Cringe-worthy Moments

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

Lately, some of my best conclusions about life occur when I’m near sleep.  Quick!  Turn on the light, grab a pen, find a blank page in the bedside notebook and scribble madly.  And see if the idea holds water in the morning light.

This latest one survived the next-day cold assessment – it’s a question rather than a conclusion.  When I remember something stupid, thoughtless, or unkind that I’ve said or done in the past, I shudder internally, with a full inner cringe.  What the heck is that??  The stomach clenches, there is a shrinking feeling, and a wish to disappear.

It’s an awful moment – one that deserves attention and figuring out with words.

Some Readers Won’t Relate…

I recognize and tip my hat to those readers who will not find this topic personally relevant.  Some friends claim to not experience embarrassment.

What qualities allow such freedom?  Perhaps inner confidence, a habit of self-direction, less sensitivity to responses in the social environment, a well-developed practicality that simply sees no point in ever acknowledging embarrassment and exerts self-discipline to dismiss such awkwardness.

For such firm clear fellows, I just say Bravo!  I do hope you find yourselves able to extend a modicum of sympathy to those for whom embarrassment can be a bitter companion.

Embarassment, of a Kind

The phenomenon has, for me, a couple of forms.

There is short-term cringe, more punishing for teenagers, if I recall – social embarrassment that transgresses on personal vanity.  Embarrassment yes, especially if one has transgressed one’s efforts to be cool, aware, sophisticated enough.  A slip showing all night at the school dance, spinach in the teeth, turning up with the all-wrong clothes – ah, such mistakes seem devastating when brought to light but they do stand a good chance of disappearing in time.

Lingering embarrassment – that persists through time – may be of the same genus as social faux pas but it goes beyond a mere violation of one’s desired image among peers.  It may still be born of vanity but it’s more a recognition, post event, of having really transgressed a personal value, cherished as part of who one wants to be.  By committing that mistake, I violated my identity.  I let myself down.

Fine if one can say, “Oops, got it wrong”, and move on.  Not always possible.

Letting down a friend, failing in courage, especially in moral courage, acting without honour, lying to protect myself, hurting someone who didn’t deserve it – Ow!  It can be as simple as allowing a seriously racist or homophobic comment to go unremarked when opportunity presented itself.  These omissions and commissions can haunt far into the future.  Wakes one up at night, remembering that moment of failure .  And of the shame felt at the time or in remembering it.

It Happens – No One is Perfect

I don’t think there’s a moral in this.  Making mistakes, blowing it, puncturing one’s credibility, and feeling bad about it forever – just part of life.  But there are a few lessons I’ve plucked out and hope to remember.

Humility Yes, Shame No

Embarrassment, as a companion that humbles, may not be a bad thing.  The shaping of one’s identity in the world takes a lifetime: finding a way of being that matches one’s core, one’s comfortable self, can take forever.   We make mistakes and some have serious effects.

Every time we experience the inner cringing, check it out.  Maybe it’s a signal that the core is not being tended.  Maybe too much action, too little quiet?  Is the soul longing for some rest, some tranquility?

Or perhaps the social identity isn’t close enough to the true self – when among others, we’re trying too hard to fit.

Whatever, we have a chance to reflect and reshape a little.  What I’m convinced of is we are to avoid piling shame on to the embarrassment.

Shame is a natural response to feeling exposed.  We’ve been seen in a way too intimate for comfort.  We are now out of sorts, in the wrong.  But that is something that I can learn to move on from.  The main requirement is to not try covering up to myself my own feeling of shame.  Once the cringing happens, treat it as a signal that something is wrong.

It may require facing the mistake made, or on occasion, making amends to the person I’ve hurt.  Or, to borrow a religious concept, simple repentance, which means that after acknowledging that I violated my own values, I decide to try not to act that again.  Self-forgiveness can then happen.

And if I’m part of a religious community that contains the practice of absolution, I must take it there and “give it over”, once and for all.

Shame from others?  We fear being treated as someone who has done something shameful.  It puts us too far outside the circle of love and friendship that we all need.  But healing happens over time.  Trust that.   But self-blame and shame?  Not useful at all.  Banish them!!

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7 Comments

Filed under A Bigger Circle, Rosemary's entries, Uncategorized

7 responses to “Cringe-worthy Moments

  1. Peggy

    Great food for thought! I have to say I’ve had many cringe worthy moments!!! xo Peggy

  2. Karen Thorpe

    It is trying Flying after a life
    to be trying. of undying
    crying, sighing beauty, meaning….
    my soul flying An end of testing
    after perfection, no more trying!
    connection, compassion abiding
    an abiding passion. resting.
    A life so short
    and full of trying
    in a world sooo trying
    for a soul dying
    each day trying.

    If you abide in me and I abide in you, you will bear much fruit. (John 15)

  3. Karen Thorpe

    the above poem did not work as I wanted it to – got changed by the computer.

  4. Karen Thorpe

    It is trying
    to be trying
    crying, sighing
    my soul flying
    after perfection’
    connection, compassion.
    A life so short
    and full of trying
    in a world sooo trying
    to a soul dying
    each day trying.
    Flying after a life
    of undying beauty
    meaning, connection compassion.
    An end of testing!
    No more trying
    abiding
    resting.
    If you abide in me and I abide in you, you will bear much fruit. (John 15)

  5. Kay

    Yes embarrassment many times in the past and no doubt many more to come. But it doesn’t stop me trying, and people are so gracious when I make mistakes.
    One recent mistake still troubles me, it was a mis-communication and a step not taken, and speaking without thinking. And no matter how I tell myself be careful what you say I am sure that I will slip up again…and again….
    Love the poem, Karen.

  6. Well, at least I am not alone. I feel bombarded with regrets. Some of which I am responsible, and some which were done ‘ignorantly’, with no malice aforethought. Nonetheless they torture me from the great distance of my past.
    Welcome to my world. Guilt.
    Diana

  7. Arel

    Rosemary,
    Perhaps you are more open to, or have chosen to, allow remembering of past embarrassments than I am. I think emotionally i don’t want to remember as I am not prepared for the judgement I may lay on myself. I refuse to believe in being ashamed unless I willfully did wrong. However, when i believe I could have done better I begin to question my ability to do good.. that brings shame and a diminishing of self worth.
    External forces through life, baggage, have created this dilemma. Shame is a necessary social construct in order to develop conscience and social order -that’s good but this over-developed sense of failure instilled in us is not helpful to encourage us to simply do better.
    I appreciate your thoughtful writing.
    Right now I am struggling to keep Karma Co-op alive.(On the Board of Directors) I find there is embarrassment and shame that comes to me as I feel inadequate. This is not appropriate so I sense a feeling of anger towards a past (and my own attitude in the today) that said we can do it all if we simply applied ourselves.

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