We Feel Embarrassed Even When We're Alone, Says Study, But We Definitely Don't Need To Be Ashamed Of These 9 Things

It's an age-old question — and no, I don't mean the one about trees falling in the forest. It's a much more pressing one, and it goes something like this: If we do something embarrassing and there's no one around to see it, does it still make your cheeks burn? According to new and slightly disheartening research, yes. Yes, it does. We still feel embarrassed about our behavior even when no one else witnesses it, proving that our collective sense of personal shame knows no bounds. Are our puritanical roots showing? I think it is. And that, perhaps, is the only thing in this whole study we should be ashamed about.

Researchers from Indiana University recently conducted a series of surveys aimed at figuring out whether embarrassment is only experienced in public settings, or whether we can experience it in private settings, as well — and perhaps unsurprisingly, they found the latter to be true. They recently published their findings in the Journal of Consumer Psychology under the title “Wetting the Bed at 21: Embarrassment as a Private Emotion,” which may be just about the greatest paper title of all time. Here's how it all broke down:

In the first survey 177 randomly-chosen participants answered questions online asking them simply to describe embarrassing experiences they had had, private or public. In the second, another survey asked 124 people how they felt in some hypothetical situations involving the purchasing of over-the-counter incontinence medication — one in which they bought it in person, and one in which they purchased it over the Internet. Lastly, 304 men over the age of 34 were surveyed about how they would feel buying Viagram for impotence versus for pleasure.

Guess what happened? Yep: The participants felt embarrassed either way, with the effect being particularly noticeable in the second and third surveys' results. In the second survey, the researchers wrote, “Participants' desire to escape an embarrassing situation for in-public context suggests that simply removing oneself from the situation makes the negative emotions dissipate; but for embarrassing situations experienced within an in-private context, one cannot easily 'escape' the embarrassment." Furthermore, said study co-author Dr. Kelly Herd according to Medical Daily, the Viagra situation really nailed the nature of embarrassment publicly versus privately: “When you buy [Viagra] in public, it doesn't matter why you're buying it, because you perceive that people are going to judge you just for having purchased the product. In private, it's much more nuanced… you know you need it due to performance.”

So, then: When we get embarrassed in public, it's because we know we're being judged for performing specific actions; however, when we get embarrassed in private, it's less about the actions themselves and more about why we're performing them. Interesting, no?

To be honest, though, a lot of the things we do feel embarrassed or ashamed about? They're probably not worth the mental anguish. True, it's way easier to say, “Stop getting embarrassed about these things!” than it is to actually do it — but with a little practice, I think we could probably all move beyond it. There are more important things in life, you know? There's no need for us to blush over any of these things, either publicly or privately.

1. Regular Bodily Functions

Everybody poops. Everybody farts. Half the population bleeds from their nether regions once a month. The other half get erections at inopportune times, or don't get them when they'd really like to have them. We all burp, vomit, sweat, and pee. Is it always fun? Of course not, as anyone who has spent an entire night and day vomiting their guts out after eating something that didn't agree with them can attest — but it's still nothing to be embarrassed about. It happens to the best of us.

2. The Number Of People You've Had Sex With

It totally doesn't matter. There is no such thing as too many or too few.

Speaking of sex…

3. Asking Your Sexual Partner(s) For What You Want

If your partner is a good partner, they want to make you feel awesome — which means they'll welcome input from, y'know, you. Everyone deserves to have great sex, and communication is key when it comes to making that happen.

4. Making Mistakes

We learn from them, remember? They're an important part of growing, no matter how old you are. If we never made mistakes, it would mean that we were all perfect — and besides the fact that ultimate perfection probably doesn't actually exist, it's also really boring. Messiness is so much more interesting.

5. The Distant Past

I kind of hate the phrase, “There's no use crying over spilt milk,” but it's kind of true. Unless you have a time machine, there's nothing you can do to change the past, so it's not worth feeling embarrassed over. And hey, remember that whole “learning from our mistakes” thing? We can learn from events in our past even if they're not necessarily something you'd file under the heading “mistake.” That means they're still useful, and useful is good.

If you do have a time machine, though, can I go for a ride in it? Please?

6. Your Google Searches

What's embarrassing about wanting to know more about how the world works?

7. Your Sartorial Choices

The only fashion rule you need is this one: Wear what feels good.

8. Your Beauty Choices

Same deal here. If it makes you feel good? Awesome. Do that. You got this.

9. Falling Up the Stairs

Maybe I've just become immune to this one after many years' worth of tripping while exiting the subway, but seriously, you guys. Everyone has fallen up the stairs at least once in their lives — and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Sure, you may end up with scraped-up palms, but they'll heal. And again — and this is a common theme here — we've all been there. Isn't it nicer to feel like not like we're being singled out and laughed at, but rather like we're all in this together?