Embarrassment is usually associated with negative events, such as making mistakes in social situations or at work. What can make it particularly difficult to deal with is that embarrassment often shows on the outside. Blushing, looking down and covering your face with your hands are all typical signs of the feeling, and are often automatic reactions. Yet, could embarrassment be a positive thing?

Genuine and Trustworthy

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that feelings of embarrassment are often signs that a person is genuine and trustworthy: "...although people may feel bad when left red-faced, the trait has many positive connotations." It's not necessarily that people who don't get embarrassed never make mistakes, rather that they don't really care.

Consider a situation where two coworkers assigned to the same project find they've made a big mistake that will be difficult to fix. One is mortified, saying they can't believe they could make such a stupid mistake and feeling guilty for the damage it could cause the company. The other acts coolly, shrugging it off and saying it will be fine. Which seems the more considerate of the two?

Controlling Embarrassment

That said, becoming embarrassed too often and too severely can have negative consequences. Many introvert types find that they're often embarrassed, which makes them less willing to engage with other people and be confident at work. A happy medium is to recognize embarrassment and acknowledge mistakes, but not let that stop you from taking calculated risks. The alternative, which is never being embarrassed or acknowledging that mistakes happen, leads to an inconsiderate and selfish personality. As Susan Cain notes in her book on introversion, Quiet, when it comes to embarrassment, "It's better to mind too much than to mind too little."

A person who's embarrassed cares about how they act in social situations. They're aware of expectations and are self-conscious when they know they've broken them. Many people lament their own bouts of embarrassment but perhaps could learn to embrace these feelings. These are signs that they're socially intelligent individuals who care what others think about them. Indeed, embarrassment is often linked to feelings of pride or lack thereof. Perceived loss of face when a person's pride is damaged can also be a reflection of their personal level of self-respect.

Accepting Slip-Ups

No one is perfect. Even great presidents, movie stars, and athletes make occasional mistakes. In fact, it's those that admit they're wrong and apologize to those they have harmed through error that people tend to respect the most. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained" can be a good adage to live by if considered as a measured level of risk-taking. Putting yourself out there to be scrutinized by bosses, co-workers, friends or family is scary, but it's part of growing as a person.

Being aware of physiological responses can help you to understand what it means to be embarrassed and how to keep it to a healthy level. Blushing can't be helped. It happens because your nervous system responds to perceived embarrassment and causes blood vessels to widen. This causes a reddening of the face which many people feel only worsens the impact of an embarrassing situation.

Accept that this is a natural reaction that can't be helped, and is nothing to be ashamed of. It simply means you care enough to have a reaction when you've made a mistake. Recognize any other nervous tics you may have, such as turning your head down. This can look passive, and as a natural reaction is also okay. Just ensure you're not doing it excessively and making yourself feel worse about the situation than necessary. Accept you've made an embarrassing error, then hold your head up high and decide how you're going to fix it.

Social Contexts

If you find yourself embarrassed more often than you'd like, identify situations where you feel this way. Perhaps you feel you say the wrong things on dates, or make more mistakes when you're stressed at work. By pro-actively looking at ways to avoid failure in the future, embarrassing situations can be avoided in the first place. Practicing calming exercises when you're overwhelmed can be a great way of leveling stress to avoid losing focus, for example.

Embarrassment may have become part of human psychology as a means of maintaining order in social situations. As people developed complex societies over time, it became necessary to enforce certain rules to ensure social cohesion. Eventually, these became the laws and social norms we live by today. When we perceive ourselves as trespassing these rules, embarrassment can occur. This reaction is an opportunity to recognize mistakes, learn from them, and try to avoid repeating them for the sake of society as a whole.

Embarrassment is a powerful emotion, and one people often try to avoid at all costs. However, it's good to embrace the knowledge that it can have a positive effect on the way you live your life. Learn from mistakes and remain considerate of the effects your actions have on others. You'll be a far more productive member of society than someone who never feels embarrassed or acknowledges their errors. Embarrassment can be a good thing, just make sure it's not stopping you from achieving your full potential.