the effect of embarrassment on the teenage psyche

Many moons ago, in this very classroom, I happened to have open on my desktop two photographs – one of a popular pop singer, and the other of some weird baseball player from my school. I don’t recall what their names were exactly, but the whole point of the exercise was to examine the similarities in their facial structures and their overall looks.

It was determined that they look remarkably similar.

And JUST as this experiment was winding down, my Journalism teacher called my name from the back of the classroom in a rather alarmed and concerned voice, obviously confused, and I shrieked at the top of my lungs and immediately darkened my screen. My friend sitting next to me, who had suggested the experiment in the first place, buried her face in her arms and started laughing – most probably at herself – out of sheer embarrassment and shock. I joined her moments later.

Since then, both of us have been extremely careful as to what we let our teacher see on our computer screens during class. All because of one little incident that said teacher probably doesn’t even remember. Surely, a more mature adult student would not be deterred by such an occurance and would continue as they normally would, browsing fandom blogs on Tumblr and tweeting their favorite celebrities.

But not a teenager. We are, for some strange reason, more emotionally fragile than our elders – more fragile, perhaps, than we let even ourselves believe. Such a thing as embarrassment still has a surprisingly strong effect on us, though we are almost adults.

My question is this: WHY?

What is so powerful about embarrassment? Why does a single embarrassing occurance from our first day of third grade stick with us for the rest of our lives, but not our first A on a science test? Why do we remember when Jimmy put glue in our hair on the playground when we were eight, but we forget how awesome it felt to make a new friend in middle school?

In fact, why do the negative memories of our lives stick with us while the positive ones fade away relatively quickly?

I’m sure a psychologist of some kind will comment on this post with a scientifically accurate answer to that question, but while I’m waiting for that to happen I am going to put forth my own answer.

I think we remember the negative stuff in life more vividly than the positive stuff because it’s the negative things that define us in the end. How we responded to Jimmy putting glue in our hair is more important than the glue attack itself. The sadness we felt when a loved one died changes our lives forever, and affects how we react to future losses. We might pray as hard as we possibly can for something bad not to happen, and it will happen anyway if it’s meant to happen. The universe makes no exceptions; it corrects itself.

Maybe this makes no sense. But I’m thankful for all those unanswered prayers. Because without them, I wouldn’t be me.

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