On Being Embarrassed

Embarrassment is an emotion derived from the feeling that by standing out, others may define us in a way that conflicts with a valued self image and, more than that, these others have some power that threatens to isolate us from the social network. I would just like to assure you that the people that matter in your life, who care about and truly know you, would never attempt such behavior. For those that don't care for your feelings, and have motivation to undermine you somehow, realize this: they don't really have the power to embarrass you, you must first grant them that power by first allowing yourself to feel embarrassed. To truly be shielded from embarrassment, you must believe in your own self worth.

I find that whether it's about thumb sucking or wearing glasses, or whatever, there will always be people out there whose egos can only obtain satisfaction by bringing those around them down in some fashion. And, it's a lot easier to change our own perceptions about ourselves then it is to change the world. Ultimately our inner strength conquers all attempts to undermine who we are.

Several things operate with regard to thumb sucking and embarrassment. First of all, there's the stereotypical belief that the thumb sucker is infantile. Stereotypes are, by definition, non-personal. They focus on a set of notions that allow the believer in them to form conclusions, rather than think through a complicated issue. But their power derives from the fact that there is some truth in them, otherwise the beliefs wouldn't sustain. And yes, since babies do suck their thumb, it's easy to see why this association would take root. But stereotypes do change as knowledge of their exceptions take hold. When enough facts contradict the stereotype, the widely held beliefs start to wither and change to accommodate the new information.

We will never be free of stereotypes because it is the nature of being human to form conclusions. The conclusions we have about reality helps us to survive. But the conclusions that society has connected with thumb sucking do not fit all of the facts. Adults do suck their thumbs and the great majority of these adult thumb suckers are not infantile. In fact, many of them are successful, responsible adults with high levels of education and with jobs that demand sophisticated social skills.

So what do we do about our embarrassment?

I don't believe that thumb sucking is an important issue, like, for instance, racial prejudice or issues involving the Bill of Rights. For important issues that need fundamental changes in society we can all be thankful for those pioneers that were willing to forgo their embarrassment and stand up against the tide for the common good. But for adult thumb suckers, the concerns they have about being able to do their thing without worrying about what others think of them is important enough to come to terms with. (I hope you'll excuse the comparison here of thumb sucking and constitutional issues. I realize the absurdity of it. But I'm making a point.)

The first issue, realizing that we are not necessarily peripheral people is important. This site should prove to anyone reading it that there are numerous adults who still suck their thumb. This realization buttresses a feeling that, by not being alone, we share our humanness with others, our habit lies within the domain of being human with needs that satisfy requirements that are shared by many people.

The second issue is realizing that sucking ones thumb is, essentially, a harmless behavior. It does not interfere with the rights of anyone. Contrast this to a tobacco habit and secondary smoke as well as a host of other behaviors that are considered, in varying degrees, to be socially acceptable.

The third issue is realizing that sucking one's thumb does not make one infantile; the fact that there are successful adults that indulge should dispense with that concept immediately. By realizing this we can derive knowledge that, though we may be habituated, we are still in control of our lives, capable of making adult decisions and dealing with adult responsibilities. It's a habit, nothing more, nothing less.

The fourth issue is realizing that those that love and care about us will accept us for who we are, whether it be lovers of classical music or hard rock, motorcycles or antique cars, smokers or thumb suckers. So, if we had been embarrassed about sucking our thumbs in front of our close friends or lovers, this realization would predict that, eventually, the relationship should survive, or even grow, since allowing us to be ourselves and allowing for acceptance always nurtures trust.

The last issue is realizing that those that attempt to embarrass us, or undermine our sense of self value, have the problem, not us. People who engage in ridicule feel threatened and feel a need to bring others down in dealing with their feelings. They are not worthy of our friendship, or our feelings.

So, for the majority of us who don't think this issue is of constitutional importance, I'd suggest coming to terms with our embarrassment by picking our friends carefully, and trusting that they will allow us our moments. And, when they do, they undermine the stereotype and chip away at the limits of those incorrect conclusions that even we may be guilty of possessing.

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