left the room, they will talk about us for the rest of the day!" William Forde: January 18th, 2018.