Embarrassment is universal; whether you live in an icy igloo or a gazillion pound penthouse, everyone at some stage of their life will have experienced the soul-crushing, sweat inducing, obliteration of humiliation.
But like all personal experience, it’s relative; one person’s idea of complete ruination is another’s fodder for growth—perhaps a chance to laugh over a pint with a friend.
Sure, humiliation can (and should be) life changing but I don’t think it has to be the essence-shredding, soul-tarnishing beast that devours self-worth like a ravenous zombie.
It can be something else. Something worthy. Something brilliant that offers far more than it steals away.
Until I attended school, I’d never really had the pleasure of complete annihilation through humiliation; granted, I probably assisted in dishing out some humiliating moments… said and did things that mortified my parents (I wouldn’t have been a good daughter if I hadn’t… after all, it’s in a child’s job description to be a total tool when your parents are least expecting it).
But if parenting is done with cotton-wool kindness, little kids don’t tend to feel the shameful-heat-of-doom rise in their cheeks… they won’t have had chance to learn its incinerating effect.
But sooner or later, you’re going to experience humiliation’s hot-fingered embrace. And if you’re reading this, then I’ve no doubt, you’ll likely be able to recall your own little face heating, heart pounding, mind scrambling moments of cringeworthy memories.
I certainly have mine and, because I have little-to-no filters, I’d like to share a few with you…
The first time I wanted the ground to swallow me whole was initiated by a lovely teacher; due for retirement in 1984, I’m going to go out on a limb and presume she is no longer of this world. But in her final year as an educator, and my second year of schooling, she taught me more than just the three R’s. She taught me that people can be utter twats.
I wasn’t the brightest of buttons. Painfully shy, I struggled to grapple the basics. And like a lot of kids, I never asked for help; instead, I sat quietly chewing my pencil and daydreaming. Who knows what I was thinking about— clearly not schoolwork.
One afternoon, the teacher called me to the front of the class, opened my book to the unfinished page of unintelligible scribbling and held it up for all to see. But, because she was born from Satan’s loins and Medusa’s stony womb, her point needed an extra little boost… and that came in the form of a good hard whack across my thighs.
My five-year-old self was mortified. I had officially been baptised with fire in the ways of humiliation and shame (yes, corporal punishment was meant to have banned by then… but she was old-school and those kinds of dragons, although rare, were still about).
What did I learn from that lesson? AVOID HUMILIATION.
AT. ALL. COSTS.
Not long after, in the middle of a school assembly, my rectum failed miserably to keep watch over dignity—and I let one rip during the lord’s prayer. Given that I was sitting, cross-legged on a hard floor, the vibrations of my butt-cheeks offered a little vocal boost to the offending noise. The entire school heard it. Heads turned, kids giggled and eyes focused in my direction.
But it didn’t end with the impending knowledge that I’d be ridiculed at playtime for being Mc-Farty-Pants. The Headmaster stopped mid-sentence, lowered his hands from prayer and in a thunderous voice asked, ‘who did that?’
Well, I did what anyone would have done in my position… I quickly pointed to my best friend sitting next to me and laid the blame on her.
Yep, my previous lesson in humiliation had taught me well. Not only did I deny the undeniable, I added a truck full of shame in blaming my friend too.
Why was I such a skinless loser?
Because I wasn’t used to embarrassment, I didn’t know how to deal with it.
For anyone who hasn’t guessed by now, I’m no longer the jerk trying to shift blame (unless I’m with the dog, he doesn’t mind taking one for the team).
The uncomfortable truth about humiliation is that you cannot avoid it— try, and it’ll only mutate into something more sinister, something that’ll make you want to drown in a bottle of vodka—or medical grade alcohol.
Embarrassing yourself is fine. Really, what’s the worst that can happen?
You’ll have stories to share and laughs to be had. Feel the warmth of friendship in the mutual bonding of embarrassment.
Nothing beats recalling my husband’s accidental bollock exposure on a trip to the supermarket (he learned that going commando with a dodgy pair of flies is only going to end one way); or, the time I brought a friend back to the house and failed to announce her arrival as I opened the door. Left alone with a computer, there was only one thing the husband was going to be doing. And it wasn’t research on cake making!
Humiliation is something to embrace. You might turn beetroot, want the world to forget you exist for a moment, but being able to laugh at yourself is an empowering thing.
There will be times when others try to use it as a weapon. You know the kind… we’ve all come across the vindictive turd jockeys whose well-rehearsed belittling techniques make the air around them stink, like halitosis.
But their stink loses potency… especially if you’re already used to a little bit of self-induced, healthy humiliation.
It’s all about confidence. Knowing you're not the only one. And perspective.
I’ve managed some spectacular demonstrations of personally-induced humiliation as an adult. A rather drunken night in a tent with my husband about seven months after our first son was born is an excellent example…
It was our first time alone together. I say alone, what I really mean is alone in a packed campsite on the outskirts of Newquay. After an evening of frivolous drinking and dancing, we returned to our tent (for anyone who hasn’t been camping before—tents can be deceptive—you forget that the millimetre of fabric has zero soundproofing).
A drunk couple, alone for the first time since having a baby… it doesn’t take a genius to work out what went on in our tent.
I woke in the morning with a hangover that would have put the Incredible Hulk in A&E. And memories of things I’d said. Things I can never repeat for fear of my kids’ reading this one day. Things I know that an entire campsite would have heard.
Was I embarrassed? Hell, yes. Did I feel the humiliation in the same manner as I had aged five? God, no.
Apart from the fact that I’d never see any of those people again, I knew that my vocalisations weren’t unique. I was not alone (okay, I know I was with the husband—but that’s not what I mean). Chances are, they’ll be a dozen other stories five times more embarrassing than mine (scrap that, I’m not sure there will, I know what I said and it wasn’t remotely sexy).
There are countless times I’ve managed to make it into the red-faced book of records. A few are too obscene for me to write about here... maybe I’ll post some of them in another blog after a vodka… or perhaps write them into a novel for a bit of personal distance.
Not doing things through fear of making yourself look like a tit will probably result in a rather boring, sedentary life. You’re guaranteed to make a fool of yourself at times. Even when you don’t mean to. It happens. Why not take those extra chances and embrace the humiliation when it comes? You can’t control external forces, but you can control the way you react to them. The more you get out there—the more you humiliate yourself—the less it will bother you. Trust me!