Pain is temporary, but blushes are forever.

You know the whole ‘getting laughed at’ thing?

Does no one else take it to heart the way I do? Or does it make everyone feel as awful as it makes me feel, but you’re all so much better at hiding it or laughing it off?

I really have become a lot less sensitive and a lot better at laughing at myself since I’ve been in Korea, land of Very Little Tact. However, sometimes I do still snap, or at least get horribly embarrassed and turn red and have to furiously blink back tears that are more about humiliation than being deeply upset.

When I think back over the unpleasant (but generally insignificant) moments in my life that stand out clearly in my memory, they have one theme running through them – I was embarrassed. I felt stupid, I felt like someone was laughing at me or judging me wrongly, I felt somehow inferior, or I felt like a larger group had somehow turned on me and was ganging up on me.

Weirdly, when I think about much bigger, more significant times, I can’t quite remember the emotions. Not nearly as clearly as I can relive the embarrassment. Heartbreak, for example. I have spent months and months of my life dealing with very raw, very painful, all-consuming, crippling, I-don’t-ever-want-to-come-out-of-this-room-ever-again heartbreak. But can I feel it now? Nope. I know it happened and I know it was horrible, but when I think back over those times, I don’t feel anything. Why did it hurt so much? Why did I care so much? Why was I so paralysed by it? I can’t remember. I know it was real, but I can’t remember. I suppose if I could, I’d never love anyone again. Maybe it’s some clever defensive strategy of the human heart and mind, so that we don’t all turn into feelingless robots.

I can’t feel the agony I felt when I lay curled up in a little ball for days on end, wondering why that guy didn’t love me any more. These days, I barely remember why I cared, let alone why it caused me so much pain.

I do, however, remember in excruciating detail how embarrassed I was when my P2 teacher smacked me (for my poor handwriting) in front of the whole class. I can close my eyes and be right there at her desk. I can’t remember any physical pain (it was just a harmless spank on the behind, and fairly common back then), but I can remember the shroud of humiliation that wouldn’t fall away, and the amused gazes of my classmates burning holes right through me.

I remember exactly how stupid I felt when some former colleagues laughed at me for measuring out the exact amount of food to feed my new puppy, rolling their eyes at each other and saying “she’s obviously never had kids!” – well, no. I haven’t. They probably didn’t mean to mock me, but my cheeks flamed red and I felt like I was about 5 years old, with the grown-ups making fun of me. Don’t laugh at me! I growled, trying to mask my embarrassment with anger as I turned and hurriedly walked away.

I remember the moment of awkward embarrassment when I accidentally called my P3 teacher “Mummy”, and how it made it even worse when she kindly and tactfully pretended not to notice as I clumsily turned it into a sentence instead. I’m cringing right now as I relive it.

I remember something mortifying that happened when I was moving into my apartment after being in Korea only a couple of weeks. It wasn’t a huge thing, just a horrendously embarrassing split second with the guy I was replacing, whose apartment it was, but I can’t even talk about it. To anyone. Ever. All I can say is that every time I think of it (and I still do, quite often), I feel the blood rushing to my face and give a strangled little groan of mortification.

I remember all the times someone has verbally put me down in a group setting, to which I instinctively react much like a disgraced puppy dog who’s just been smacked on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. I feel attacked, belittled, stupid, inferior, disliked, unwanted, or all of the above – but mostly, I feel embarrassed. I instinctively mask it with a sudden flare of temper, but when I spit out my retort and walk away, and the flash of fury disappears as suddenly as it occurred, I feel my cheeks burning hot and my eyes full of humiliated tears. It happened to me last week with a group of friends when I was out having fun, and today at lunch time when I was just innocently talking to a colleague. The friends spoke to me in a way that made me feel like an annoying little kid instead of their equal. The colleagues laughed at me for my mispronunciation of a Korean word. Both times, I reacted with unthinking anger, which I didn’t really mean, and ended up sitting alone and trying to not to… well, not to feel. Stop taking things to heart. Stop taking things to heart. Stop taking things to heart.

But I do. I think I always will. Is it just me?

I could tell all this to a shrink, you know, but I prefer to write it in my blog. Sometimes, writing’s all the therapy I need!

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5 thoughts on “Pain is temporary, but blushes are forever.

  1. Damaris says:

    awh Hails I feel your pain! Everyone has moments like that you are not alone :) I found one thing that works for me I make myself laugh out loud.. at myself and the situation that happened, I usually find it takes the sting out of the embarrassment. It is not easy to do especially the first time it happens but with practice it does get easier and if anyone is laughing at you to make you feel stupid it spoils the moment for them when you laugh :)

  2. No, it’s not just you. I am the same way. I have always sort of thought that the reason this sort of thing bothered me so much was because I didn’t grow up in a family where we poked fun at each other like that – so maybe it was because I wasn’t used to it. It always amazed me that some people could shrug things off so well while I agonized over them in my mind, constantly replaying and re-cringing. I still don’t handle this sort of thing well, and I have quite a few years on you. However, I really do think this is a universal feeling and some people just are able to brush it off better -I remember reading something a few years ago (and I can’t remember who said this) to the effect of, “No one minds being thought wicked, but everyone hates to be thought foolish.”

    You’re not alone Not by a long shot.

  3. Megan says:

    No, it’s not only you. Funny, Ms Caroline, I thought it happened to me precisely because I grew up in a family where pointing out the failures of another, or pulling people up short was an everyday occurrence…for me, when it happens I feel small and stupid, just like when I was a kid and my Mum laughed at my request to do ballet. “What, you, do ballet? I don’t think they have a baby elephant class.” Uh, thanks mum.

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