Secondhand Embarrassment

What does Secondhand Embarrassment mean?

Feeling embarrassed on behalf of someone else

Secondhand embarrassment is that cringy feeling you get when you watch someone else do something embarrassing. It’s like you’re feeling their embarrassment for them. Imagine you see a boy in the cafeteria trip on a chair leg and dump his lunch all over himself. You’re not the one covered in spaghetti, but you still feel embarrassed. That’s secondhand embarrassment.

The term gets its roots from ‘secondhand smoke’, which is when non-smokers are affected by being close to someone who is smoking. But instead of smoke, it’s embarrassment we’re talking about here.

It’s not just a weird feeling. There’s actual science behind secondhand embarrassment. Studies show that the same parts of the brain light up when we see someone else embarrass themselves as when we see someone physically hurt. It’s not a great feeling (you might feel like your stomach is doing flips), but it does show that we can empathize with others.

Secondhand embarrassment can happen in all sorts of situations. Maybe you’re watching an episode of Parks and Recreation and you feel embarrassed for Leslie Knope when she makes a fool of herself. Or maybe you’re at a real-life wedding and the bride decides she’s not ready to say “I do” and leaves the groom at the altar. That’s some serious secondhand embarrassment.

So, the next time you’re watching a friend stumble over their words in a presentation, or you see someone trip on the sidewalk, remember that your feelings of secondhand embarrassment are totally normal. It’s just your brain’s way of saying, “I feel for you, buddy.”

Example for using ‘Secondhand Embarrassment’ in a conversation

OMG, did you see that video of the guy trying to dance at the party? πŸ˜‚

Yes, I did! I got secondhand embarrassment just watching him. πŸ™ˆ

Right? It was so cringeworthy. I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed for him! πŸ˜…

I know, it’s like I could feel his awkwardness through the screen. That’s secondhand embarrassment for you! πŸ˜†