Discharge, don't respect, embarrassment

Question: Could you tell us something about embarrassment, shame, and shyness?

Tim: Why do you ask? (Laughter) Sure. Almost everyone is terribly embarrassed. Not only you. Almost everybody. Part of growing up is learning to suppress it, so that we can sit around and be proper. I would guess we probably have more embarrassment than any other distress. There are very few situations that we are not embarrassed of. Most of us start limiting our lives to avoid embarrassment. There are an increasing number of things that we don't do, just so that we don't feel that embarrassment. We walk slower and more carefully. (Laughter) We sit very carefully. We speak very carefully. We don't sing out loud. And we never dance. (Laughter)

Working on embarrassment is one of the best things you can ever do. There is no shortage of things you can work on. You are never at a loss for what to spend the session on. It is hard to find a counselor who is less embarrassed than you are, (laughter) and so you have to have an agreement that you will both be embarrassed, during both turns, that you can be just as embarrassed as counselor as client. If you make this agreement, you can laugh for two hours. Simply think of the things that embarrass you, and do one of them. Most of us are embarrassed about the way we talk. Talk funny. Mess it up. Use the wrong words. Spit as you talk. (Laughter) All of the things that you try so hard not to do. You can even dribble a little. Let foam collect in the comers of your mouth. That is worth ten hours of laughter. You can even take short turns back and forth, each ten minutes. You should really set up at least one session a week just for embarrassment.

It is amazing how much embarrassment gets in our way. That is the reason this room has all these chairs we sit in - nice and separate. It is all understandable, we all do it, but it is all silly. You know you would rather be leaning against somebody, or sitting in somebody's lap where you can relax and be close with somebody. But for most of us to get that close is very embarrassing. What will they think? What will these other people think? What do I do now? What do I do if they do something? What can I talk about? It goes on and on and on in awkwardness.

If you spend a session on that and laugh for two hours, then the world looks different. You will start to notice how much embarrassment gets in your way. You don't have a single relationship that is not encased in embarrassment. The people you care about most, that you've committed your life to, you're still shy and embarrassed to really tell them what you think, to really show them how much you care. You are worried what they would think. They are probably starved for you to do something and don't know how to do those things for you, so nobody moves. And you sit there together through the decades, (laughter) caring very deeply about each other, and hoping the other knows it. You sort of understand that they care about you, too, but all of the things you long to do are out of bounds, because you can not bear to feel the embarrassment. It is funny, but it is really very sad too. (Laughter) It's sad that such silly little things keep us from having what we want because we cannot bear that feeling of discomfort. It feels like the discomfort will last forever. And what does it feel like really? It feels like you are stupid. That you don't know what you are doing. That you are clumsy. Only semi-intelligent, and it all shows. That everyone knows, simply to look at you, how troubled you are. (Laughter)

Question: If you try to do that, I think people really do think you are stupid. If you show your embarrassment....

Tim: Once you start working on embarrassment, any excuse will do. People try to work on embarrassment, but there are very few situations that are safe enough. Most of the time what happens is what has just been said, we feel the embarrassment and have to stop it. So we act even more proper and others belittle us, so that they don't have to feel the embarrassment. You can handle that: Admit to it, admit to being stupid! (Makes a dumb and silly face. Laughter) Apologize profusely for it. You don't want to be reasonable about it. You can't help it. I am sorry! (With a silly face. Laughter) just play as if it is out of your control, that it has always been this way. Today your family let you out in public. You can make it work as long as you don't allow yourself to get too restimulated by their noises. There are some people you will choose not to do this around. You know that some people's embarrassment is so heavy that they can't discharge on it easily.

Almost all of us have found ways to discharge embarrassment. That is why people like good comedians. A good comedian is about the only way a society allows people to discharge. A comedian is someone who is really funny, and being funny means playing on culturally common embarrassments. People who are good comics have others travel hundreds of miles to see them, just for the relief of a little laughter. That hour of laughter makes it a lot easier that week.

One common occurrence for people is driving with friends late at night, traveling a long distance, a long time together in the car. After a few hours people get giddy, for no apparent reason. Someone will say something, and it will strike someone else as funny and they will start to laugh and repeat it. It was funny for them but for no one else the first time, but when they say it, it becomes funny for others, and these people laugh for an hour for no reason. The car goes down the road. Everyone is just laughing and laughing, and they don't know why. I think it is the safety of being close together for that length of time. That makes it possible for it just to leak out. The day after you feel so close to those people; you understand them better in some new way and are at ease with each other for having had that strange little experience together. That seems to happen for almost everyone. People remember those times. They don't think of them as important, but I think they remember them because they are. So, see if you can get things started. Develop a good sense of humor. It makes a difference in many situations.

There are lots of other ways to work on embarrassment. Just think of all the things you are worried about in your life. Falling down is good. Think of falling down in public. I would imagine that happens a lot along the sidewalks. The unevenness, you know, how you catch your toe, and try to pretend it didn't happen. Buttoning your shirt wrong. Walking around with things unbuttoned. All of the things you worried about happening, that you didn't know were happening.

Your hair. I have a group of young people who I work with. At a workshop three weeks ago we had a group and I asked them a few questions. For almost all of them, the two things that bothered them were they didn't like the way they looked and they especially didn't like their hair. There were all sorts of different hair in the group - black and brown, blond, straight, curly, long, short; nobody liked it. Everybody was embarrassed about the way it looked. They had all tried different things, but it never worked. (Laughter) I think we are all uneasy about the way we look, and it somehow gets attached to our hair. Hair is funny. (Laughter) You have this stuff growing out of your head. (Laughter) And you are supposed to do something about it. There are certain rules that you are supposed to follow about it. But no one quite knows what they are. (Laughter) So it is not surprising we are embarrassed about it.

The other thing that troubled them all was how embarrassed they were with people of the opposite sex. A number of these young ones were thirteen and fourteen years old and they were having to face the issue, and there was no help anywhere in sight. They were all very embarrassed about it. They didn't know what to say, or what to do. What I did in the group was become the director of a play. I assigned different roles, two at a time. A boy and a girl. The scene was at a beach, coming across someone you knew a little bit. How do you start a conversation? I would give them lines to say back and forth. People could laugh and laugh and laugh. Not only could they laugh about it, but some could go ahead and cry about it. They felt so scared and isolated and did not know how to get out. It helped just to have other people say that they have the same difficulties, and that someone tried to help, even in that strange way. It let them feel safe enough to discharge on it.

After that group we went back the next day to the big workshop with lots of people. I told the adults that we had tried something like that, and almost immediately ten people asked if they could do that too. (Laughter) They had never had a chance to figure it out either. They had faked it all these years, pretending as if they knew what to do, but still feeling as awkward and embarrassed.

The dialogue I gave them was a caricature of a dialogue out of every old movie you ever saw. It was to let them feel the awkwardness; one of them would be lying in the sand and the other would walk by. They had to overplay the lines, something like, "Oh, hello...." (Laughter) "...Fancy meeting you here!" "Are you here alone?" (Laughter) Later on in the dialogue, I would put in lines like, "Do you like me?" "Yes, I like you very much," and at those points we had to pause for a few minutes before they could say the lines, as well as after. We went through the same dialogue, over and over again, with different pairs of people. After a couple of times they would start to add to the lines themselves, starting to show off a little, making a story for background for the conversation. They started to get some feel for how to handle things. Some of them were quite good, much better than I have ever managed it. (Laughter) Anyway, that is what we did.

To simply talk about caring is embarrassing for most of us, that there are people and things we care deeply about. Most of us have been made fun of for that when we were small, so there is a lot of embarrassment there. Not only is there embarrassment there, but there are other distresses as well. There is often a lot of grief and fear if we have been ashamed a lot. If we have been belittled for being ourselves, there may be embarrassment to start with, but there is often a lot of tears underneath. So what looks like is going to be an hour of laughter is five minutes of laughter and a lot of tears after, but you can't get to the tears without going to the laughter. You need to try to face the embarrassment in a session before you can feel the grief. Sometimes there will be fear underneath as well. I would really urge all of you to try to work on embarrassment, especially those of you who won't!

One of the problems with embarrassment is that it is embarrassing to work on. It sort of feeds on itself. You would work on it if it weren't so embarrassing. You know that makes no sense, but it sounds very reasonable in a session. It is simply too painful to start. It does not stay that painful. As counselor for someone who feels that way, you have to be very careful with your tone, because those people usually have been belittled by others. For you to let your embarrassment show too much as counselor sometimes makes it hard for them to tell the difference between people who made fun of them, and you. Very often a better tactic in those sessions is for the counselor to do the silly things, so that the client can laugh without having it directed at them at all. They work by reflection.

One relationship I know you are embarrassed about is your Co-Counseling relationship. That embarrassment gets in the way of counseling. You are careful with each other and there are certain things that you never work on. You don't really use each other's attention fully, because the embarrassment gets in the way. You need to use Co-Counseling to work on your Co-Counseling relationship every so often - every couple of months, because things get in the way like in all other relationships. One thing also related is shyness. People feel shy. They don't like to took at each other. That happens a lot in sessions. Many people work by looking at the ceiling, or at the floor. Part of it is shyness and embarrassment. Part of it is being afraid to look and see your counselor is not there, to see them looking up at the ceiling. (Laughter) We have difficulties paying attention to each other. Some of that is this shyness and separation. We don't dare let ourselves care as much as we really do. A Co-Counseling relationship can be a very deeply caring relationship, but very often it still stays awkward. (Tim proposes to do a five-minute-each mini-session on smiling shyly at your counselor.) (Laughter.)

Tim Jackins
(Transcribed by Erik Fokke)

Last modified: 2016-12-20 06:43:20-08