Off the Couch

Don’t be negative

The idea that we have “negative” and “positive” emotions is so entrenched in our language and culture that it feels hard to even think about it.  But the wisdom of mindfulness tells us quite clearly: there is no such thing as a negative emotion, it’s just what our mind does with pain and discomfort.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be talking about some of the so called negative emotions, and exploring some of the research and thinking about why we have them and what the use of these feelings are.

And this week: Embarrassment.  To hear this weeks chat with Tony Murrell on Radio Live about embarrassment click here.

No one likes feeling embarrassed and it can be a feeling that can lead us to avoid situations that cause us to feel that way.

However it’s also true that embarrassment is what we call a “pro-social emotion” it is one of the emotions that holds social interactions together.  It alerts us, and communicates to others, that we have made a social error and we are aware of  it.  We also tend to feel more embarrassed when we’re with people who matter, when we transgress with people we consider our “in-group” (see: “Are you in or are you out“) we feel it more acutely than with people we consider an “out-group.”

In it’s most extreme debilitating form embarrassment, and it’s more severe cousin shame, can lead to social phobia and avoidance of social situations all together.

However a number of studies show that people consistently judge someone, who has just made a mistake or social transgression likely to trigger embarrassment, much less harshly than the embarrassed person thinks.

The good news is if you’re someone prone to feeling embarrassed you’re likely kinder and more generous on average.  Studies  found that easily embarrassed people are more generous in sharing raffle tickets with strangers.  The research also shows that we find people who embarrass more easily more trustworthy and likeable.

So next time you’re feeling embaressed: breathe.  It likely means you care about the person you’re with, are kinder and more generous than average, the other person isn’t judging you as harshly as you think: in fact they probably trust you more.

Leave a Comment

  • Andrew Duncan May 6, 2013, 12:20 pm

    Good one, Kyle, I like your “emotional education” process.
    Cheers, Andrew

    • Off the Couch: Kyle MacDonald May 7, 2013, 11:09 pm

      Thanks Andrew!

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