Have you heard of “Katagelophobia”?
Neither had I, but I'm sure you've experienced the “fear of ridicule” or “fear of embarrassment” before, right? . There you have it, now you can sound fancy around your friends by describing these fears that you experience as “katagelophobia”. Or you can simply keep reading this article for tips on how to deal with it while realizing just how common it is. You´re not alone!
I´m the kind of person who lives by the mantra, “know your enemy”, well, in this case, know your fear.
I think you know very well how this “enemy” makes you feel: the burning cheeks, the desire to look away, the awkward half-smile. You can feel every set of eyes staring at you. In fact, there's a good chance that just thinking about this is giving you goosebumps.
Embarrassment is uncomfortable and no one wants to experience it. However, some people go so far out of their way to avoid embarrassment that they end up making things worse for themselves.
So going back to our “katagelophobia” or “fear of embarrasment”, how does one deal with this?
According to a study out of Carnegie Mellon University, (Jiang, L., Drolet, A. & Scott, C.A. Countering embarrassment-avoidance by taking an observer's perspective. Motiv Emot 42, 748–762 (2018) ), "there’s a certain mental exercise with which you can work to help alleviate symptoms. Instead of seeing yourself as the protagonist in a given situation, imagine yourself as an observer". Meaning, switch your perspective from that of an actor’s point-of-view to that of an audience member; it decreases both self-awareness and emotional discomfort.
This reminds me of a story… when I was a child, my sister used to come to see me perform in my school plays. Once we were putting on an adaptation of “Snow White”, very experimental, or so I thought! Someone forgot a line on stage, some other actor forgot their exit, and mayhem ensued (I mean, we were eight years old, so you can imagine). I was backstage watching all this unravel with my teacher, when she looked at me and said, “Jess, you need to get Angel off the stage.”
“Okay, but how?“ I said.
She gave me a piece of clothing, put it over my head and I pretended to be a ghost on stage, managed to whisk Angel off the stage, and saved the day. My sister, watching this transpire as an audience member, was so embarrassed. In her imagination, she was on stage, she was tasked with taking care of the mayhem while everyone was watching and in putting herself in my shoes, she took the “actors” approach, even if she was just an observer.
Those who suffer from high public self-consciousness (PUBSC, another fancy term you can use to impress your friends... or not) could benefit most from this approach. PUBSC sufferers feel as though they’re always in the spotlight, which makes them paranoid and highly susceptible to embarrassment.
Embarrassment can stop oneself from asking for help or sharing these doubts, but additionally, according to research at the University of Berkeley, "people who are easily embarrassed are considered more likeable and trustworthy than people who don't show embarrassment". "Embarrassment is one emotional signature of a person to whom you can entrust valuable resources. It’s part of the social glue that fosters trust and cooperation in everyday life,” said UC Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer, a coauthor of the study published in this month’s online issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Don´t you appreciate seeing that we´re all human and that we make mistakes? Or being capable of humouring ourselves in uncomfortable situations?
So the next time you´re in the middle of a very important presentation and you mix up all the words, the next time you're interviewing for the job of your life, remember, it's human to make mistakes, it's normal to feel nervous or embarrased, but how you use your toolbox to navigate these challenges and switch from protagonist to audience member will help you to find peace of mind.
If you want to learn more about these tools and expand your toolbox with aspects of how to improve your communication skills and accept and embrace this fear, check my course “PERSONA” on "Public Speaking and Personal Development".