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Embracing Embarrassment: Why Must We Blush?

A sudden sense of awkwardness, sweaty palms, a rush of heat to your cheeks and before you know it your redder than a beetroot and there’s nothing you can do about it. Should you sense this embarrassment (God forbid you do) then it’s just a downward spiral from there on, think you can’t get any redder? Wrong! Unfortunately I am one of those unlucky few who sense awkwardness and react with embarrassment. Flushing is just part of the problem. A sudden lack of confidence to ever talk to the person that made you resemble a tomato takes hold of your consciousness and deepens the dread to counteract any form of communication with them.

Why do we flush as a result of embarrassment? Sadly not even science has concluded an answer to this, but definitively embarrassment occurs as a result of awkward social situations taking place, that in one’s mind that causes them to react with nervousness and unease. So why do we get so easily embarrassed? Are we born with it like many other traits, or is this something that occurs as we get older and define our personalities?

A dictionary definition of embarrassment: To cause (someone) to feel awkward, self-conscious, or ashamed. Feeling overwhelming amounts of self-consciousness only worsens the problem, as you are standing there and begin to blush for whatever reason, the only thing that seems preferable at this point is to run off in the opposite direction. I certainly have felt like this. In all seriousness this is a worrying problem for many people and when others around us, our peers especially jump in with remarks such as “You’ve gone red”, As if we hadn’t realized that already when we felt our cheeks burning up, will only heighten our anxieties and decrease the levels in our self-esteem. Everyone experiences embarrassment in one way or another, which is probably why our friends would much rather focus on our social embarrassments than their own.

Not everyone blushes as a result of being embarrassed, some may have sweaty palms, some may reach for the nearest tissue to mop their brow and others may possess an awkward smile. However for those just like me who blush (and blush big time), there is not much you can do to stop it from happening. Blushing occurs when our body releases adrenaline, which happens as we feel as though we are in a tough spot, the capillaries that carry blood to our skin widen and as a result the blood is then bought closer to the surface. Situations that cause this to happen to many of us, arises usually when we feel if someone were to witness it, it would be potentially very embarrassing. Things like belching in public, talking about taboo like subjects, answering questions about yourself or tripping and falling over into that one hot guy out of a million other people who happen to be walking by.  It’s very obvious that social context is taken into consideration in our brains when we react to certain occurrences. Say you were to break wind in front of your parents or siblings, it may be considered as amusing or humorous to them however if the same circumstance were to happen in front of your lecturer or employer, the same reaction may not be present. Causing unwilling feelings of guilt, awkwardness and self-consciousness to mix together in one big boiling pot of embarrassment leaving you with everything but a big stamp on your forehead saying “I’m embarrassed”.

There is often a degree of shame to which we can feel from our embarrassment. These two conform interchangeably, which in the respect to evokes the question; do we feel ashamed the same as we feel embarrassed? For me I feel ashamed because I was embarrassed, I think it’s more of the reactions that we get from those around us after an incident that provide us with an alarming feeling of shame. Research of self-conscious emotions (Tangney et al, 1966) has shown that people don’t believe to connect the two feelings as strongly as you might expect, this is due to them being able to recall different times when they have either felt ashamed or embarrassed. The two in this case do not go hand in hand.  Personally when I feel like I am embarrassed I can tell that the person I am talking to sure knows about it too which only worsens the dread of flushing, causing me to do just that.

But what’s interesting to me is the fact that we can’t stop ourselves from blushing, it’s as though the fear of doing it causes the reaction itself, but if we can feel ourselves getting embarrassed and our cheeks starting to heat up why can’t we reverse the effects? It’s a mystery to me as well as many scientists, sadly since the birth of Charles Darwin he has not been able to discover an evolutionary explanation for why we blush. In fact he states that it’s “the most peculiar and most human of all expressions,” There is only one well-known positive notion to blushing and that is the forgiveness and the empathy felt on the receiving end of our eminent embarrassment. Researchers of the Dijk’s group have found that people tend to feel a sense of sympathy when a person blushes, which in turn benefits from their wrong-doings causing their embarrassment in the first place. Is there any other benefits from Blushing though? It may give us a little push in the right direction when it comes to following our hearts. Imagine if you saw the person you have a crush on and they start to talk to you immediately provoking that tell tell characteristic, revealing your desire for that person and letting them know about it (could come in handy).

Where we certainly can’t stop ourselves from getting embarrassed, feeling ashamed or awkward in social situations, there is always a reason behind the madness and for some strange reason the right person may even think it’s sort of endearing. As we get older our confidence will grow and with that we may start to feel more at ease with those around us, resulting in how easy we find ourselves blushing.  I used to wish that there was a cure for my unwelcome trait but I had to come to terms with there not being one and nor will there ever be one. This is just one trait that I won’t ever get rid of, it’s one in which I, and many of you alike out there have to embrace as a somewhat quality, after all ” when a girl ceases to blush, she has lost the most powerful charm of her beauty”.


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