THE BLOG
10/01/2014 02:08 pm ET Updated Nov 30, 2014

The Most Difficult Emotion to Overcome

I've taken an informal poll of friends, acquaintances, relatives and random people on the street. Embarrassment is the most difficult emotion to get past in life. Some of us stew in embarrassment for years, and is it any coincidence that if you say the word in slow motion, you hear "I'm Bare-Assed"... ? It's not a lingering feeling that is easy to deal with, and while many questioned Monica Lewinsky's Vanity Fair article beseeching us to bury the blue dress, can you imagine carrying around that stain for two decades?

In my informal poll, 60 percent of participants stated that a work-related incident was to blame for their lingering embarrassment (specifically, mortification that lasted longer than a two-year period), while 40 percent attributed the stress to an embarrassing event that occurred between friends or lovers. Interestingly, half of the subjects were married or "involved" in a relationship, and the other half were single. Married subjects tended to blame work scenarios for the intense shame that plagued them, while single subjects were in the 40 percent that attributed the duress to interpersonal relations. 20 percent of these subjects cited romantic situations as the culprit, while the other 20 percent percent cited platonic relations. The term "I was a fool for love" came up in discussions as well as "I made a fool of myself after the relationship ended."

When participants were asked to rate (on a scale from 1-10) how embarrassment ranked vs. financial security, embarrassment scored higher across the board. This makes sense because if one feels responsible for a public failure concerning one's finances, he or she will be more rattled than if it were the mistake of someone else.

Psychologists equate embarrassment with perfectionism. One of the most important things we need to do is to be able to laugh at ourselves and say "Egad (or if you are me: "oy vey"), I acted completely OUT OF CHARACTER." For instance, that drunk woman at the Christmas party? Well, let''s just say that this year she won't be drinking if she's still living that event down. A person who is embarrassed and is determined not to land their self in a repeat situation will avoid the alcohol or the Christmas party altogether. At the same time, the "healthy" thing to do, according to psychiatry, is to forgive one's self. That however, is much easier said than done because embarrassment to the psyche is like a blood stain on a white shirt -- not 100 percent impossible to remove, I assure you (this might entail a whole separate article in Good Housekeeping), but difficult and it involves exploring the remedy. The perfectionist's attitude would be "if at first you don't succeed, stay home," whereas the healthy human attitude involves moving forward, trying again and being true to one's authentic character (keeping in mind not to repeat past mistakes).

The expression (and S.E. Hinton book title) that I oft repeat to myself is, "That was then. This is now." Every day is a new one. If you forget (deliberately blank it out of your mind), eventually, so will they.