Secondhand Embarrassment


I was watching the Emmy’s on Sunday night and it helped me come up with this topic, secondhand embarrassment. Alex also suffers from secondhand embarrassment so she’ll be joining me in this post.

Let’s start off with the definition provided by the always amusing urban dictionary. Secondhand embarrassment is the personal embarrassment that one feels on account of and for another (i.e. a friend, a family member or a complete stranger) who is making a fool of him or herself. A person experiencing secondhand embarrassment feels as if they are doing the embarrassing action themselves, effectively putting themselves in the other person’s shoes.

I cannot even begin to explain to you how much this happens to me, even over the littlest things. For instance, the Emmy’s on Sunday night, I can’t watch award shows without cringing. I watched the whole show on mute and even then I still got uncomfortable for some of those people. Especially the people presenting, because they’re trying to be funny and it usually doesn’t come off well and it is really hard to watch. If you watched it then you saw the moment where the woman tripped up the stairs, and I knew it was coming right when she lifted the hem of her dress to start up. Knowing it was going to happen, don’t ask me how I just did, I turned away and right when I turned back to the television she was making her way back up from stumbling. Again I had to turn away, but as I watched her speech with the TV muted she didn’t seem phased at all….and here I was trying to hide like it happened to me.

How about when someone asks a stupid question in class; part of me thinks, “don’t be so stupid,” and the other part has me like this…

I think part of it is that I feel the need to feel embarrassed for these people because they obviously don’t feel any for themselves, which is astonishing to me. I end up feeling like these ridiculous things just happened to me. My palms get sweaty, my heart rate goes up, I have to get away from the situation by any possible means. Even watching a movie, when I know that these are fictional characters and it’s not actually real, I have to cover my eyes and ears until the scene is over. It’s such a ridiculous thing, but I can’t help it.

Now watch this video and tell me if you could watch it without feeling embarrassed. I had it on mute and still couldn’t watch it; I was looking away for more than 3/4 of it.

Okay, my turn. I’ll start off by saying that I couldn’t even watch the video above. I got about 7 seconds in and I just couldn’t keep watching. That happens a lot whenI watch something like Springer (yes. I watch Jerry Springer) and one of the guys that cheated will start singing to their girl and I’m just like “Gah! Stop it!”

I can never watch any of the “Roasts of [insert celebrity here]” because I know that somebody will go up and just not be funny. 

Everyone remembers this fiasco, yes?

Whenever I watch a reality competition like So You Think You Can Dance or America’s Got Talent, I always have to shut my eyes if the person is bad. I feel like people who get secondhand embarrassment get these, like, premonitions of when something is going to happen. Amanda mentioned the woman that fell at the Emmys. I can tell when I’m watching one of the aforementioned reality shows. Even without previews I just KNOW when somebody is going to be awful. It’s even worse when it’s a singing competition or something, because I know just how hard it is to go sing in front of a ton of people that are specifically there to judge you.

The weirdest thing of all is that it takes a lot to embarrass me. When I was younger, I managed to do stupid things all the time and I would dwell on them forever. All it took was something for people to make fun of me for and my mind was occupied for days. As I got older I realized how self destructive that was, so I learned to just laugh things off. Last Wednesday I fell down half a flight of stairs. I don’t think anybody saw me, but even if they did I wasn’t embarrassed AT ALL. I just laughed, looked around, got up, and kept on walking. Even last year I tripped in the middle of my campus, in front of about 30 people. I just shrugged it off and kept going. But if I had been one of the people that saw me trip, I would probably cringe and feel so much shame for them.

A perfect example is when Amanda found out about me falling. I posted a status on Facebook about it (because I am a social network whore) and here is her exact comment: “I didn’t laugh at all…in fact, even though I wasn’t there I was embarrassed for you and thanked the Lord that I wasn’t with you at the time.” She’s 270 miles away, and was more embarrassed by the situation than I was. 

So yeah. That’s the end of my spiel. I leave you with one last dose of embarrassment, if you can handle it.

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