Fear Of Embarrassment and Standing Out

Fear of embarrassment has been a problem for me. Many of us have gone to parties or other social events with our peers that included many people we’ve never met. We have met new people at those events we wanted to think highly of us. Then we do something embarrassing or wrong and ruin that likelihood. Sometimes you have witnessed it happen to someone else. When that happens, there is a tendency for the group to comment on them once they leave or are out of earshot. It could be to have a laugh about them or to share bewilderment or disgust about them. After seeing it happen a few times to people, I became deathly afraid of the same thing happening to me. Many people don’t care if someone makes a joke or comment about them after they leave. But, when I want to be liked or at least not derided by people at a party or other social event, I do care what those peers say about me after I leave. Even if I will never see the people again, it matters to me what they think of me.

I needed to find a way to keep that from happening to me. The solution I developed wasn’t the healthy type that would fix the true problem, which was within me, but it worked. Whenever I said or did something highly embarrassing or inappropriate at a party or social gathering and knew the people would likely talk about it once I left, I would continue to hang around the people I was interacting with so they wouldn’t have a chance to comment on me to each other. I wanted enough time to pass that they would not remember or give it another thought when I was out of their presence. Much of the time, for my peace of mind, it meant sticking around until most or all of the people I was interacting with when it happened had left the party or social gathering. Only then could I feel confident enough that what had happened, and any opinions they had of me as a result of it, would be forgotten and never discussed by the people who witnessed it.

Fear of embarrassment takes another form for me. For many years I have had a fear of standing out. Those thoughts of everyone waiting for me to slip up so they can negatively judge me persisted. In school, whenever a teacher took a survey by asking for a show of hands, I always checked to see if other people’s hands went up before deciding whether or not to put up mine. Whenever the class was taking a quiz, test, or doing some other writing assignment, I frequently checked to see how many people had finished and how many were still working. I hated being the last one by far to finish, especially when the class was waiting to move on to something else. But, sometimes it happened.

I’m rarely the first to volunteer for something, unless I’m completely sure about it. I’m very anxious in situations in which everyone in the group is working together, but each in a unique, unstructured way. For example, during prayer meetings I look around to see what most of the other people are doing so I can do the same. That way I ‘fit in’ and don’t experience the heights of that fear. I check to see if people are holding their palms up and out at waist level, above their heads, or letting their hands rest by their sides. I check to see whether or not they’re swaying while singing and whether they’re keeping their eyes open or shut. It’s unfortunate I do that because it takes my attention away from giving praise to God—the purpose of the meeting. However, I’m able to give more of my attention to praising Him during Sunday Mass and individual prayer because the former is more structured and the latter doesn’t have an audience.

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