What causes me to be embarrassed?

Marina asked me this question, in our ongoing virtual conversation about ourselves.

To begin with, I don’t blush easily. I don’t, often, find myself “embarrassed.”

I want to pause to consider the difference between “embarrassed” and “ashamed.” I think of three distinctions:

  1. I think of shame as deriving from within, and embarrassment, from without.
  2. I think of embarrassment as requiring an audience.
  3. I think of shame as describing my relationship to myself, a sense of inner badness. I think of embarrassment as describing my relationship to a transitory situation, an action, a discovery. If “shame” = “I’m a bad person,” “embarrassment” = I did something – and was seen – and the fact of my having been seen exposes an uncomfortable chasm between what people see when they look at me and what I might wish them to see.

I’m not attached to those distinctions. I don’t proffer them as “truth.” I’m just laying out how I’m using terminology.

Embarrassment? I think my most common experience of embarrassment is, oddly enough, a positive one: when I say something very funny, I often find myself blushing, tears even coming to my eyes. There’s something very uncomfortable to me about simultaneously amusing myself and amusing others. I feel a pride in the moment, and then, the pride itself, I think, embarrasses me. Terribly.

So that’s a generic answer. I’m not sure I have a specific answer. Sure, I’ve been embarrassed at times that I’ve lost an erection or found myself unable to produce one. But that’s different. (And I’m not, mostly, embarrassed when that happens. Disappointed? Maybe. Embarrassed? Not so much.)

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