I’m so embarrassing – and other untruths.

Last month I wrote about avoiding using critical words such as “should” and “must” to lessen our unfair expectation on others. Today’s post is about emotional reasoning – another unhelpful thinking style.

 

 

Emotional reasoning occurs when we assume what we think must be true because we feel a certain way.

Think back to the last time you made a fool of yourself in front of someone you respected: be it a colleague, a mentor, or even a romantic interest. (For the purposes of this post, our respected person will be christened Regina George)

It could be anything from:
1. saying something that came off wrong or making a bad joke

2. spilling some food/drink on yourself

3. calling them by the wrong name or making an assumption that isn’t true

(The list for potential embarrassment is endless, trust me, I would know)

After you have made the embarrassing action, you likely felt ashamed, foolish,or silly. It would be enough if you just felt those emotions and left them there, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll start to mold your self-image to your emotions.

1. “Why did I say that? Why couldn’t I just say something charming or pleasant? I’m so unlikable.

2. “Why couldn’t I watch where I was going or be more careful? I’m so clumsy and foolish.

3. “I can’t believe I did that, Regina George has never done that to me. She is so poised, I’m so dumb, I can’t do anything right.”

Maybe those examples sound extreme when we’re not in the situation, but I know I have thoughts like this nearly every time I feel embarrassed or ashamed. It’s like second nature to immediately blame myself every time I feel a negative emotion – I need to attribute a cause to the embarrassment even when there might not be one.

Now this wouldn’t be so bad if I did this for positive emotions as well, but that’s rarely the case.

Consider the following events which would make me happy:
1. getting a promotion at work or landing a big contract.
2. organizing an event that came together successfully
3. going on a vacation or travelling

According to the previous emotional reasoning logic, my internal dialogue might be something like this:

1. “I’m so happy I got that promotion! It’s because I worked really hard and focused on tangible goals. I’m so competent and good at my job!”

2. “How wonderful it is that everyone is able to come together! I’m a caring and thoughtful person for suggesting this idea that everyone else liked as well.”

3. “So exciting! I’m very pragmatic to have made a goal, saved the money for it, and committed to it.”

Instead the thoughts are more like this:

1. “I’m so lucky that I got a promotion! I must celebrate with my loved ones!”

2. “That was so much fun! Now what’s the next event I should organize?”

3. “Yay vacation!!! What swimsuits do I have and which should I buy??”

Just like in my last post, I have a tendency to internalize negative feelings yet brush off positive feelings as circumstantial or luck. Why is it that I can’t attribute the elation to my own efforts and internalize that?

I think part of it stems from the fact that I’m wary of coming off as arrogant. When I re-read what I wrote for the happy self-dialogue, the person who attributes all that happiness to themselves does sound, well, conceited. However, if I’m being so hard on myself every time I have a negative thought, shouldn’t I balance it out with self-attributed positive thoughts? Have I been doing it wrong? Maybe the people I perceive as ‘conceited/cocky’ people are actually the ones being good to themselves.

I know it’s not just me, because I see my friends being overly hard on themselves all the time. What sort of negative internal dialogue must be going on inside their heads so that they put themselves down?

“I’m such a klutz.”

“I’m not good at this.”

“I’m so awkward.”

“I’m not a nice person.”

“I look so bad today.”

When I see friends doing this, it honestly baffles me because I know they’re no more clumsy/awkward/not nice than the average person. In fact, they’re fine! They don’t look bad! Why are they so hard on themselves?

It’s in that moment that I realize they think the same thought about me – because the very same thoughts are swirling around in my head constantly – every time I feel embarrassed, ashamed, scared, foolish, stupid, or unattractive.

I can’t stop myself from feeling the way I do, but I can help my negative emotional reasoning by starting to disassociate my feelings as the truth. 

Just because I feel embarrassed, doesn’t mean I’m embarrassing.
Just because I feel ashamed, doesn’t mean I’m shameful.
Just because I feel scared, doesn’t mean I’m a coward.
Just because I feel stupid, doesn’t mean I’m a fool.
Just because I feel unattractive, doesn’t mean I’m ugly.

Writing that down felt pathetic, because a part of me is saying, “Well duh. Why do you need to even say this. You’re not a 13 year old girl, you’re an adult and you should have your head together.” but then I think about how often I tell myself those things in my head, when no one else is listening, and what’s really foolish is to continue berating myself for being a human being.

A way I’m going to try to improve is to use objective reasoning when I do experience a negative emotion rather than blaming myself:

1. saying something that came off wrong or making a bad joke

“Oops, guess Regina didn’t find that too funny. Next time remember that she is sensitive to comments about her weight/hair/dog.”

2. spilling some food/drink on yourself

“Ah that’s a shame. Remember that these shoes don’t have such good grip next time/don’t wear white when eating Indian food.”

3. calling them by the wrong name or making an assumption that isn’t true

“ I feel like I do this a lot, but really I’m sure everyone else makes mistakes like this too. Regina is the one with BLONDE hair. Gretchen is the brunette.

It will honestly take a long time to try to disengage my tendencies of emotional reasoning, but even if I can catch and prevent one out of every ten emotional rationales, that’s still a huge improvement.

 

Do you ever use emotional reasoning? How often do you blame yourself when you’re feeling down?

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4 thoughts on “I’m so embarrassing – and other untruths.

  1. Great post! I just recently studied a sociology module as part of my Criminology degree, and the negative comments instantly reminded me of Labeling Theory & when the label switches from the act to the person. ‘That was clumsy’ -> ‘I’m so clumsy’. It’s definitely not a great habit to get into because then you start living up to those labels. And unfortunately you’re right; doing it for positive things can make people appear arrogant. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this term in Canada, but I’m thinking of Tally Poppy Syndrome! The willingness to knock people down as soon as they poke their head above the pack, so it becomes a tendency for people to keep themselves down in the pack and not be too quick to put themselves out there when they do something awesome – which is usually way more often than they give themselves credit for.

    Like

    1. Thanks for sharing that – I had to look up Tall Poppy syndrome and unfortunately that is so true in our society. I’m guilty of doing that too. This definitely warrants more digging into.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s easy to get lost in your negative emotions. I am guilty of this too.

    I also was always wary of being too arrogant growing up. Maybe it’s an cultural tendency not to boast about yourself?

    Personally, when I got my new big job I immediately thought about how lucky I was that this job just landed on my lap – but it was a lot of hard work. I interviewed like 5x in one year. (!!!) I worked two years of working on temporary basis and lived in a city that I didn’t want to live in.

    It’s hard when you’re in a circle of negativity that you can’t seem to escape. I think usually sleeping on it, and waking up to a day with a fresh start spins my head back together. I think being cognitive and aware of this tendency helps you understand yourself better though. 🙂 Thanks for the post!

    Like

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