Just as you’re about to fall asleep and slip into a blissful state of unconsciousness, it hits you—that moment when you said or did the absolute wrong thing back in high school (or during a job interview or any other social setting). For whatever reason, the memory haunts you, unwilling to recede into the depths of your memory.
Over on a Reddit thread, users shared the embarrassing moments that often keep them up at night, replaying in their heads over and over again like they’re on permanent shuffle.
“Back in high school, there was this big debate that I was preparing for,” u/theenkrypt writes of his semi-traumatic experience. “… I was nervous, but I knew from practice that once I went up on stage and started talking, everything would get easier and it would be smooth sailing from there. So I walk up to the mic, clear my throat, and out came: ‘Welcome, dalies and mentlegen.’”
Here’s u/mr_basketcase’s moment from a similar Reddit thread: “When I first installed [the] Facebook application on my phone, I was looking up a classmate of mine. Instead of typing it into [the] search bar, I posted her name as a public status on my wall. I realized about five minutes later just as I was about to log off. My chest still hurts thinking about that.”
Why do we tend to relive our worst, chest-hurting moments? Well, maybe that embarrassing moment wasn’t as bad as you thought and having the chance to think through it once more put it into perspective. Or, as the Cut writes, it’s triggered by something in your environment that reminds you of that exact moment and not because of some deeper need to re-examine it. Whatever the case may be, it can likely become a huge distraction when you least need it.
My intrusive embarrassing moment happened during an interview for an internship in college. As I was early for my interview, the hiring manager very politely asked me to sit outside the room while they finished a staff meeting. As I rifled through my backpack for a copy of my resume, it, along with my cover letter and a whole host of homework, fell and somehow slipped perfectly below the door in front of me—as if to tell the entire staff of this company that I was fed up with waiting and shoved everything I owned under the door in protest. As you can imagine, the meeting went very quiet from what I could hear and I contemplated leaving the interview altogether. (I did not, but I also did not get the internship.)
If you want to forgo reliving those moments, well, dalies and mentlegen, it’s probably easier said than done, but below you’ll find a few tricks you can use to maybe stop them in their tracks.
Think about it for a short time or about the boring details
For one, as Leah Beckmann wrote for Jezebel, there’s the seven-second approach; take exactly seven seconds to cringe and then let it go. Chances are the other parties involved have probably given it less thought than seven seconds’ worth, anyway. It’s a good way to avoid repressing whatever it is that’s bothering you, while also avoiding obsessing over it needlessly. Take a few moments to settle in the discomfort and move on, as best you can.
Then, there’s the near-opposite approach. Think about the useless details surrounding the event, as the Cut writes. If, for instance, the moment that makes you cringe involves some conversational misstep at an office happy hour, think about your drink you had or the conversations that night that weren’t awkward. It’ll help lessen the negative emotions you might associate with the experience and you might find yourself distracted long enough to forget about it. And the next time you think of it, it might sting a little less.
If this fails, here’s a strategy that might help you contextualize your mistakes. Over on Reddit, u/allenthalbenn suggests thinking of the last big mistake you’ve seen someone else make. “It’s actually quite difficult to answer,” they write. “People don’t tend to remember/care about the cringey or embarrassing things others have done, because they’re so preoccupied with their own life.”
And if something does come to mind, chances are that mistake isn’t such a big deal in your eyes (barring some extreme errors in judgment). Still, this should help you to become less critical of yourself in similar situations. And in case you need it, here’s how to get over making the occasional mistake, embarrassing or not, and the importance of practicing some self-compassion.