Reality Check: Adventures in Embarrassment

Sarah has been invited to a party hosted by a well-to-do acquaintance. The invitation was so astonishing that she didn’t have time to think of an excuse to decline. Now she feels stuck and anxious. She won’t know anyone, but she’s sure they are wealthy and probably snobs. Her imagination has been working over-time, picturing scenarios that end in her humiliation.
Sarah reached out to Anna for commiseration and comfort. “Why did I ever let myself get sucked in to this? It will be awful. How can I get out of it?”
Anna doesn’t necessarily know what’s best for Sarah. However, she’s had different experiences and mastered different skills, so perhaps she can offer some information and encouragement.
Thus, Anna and Sarah go through the pros and cons of attending versus cancelling. If she goes, Sarah will meet new people, and she will definitely learn something, even if the lesson is, “I don’t want to associate with these people.”
On the other hand, if Sarah bows out, she’ll reinforce her anxieties and reluctance to move out of her comfort zone. She’ll never know what she might have seen, who she might have met. Any future encounter with the party-giver could now feel even more awkward.
There are often pros and cons to our choices. Which will lead Sarah closer to what she wants? Surprisingly, it’s not always easy to tell!
Finally, Anna came up with a question that got to the crux of the quandary: “If you weren’t afraid that you might be embarrassed, what would you do?”
The answer was easy for Sarah. “I would go, of course.”
There are many things that we can fear. Many fears are valid; they serve a very useful purpose. Fear of injury can keep us from jumping off the roof, fear of danger can deter us from entering nasty situations; fear of being fired can keep us going to work when we don’t feel like it! Our fears can be protective.
However, sometimes our fears aren’t protecting us. Or, fear is protecting a part of us that needn’t be as fragile as we believe.
“I don’t want to look foolish,” says Sarah. That’s not unreasonable. However, here’s another way to look at that fear: The humble can’t be humiliated, can they? If one doesn’t start with arrogance and ego, one can hardly have one’s ego damaged. It is the arrogant, not the humble, who are most at risk of humiliation.
Once it’s clear that Sarah’s main barrier is fear of humiliation, what now? Anna could encourage Sarah to choose a mindset of genuine interest in the other people. Be curious. Ask questions, learn who they are, what they do, what they care about. Listen to the answers. Look at it as an exploratory mission, an adventure.
Many people tend to respond graciously when one expresses a genuine interest in who they are and what they are about.
I don’t think any of us want to look foolish, and the fear of being embarrassed is sometimes protective. But when fear of looking foolish inhibits us from doing something we’d love to do, consider that embarrassment can be ok. Looking foolish is not the end of the world.
Try this perspective: If whatever you’re anxious about does turn out to be embarrassing, at least you’ll have an entertaining story to tell your friends!
How do you handle anxiety-provoking situations?

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