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Compelled to Blurt...
July 22, 2008 7:08 PM   Subscribe

What's with my weird compulsion?

As far as I am aware, I am a mentally healthy, well-adjusted, and sane person with no disorders. But I have a strange, fairly innocuous quirk which seems beyond my control and I'm curious about it...

When I think of / remember something embarrassing from my life, I compulsively make some kind of noise. It seems to happen unconsciously, before my censor can catch it and stop myself (it even happens when I am in a quiet or inappropriate place).

It's not especially loud, in fact it's often under my breath. The sound is usually just a quiet grunt, or a word/syllable or two. If I remember an embarrassing conversation, I tend to blurt out a random word of the conversation (as in, I'm replaying the dialogue in my head but then all the sudden one of the words pops out of my mouth). If it happens while I'm reading, I tend to blurt out one or two of the words that happen to be under my eyes at the moment.

It usually only happens when I'm remembering something palpably embarrassing or humiliating from my life -- not for mild everyday kind of stuff. (Again, I had a fairly happy childhood and have nothing particularly traumatic in my past -- I don't think my embarrassing memories are any worse than the average joe's)

So what is this, do I have some kind of low-grade tourette's syndrome? Is there a name for this phenomenon? Does it happen to others or is it unique to me?
posted by Alabaster to Health & Fitness (130 answers total) 154 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, I have the same thing except I have to shake my head back and forth a few times. I think it's a normal reaction for people who have good imaginations and can recall the actual feeling of being embarrassed rather easily. You're embarrassed all over again and you need to dispel it. I think it's fine.
posted by spicynuts at 7:29 PM on July 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


Yeah I do the same thing.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:30 PM on July 22, 2008


Oh man, I do this too. I doubt it's anything to worry about.
posted by borkingchikapa at 7:31 PM on July 22, 2008


I do the exact same thing.

I usually wince, say a word, or a phrase. Usually, the phrase is, "oh, god". It's doubly awkward and embarrassing when I wince or whimper, "oh, god" in the presence of my husband. He's concerned and asks, "What? What happened? Are you OK? What you are thinking? What's wrong?" I try to blow him off and tell him it's nothing. More often than not I tell him about the embarrassing moment which is like reliving the agony all over again.
posted by LoriFLA at 7:36 PM on July 22, 2008


I have this exact problem only a bit worse than what you describe, and it is more often a word or phrase instead just a noise. I have always been prone to remembering embarrassing situations randomly and often but the vocalizing has either started or gotten dramatically worse in the last few years. When other people are around it is usually quiet. When I am by myself it can be full on shouting. I have mentioned it to counselors and psychiatrists and nobody ever seems to think its a big deal or given me name for it. I've been on SSRIs for anxiety and they did nothing to abate this particular problem (or my anxiety in general either).

Anyway, sorry I can't be more helpful but at least you know you're not the only one. I am actually really comforted to see this post and thread, so thank you for posting this.
posted by DanielDManiel at 7:38 PM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I do it too. You're fine.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:46 PM on July 22, 2008


Several emotions including embarrassment prompt me to announce that I love or miss various old boyfriends. It's never the ones I actually do still have fond feelings for; it's always a man I don't otherwise ever think of. Sometimes it's an anonymous declaration with no object--"I miss him!"--with nobody in mind at all, and occasionally I'll just throw a random masculine name in there. Thankfully, I've managed not to do it when anybody else can hear me!
posted by magicbus at 7:55 PM on July 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


me too. sometimes in my car i say a little phrase over and over when remembering something embarrassing.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:55 PM on July 22, 2008


Hehe - I do this all the time, to the point that my 11 year old asks me who I'm talking to and what I'm talking about.
posted by sisflit at 8:04 PM on July 22, 2008


Several emotions including embarrassment prompt me to announce that I love or miss various old boyfriends.

Holy crap! This is usually what I say as well only it's usually just one particular ex-girlfriend. The rest of the time it's profanity. How odd. This phenomenon often happens to me often up to a dozen or more times a day, and can be just as embarrassing as whatever random crap I am remembering if I am near other people or do it too loudly.
posted by DanielDManiel at 8:10 PM on July 22, 2008


Whenever I'm replaying a conversation in my head, real or imagined, I have to watch myself to be sure I don't murmur anything. I don't think there's anything wrong with you; it's not uncommon.

I'm almost certain my expressions change a bit, too, depending.
posted by Nattie at 8:32 PM on July 22, 2008


^ what they said LOL
posted by yort at 9:11 PM on July 22, 2008


Me too, I also wince and often speak a short sentence of wistful remonstrance such as "oh well, no helping it now..." Sometimes I'm aware that I'm doing it in public and realize I might look a little crazy. I have no solution for this, but clearly, you're not alone.
posted by Miko at 9:17 PM on July 22, 2008


Slight derail: it fascinates me that so many others find this familiar, as I also thought it was a personal quirk. I hope we hear from one of the folks who knows something about neurology or emotional psychology - because it's damned interesting to me that there is such a common physical/verbal response to the memory of embarrassment!
posted by Miko at 9:18 PM on July 22, 2008


Wow, me too. Metafilter: your solitary compulsion becomes a shared experience.
posted by ulotrichous at 9:20 PM on July 22, 2008 [11 favorites]


Okay, we're all nuts. I do it, too. Thought it was just me.
posted by Listener at 9:20 PM on July 22, 2008


I make a goofy face or a weird noise. Don't stress.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:23 PM on July 22, 2008


the vocalizing has either started or gotten dramatically worse in the last few years

Ditto. It used to only happen in the shower, or doing dishes, or something equally mindless and alone where your mind can wander to bad places. But lately, I've found myself more likely to do it where another person can hear me. It's still only in the back of a cab, or walking home drunk on the street, but I fear the day it happens at work or with a friend. Like Miko, I hope someone with some knowledge about this comes to enlighten us.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:32 PM on July 22, 2008


I do everything mentioned, especially accompanied by wincing. The two memories guaranteed to cause an emotional seizure are 1) when I tried to sabotage a mock trial and 2) when I confessed my undying love to a dissimilar girl in high school in the school orchestra production of Guys and Dolls's pit orchestra.

Interesting, though; never thought about it as anything more than hating my naïveté.
posted by spamguy at 9:36 PM on July 22, 2008


I do the same. These days it's only really before going to sleep, as for some reason I tend to mentally replay embarrassing moments from my life (that I KNOW no one but me even remembers) then.

It's not a great way to fall asleep.
posted by greenland at 9:43 PM on July 22, 2008


I do this too. I say basically random words. It was "Harley Davidson" for a long time, and "hula hoop" for a long time. I'm mostly able to suppress it when there are people around, but not always.

Since lots of other people report it, guess it's neither rare nor weird!
posted by lastobelus at 9:43 PM on July 22, 2008


I do this as well. I wince, then I often jump up and shake my hands or walk quickly into another room. It's like I've been hit and then am trying to escape whatever hit me. And I do it all the time because I have plenty of these memories - THANKS A LOT PAST BIBLIOWENCH! dork

And I cannot get rid of these memories. I try to visualize shutting them up in a box that I'll never open again, but any random thought could cause a chain that could lead me to one of them. If I'm focused on something, I usually avoid them, but when my brain is wandering, they come up, I wince and start, and I hope no one notices (I've used "Foot cramp" as a past excuse). I can only imagine what life must be like if these past events were genuinely traumatic instead of just demoralizing.

Several emotions including embarrassment prompt me to announce that I love or miss various old boyfriends. It's never the ones I actually do still have fond feelings for; it's always a man I don't otherwise ever think of.

You've blown my mind here, magicbus. I do this too - except I say "I hate [name of ex that I don't really hate and haven't really thought about for years]." It's automatic and usually not connected to these memories, and I always thought I was just really weird. Now I know that some of you are just as weird as me. We should form a club.

And now I'm going to try very hard not to think about many, many things.
posted by bibliowench at 10:06 PM on July 22, 2008


MeTa. (And I mean that in a good way.)
posted by ottereroticist at 10:17 PM on July 22, 2008


Me, too. I still feel bad about throwing sand in Aaron's face (hey, sorry, dude, but you were a jerk) in fifth grade and wince when I remember it. That incident was in 1978.

I get especially vexed when thinking about rummy communication with former friends, love interests, etc. I actually shudder and laugh a bit at my stupidity.

I am convinced it's the people who don't do this who go on to be rich, leaders, etc.
posted by maxwelton at 10:23 PM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I believe that the technical term for this is "self-talk". ST can be compulsive, or conscious and reaffirming (in fact, constructrive self-talk is used to help overcome the programming of compulsive and negative self-talk).

For more info, see the chapter with this name in the "Anxiety and Phobia Workbook".

HTH.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:36 PM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have more than my share of cringe-worthy moments, but I haven't the faintest *idea* what any of you are talking about.
posted by Space Kitty at 10:47 PM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


YAPWDTT (yet another person who does this too). I usually let out a sharp breath, or bleat or whistle a bit of a tune or something. Depends on the particular memory and where I am and who I am with.

I think about this a lot. Not really the reaction, the quirk itself, but what it is about embarrassing events that causes this reaction. I guess I solipsistically (spelling? Appropriate usage?) believed I felt this much more strongly than most, but I think this question and the number of responses gives the lie to that assumption.

What is it about embarrassment that causes this in us (humans)? It has bothered me for a long time that I can't let go of all the embarrassing moments that my brain has stored, and just embrace confidence and move forward. In fact I can manufacture new embarrassments by considering how others may have perceived a certain situation ("Oh! What if he/she thought I was implying that she was stupid/sexy/poor/spoiled/lazy! Oh no!"). But it seems like those people who are able to just move forward and ignore their embarrassment have the most success and are able to best accomplish their goals. I'M best able to do this when I at least ignore my embarrassments rather than get mired in them. Then again, sociopaths don't have any sense of embarrassment (or so I'm told). This feeling seems to be one of the indicators that we have compassion and consideration for those around us, and perhaps it is a check on the sort of insensitive behavior that, at the very least, protects us from having those around us ostracize or assault us (in the extreme case). (Also see maxwelton's point about the leader-type people...I tend to agree).

Perhaps another way to look at this feeling is as a trigger, as something that points to an issue we should investigate. I suppose that's a rather psychoanalytic way to look at it, which is how I tend to process these things. It seems reasonable to me to look at it as the byproduct of social conditioning; I recall times as an adolescent when I would say or do something clearly outside the social norm, and be rebuked by my peers for my outré behavior (and this was part of my training). We all try to conform so as to be comfortable in our society, unless we are (were) GG Allin, and then we are directly reacting against these societal rules, so it's all the same I think.

But all of this doesn't make it easy to deal with. It still is uncomfortable when this feeling erupts. Most importantly, for me at least, is the question of why I keep creating these moments! I think when I was younger I had this idea that magically as an adult I would feel less uncomfortable all the time, less embarrassed by my gaffes, but in reality I've just accumulated more and the tendency shows no sign of letting up any time soon.

I'm also going to hazard a guess that more people on ask mefi were called "sensitive" as children than the average.

Well, that's my digressive monologue...perhaps I'll read it tomorrow and find it embarrassing, and let out a groan or shudder involuntarily...
posted by dubitable at 10:53 PM on July 22, 2008


Now I'm stuck making weird noises all night. Gee, thanks, Alabaster.

No, really, thanks. Interesting to know I'm not the only one that does this.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 10:54 PM on July 22, 2008


hey, i do this too!

or, at least, i've been noticing it over the past few years.

it only happens in response to sudden memories of cringeworthy behaviour (not like dancing naked on tables or anything; mostly relationship stuff).

unlike some of the people above, there's no meaningful word or phrase involved. just a sound...either a plosive one, as though i'm spitting the memory out, or some kind of "LAAA!" as if sticking my fingers in my ears & singing "la la la; i can't hear you!"
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:11 PM on July 22, 2008


Thanks, this thread makes me feel a lot better. (It's not just me! People on the internet are weird too!)
posted by The Pusher Robot at 11:17 PM on July 22, 2008


I used to do this a lot, but I hardly do it any more. I'm not a neurologist, but I'll share my theory and how I "overcame" this annoying habit.

First, the theory. I think this reaction is like a short circuit that allows you to quickly change the subject of your inner dialog when your inner dialog becomes unpleasant, uncomfortable or mildly painful. I think this reaction is a similar but much milder version of something that a person suffering from PTSD does when an unpleasant memory pops up, so sort of a PTSD super light for the "normal" person.

A couple of years ago, I did this pretty often. Lately, however, it hardly ever happens. I think that taming your inner critic helps to get rid of this tic. Rather than "shaking" the unpleasant memory off, and changing the subject, grab it and think about it a little. Think about the fact that everyone makes mistakes, and that your mistake has probably been forgotten by almost everyone but you. Whatever it is that triggered the response is probably not really a big deal. If you can learn to accept that fact and stop criticizing yourself about what happened, I think you'll find that the tic will subside over time.

If you find yourself getting into embarrassing situations often, it may help to think about why that happens, and what things you can do to minimize the situations. That's another thing you can think about when one of your unpleasant memories pops up. "Why did I do that?" "How can I avoid that kind of situation in the future?" Basically, take the memory, own it, accept it, analyze it a little and move on, and I bet you it won't be long before that memory no longer triggers your subconscious short circuit mechanism - it worked for me :-)
posted by syzygy at 12:09 AM on July 23, 2008 [17 favorites]


Oh yeah, I did this just today. Thinking nostalgically then suddenly grimacing and saying `oh, jeeezus'. If I had not been driving, I probably would have slapped my forehead too.
posted by tomble at 12:38 AM on July 23, 2008


I do this constantly. At least twice a day. Things I say:

"Oh God"/profanity (directed at the world)
"I hate you" (directed at myself, this is more common with recent embarrassments)
"I love you" (directed at any of a couple exes who I no longer love)
posted by Ryvar at 12:45 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow! Thanks for posting this. It's a really fascinating question. These "embarrassment seizures" happen to me too, except I have a propensity to cuss aloud when it happens. It's like PTSD, except on a very, VERY mild and innocuous scale!

Some thoughts:

1. Speaking purely hypothetically, but I think it might happen because the right-side of our brains are still processing the memory of the experience, for its own mysterious reasons.

2. I'm also thinking it happens more frequently with regards to embarrassing moments we don't tell other people about. It's as if sharing the embarrassment releases some pressure valve, so to speak.

3. I don't think it's a bad thing for me. It reminds me I'm human and to be more accepting of other people's quirks.

& it might be just me, but it seems to happen more frequently as I get older.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 12:52 AM on July 23, 2008


Yep, I do this. My word is "twelve." Or sometimes "Imagine twelve." But I only do it on my own. I can stop myself.
posted by creeky at 12:53 AM on July 23, 2008


I do it too (I whimper) - but to end the embarrassing moment playing in my head I "see" the scenario as if it is playing out on a mirror, which I then shoot or kick so that thousands of pieces of broken mirror dispel the embarrassing moment. I tend to shiver with my shoulders too, but a "crushed" memory seldom comes back that vividly to make me whimper again.
posted by dabitch at 1:01 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Me too.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:05 AM on July 23, 2008


Hmm. I sort of do this too, but it's not explicitly tied to remembering embarrassing moments. It's a tension thing, sorta, but it can happen when I'm just really happy, too. In my case I say words or sounds with lots of t's and k's (the words shift from year to year... I used to say "tickticktickticktickatick" but that one's gone away now), or just random phrases from conversations I had earlier, and there are a couple other tics as well. I can control it when around others, but occasionally I slip if I'm really comfortable with someone.

I always figured it was some neurological quirk somehow related to Tourette's, but never bothered to get it looked into as it doesn't really affect me in any functional way.
posted by litlnemo at 1:45 AM on July 23, 2008


A lot of the symptoms described sound like mild tic disorders. Tourette's, like Autism, is a spectrum disease and a surprisingly large number of people suffer minor motor or vocal tics with no ill effects on their lives.

From the Wikipedia article on tics does this describe the compulsion you feel?

Immediately preceding tic onset, most individuals are aware of an urge[6] that is similar to the need to yawn, sneeze, blink, or scratch an itch. Individuals describe the need to tic as a buildup of tension[7] which they consciously choose to release, as if they "had to do it".[8] Examples of this premonitory urge are the feeling of having something in one's throat, or a localized discomfort in the shoulders, leading to the need to clear one's throat or shrug the shoulders. The actual tic may be felt as relieving this tension or sensation, similar to scratching an itch. Another example is blinking to relieve an uncomfortable sensation in the eye.

Tics are described as semi-voluntary or "unvoluntary",[9] because they are not strictly involuntary—they may be experienced as a voluntary response to the unwanted, premonitory urge. A unique aspect of tics, relative to other movement disorders, is that they are suppressible yet irresistible;[10] they are experienced as an irresistible urge that must eventually be expressed.[9] Some people with tics may not be aware of the premonitory urge. Children may be less aware of the premonitory urge associated with tics than are adults, but their awareness tends to increase with maturity.[9]


IANAD but I can tell you that there are medicines with generally minor side effects that can be prescribed off-label to help quiet down tics. They are called guanfacine and clonidine, they were originally developed to lower blood pressure but they help some people with tics. Talk to your doctor if it becomes something that interferes with your life.
posted by TungstenChef at 1:58 AM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't do this, and you are all crazy.

No, seriously...I mean, I can recall embarrassing situations and even shake my head in dismay or get worked up enough to swear about it or something, but its by no means prompted by an uncontrolled response to the memory.

But then seeing as I'm the first one to say I don't do this, maybe I'm the abnormal one.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:22 AM on July 23, 2008


Yup. I get a twitch in my neck and shake my head back and forth a few times without conscious control, as if I'm trying to shake off a mosquito but don't have my hands free. I usually mutter "fuck" under my breath, too.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 2:39 AM on July 23, 2008


I usually say the embarrassing thing again... or verbally relive some part of the event.
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:30 AM on July 23, 2008


Apparently I am not alone in this. Weird.
posted by slightlybewildered at 3:37 AM on July 23, 2008


Yes, me as well. Just today I was suppressing the urge to do this in class, remembering the embarrassing thing I did at the end of class party the last time I was here in Korea. And I was going to ask "how do I stop remembering my embarrassing moments and live in the now?" to askme... and here this is, bizarre.
posted by Meatbomb at 3:41 AM on July 23, 2008


When alone, I let it come out: names of the loved ones, 'no-no-no', 'NO!', whimpers and occassionally positive stuff in happy voice: for example 'bunnies!', as there has been lots of rabbits in the city lately. If I am in hangover and usually acutely embarassed, these are so strong and beyond control that it is difficult to go out for fear that I sound like a mumbling out-patient. When the last night has been replayed in mind and made sure that there were no severe embarassments, only then can I be with people again. These tics/reactions are not caused by what I am actively doing, but like others have told, when some memory assaults you unexpectedly.

You probably know people who have difficulties to control their reactions on what they are currently doing: grunting and cursing while programming or taking exams or people who don't like social games because of their extreme reactions.

Memories and the current situation appear to be two sources of emotional anxiety and people vary on 1) how much emotional payload their memories carry, 2) how sensitive they are to current situation and 3) how much their conscious control can do. When conscious about anxiety, I can play it down and I generally cool down when I try to, but surprises get me. I guess I rate highly on (1) and (3) like others here. That what I am not trying to actively control trips me.

I've played volleyball with a genuine tourette's case and there the conscious control (3) couldn't do much: everyone vocalizes a bit more freely in sports: grunts, curses etc. flow, but that person had a hair-trigger sensitivity to game events. Everything that happened caused an immediate loud reaction (quick reactions with the ball too, considering that he was first-timer!) and when nothing happened, tension gathered by itself and random curses and tics came out. He enjoyed the game and ignoring the words wasn't generally never angry or really fustrated, so I don't think that he felt more strongly.
posted by Free word order! at 4:07 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I do this as well! No matter what the uncomfortable thought is (embarrassing memory, negative self-reflection, etc) I tend to mutter the name of an old boyfriend.

My theory is that I try to dispel the uncomfortable feeling by negating it with something I feel positive about. But maybe it's really just about finding a vent for the uncomfortable feelings in an innocuous way.
posted by roshy at 4:13 AM on July 23, 2008


Same here - it's usually when I've been caught off guard and the memory is unexpected. It's a rather violence tic, where I will quickly look away and make an exasperated sound kind of like I've just been punched in the stomach (emotionally, I suppose).

To be even weirder, I avoid dwelling on the issue by picturing a word or phrase relating to the incident in my head and then visualizing it being crossed out by like a marker or something. I then force my thoughts in another direction.

Amazing how many people mentioned saying their ex-boyfriend's names, or cursing, or some distinct sound every time. What an interested shared quirk! I thought I was the only one...
posted by amicamentis at 4:33 AM on July 23, 2008


Sigh. Me too.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:37 AM on July 23, 2008


I also do this.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:19 AM on July 23, 2008


I worked out a while ago that either I was mad or everybody else did this too. However I've never seen it described anywhere before this.
posted by Hogshead at 5:58 AM on July 23, 2008


Add another one here. I have always associated it with a kind of 'projective identity' -- not just remembering something form the outside, but reliving it form the inside as it were. Aside from this I sometimes have only semi-voluntary reactions to moments of tension and drama in films etc. At age 40 I still have to fight really hard not to hide my head under a cushion when things get really tense, and if characters in a film do something cringe-worthy I have a particularly strong, and similar reaction.

Syzygy has good advice, I have started to do something similar, and it can take some of the tension away from the situation. I think The ____ of Justice's second observation is interesting. Going back over an incident in an accepting way I often find it's nowhere near as embarrassing as the reaction might suggest -- it more like that moment of embarrassment has become trapped becasue I haven't been able to release the tension that was generated.
posted by tallus at 6:11 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I do this, but instead of making a noise or saying a word, my head lurches to the left, quite sharply. Similarly when having memories of a powerful sort, good or bad, a muscle in my left cheek does a funny spasm. (I'd not realised before that both these memory tics are on the left side, dunno if that's in any way significant...)
posted by jack_mo at 6:17 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


...only happen in the shower, or doing dishes, or something equally mindless and alone where your mind can wander to bad places.

Mine most frequently happen during mindless activities as well, such as any activity that prevents me from using some distraction, like the TV, or a book, or a podcast to suppress my mind's seeming compulsion to start racing off.

I think that whatever causes this is related to my inability to fall asleep w/out the TV on. I feel like I have to keep my brain distracted long enough for me to fall asleep.

Most people don't have this, and can just "not think", I believe.
posted by popechunk at 6:20 AM on July 23, 2008


::raises hand::

For me the external reaction can be anything from facial expressions to physical movement (like clenching my fist) or involuntary noises. I also tend to 'rehearse' situations in my head and the same sort of involuntary external reactions can happen then, too.

I have a tendency to talk out loud while working through a problem--I'm very much an auditory learner--so I just assumed that the behavior was connected to that.
posted by elfgirl at 6:29 AM on July 23, 2008


I do this too.
posted by EarBucket at 7:10 AM on July 23, 2008


I'll third (4th?) the "don't do this." However, I can totally see how a lot of people would. When I think of something particularly embarassing, I definitely get an internal shudder (a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, followed by an emotional "shake" to rid myself of that feeling). I don't make any verbal or physical outbursts (that I know of), but it could be because I'm naturally an emotional introvert, and my narcissitic traits rarely allow me to outwardly show embarassment or "weakness."
posted by Debaser626 at 7:18 AM on July 23, 2008


When I've done this, I've usually repeated the last part of the originally embarrassing line out loud. I always figured that I did it because I was soo wrapped up in my memory that I temporarily forgot the outside world. And I was repeating the last bit to hear how it sounded–so that I could re-anaylze it and see if it was as bad as I remember. Except I'm so in my head that I didn't know that I was actually vocalizing outside of it.

Then, like an etch-a-sketch, I've got to shake it off to clear the slate.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:25 AM on July 23, 2008


Yeah I do this, I either say "Oh God" or "Dammit" or I swear and then I shake my head a little or clench my fists. I always assumed it was a totally natural voluntary reaction, but I can see how it could be a tic.
posted by Divine_Wino at 7:28 AM on July 23, 2008


I go "gfffuh" and my hands twitch just thinking of the many, many times I've done this...
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:35 AM on July 23, 2008


Oh dear God I do this too.

When the more mortifying moments from my past pop into my head I tend to do "No no no no no no yes!" Which mostly leads people to believe I'm having a Vicar of Dibley moment.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:37 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's normal - I hope

I was wondering if I had mild Tourettes. cause I exclaim "Aw FUCK"
posted by mattoxic at 8:00 AM on July 23, 2008


For me it's an exasperated "Ahh! Kill me!" followed by a slight giggle.

I'm fascinated by the variety of responses. I'd love to get them all on film.
posted by tkolar at 8:23 AM on July 23, 2008


Like someone stated above I was just going to post on this when I worked up the nerve. I experience it as more of a physical reaction and find my fists clenching up and a few times on the way to hit myself in the head to dislodge the thought...which is a tad scary/extreme I think. Especially in public.

Vocally I end up muttering or shouting depending if people are around for it to get out of my head. The reactions to that are interesting to say the least.

It is intriguing to see other people doing this as I thought I was the only one who gets this reaction to random thoughts about embarrassing things they may have done 20 years ago and that no one else remembers. It eases my anxiety about it a lot :)
posted by beautifulcheese at 8:25 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hah! I knew I wasn't the only one, but I had no idea how common this was (at least among Metafilter users) until now. I'm fortunate in that while I have the same entirely involuntary outbursts, whatever part of my brain is doing this to me seems to at least be smart enough not to generate any NEW embarrassing memories by doing it when other people are around. I'm pretty sure my cat thinks I'm nuts, though.

I used to think I was the only person with this behavior until a few years ago when a friend casually mentioned that he did the same thing in response to his own embarrassing memories. He also related that he had discovered how to make it stop!

One of the most extroverted people I've ever known, he told all his little secrets to random people he met in line or on the street! Once he'd told someone else, it was as if he'd been released from his burden, and he never had an outburst triggered by that particular memory again.

Being on the opposite end of the scale, I have never tried this (probably out of fear that if I didn't turn pink and die on the spot, that it would become a new memory to haunt me). I don't think I've ever even written one of these memories down. They do seem to age-out and stop being triggering events after about 20 years or so.
posted by brain at 8:30 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I, too, thought it was just me.

In my case it tends to be a high-pitched "boop". I've learned to turn it into a little song when I accidentally do it in public, which is distressingly often.
posted by ook at 8:32 AM on July 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


(And of course, there are the meta-"boop"s, which occur when I'm embarrassed about having "boop"ed at an inopportune moment. My brain sucks sometimes.)
posted by ook at 8:35 AM on July 23, 2008


I think I do it more if I don't sleep enough. Maybe these 'bad memories' would get purged properly if I slept the right amount...
posted by chuckdarwin at 8:39 AM on July 23, 2008


Ha! Me too. I groan and cringe and bare my teeth, and usually have to 'shake the memory out' (literally shake my head - hard - a few times) and tell myself "No, no, don't think about it, it's been and done" before I can move on.

I think it's got worse as I age because my stockpile of embarassing memories is always growing...
posted by goo at 8:47 AM on July 23, 2008


Well, this is at once reassuring and fascinating. I can't imagine blurting out the name of an ex, though. I tend to go with "fuck!" "la, la la!" or just erupt in a meaningless "gnaah!" The nice thing about the la-la-laaaing (a la Babe the pig) is that, like ook, I can then make like I'm singing if need be. If I have a split second or so to compose myself, however, I will instead do as Miko and try to manage something more urbane, like "ah, the folly of youth." Infinitely preferable to the Chris Farley-esque "God, you suck!" that once was my private stock-in-trade.

For those who don't experience this, I'd stress that for me, at least, this isn't a reaction to just any old embarrassing memory -- those just get the chagrinned shudder they deserve. The compulsive verbalization really only happens when my mind dredges up the memory of an All-Time Most Stupidest Moment Ever. I don't keep track, but I'd guess that there are maybe 20 or 30 distinct incidents in my life that elicit this response from me.
posted by mumkin at 8:50 AM on July 23, 2008


I'm not religious in the least, but my talsimanic phrase for dispelling the anxiety of previous bad behaviors is: "help me Jesus."
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:58 AM on July 23, 2008


For those who don't experience this, I'd stress that for me, at least, this isn't a reaction to just any old embarrassing memory -- those just get the chagrinned shudder they deserve.

For me there also has to be an element of surprise. Consciously dredging up a particular memory never results in a reaction, it's when I'm going on with my life and suddenly my brain goes "Hey smart boy! Remember THIS?" that gets me.
posted by tkolar at 8:58 AM on July 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


I do this, too. A lot. I do several of the variants listed here, including facial tics, "I love you", and also various profanities. Most of the time I can quash it in company, but sometimes it happens too quickly.
posted by everichon at 9:07 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'll confess to doing this as well, in 2 circumstances. One is a sudden memory of doing or saying something stupid or embarrsing, as noted. It could be a big event, or a small one. The other is having a memory of being mistreated. I'll let out an under-my-breath expletive. But sometimes, after I do it, I realize it may not have been as under my breath as thought, and wonder if anyone around me heard.

Then, I fast forward about 20 years and can totally see myself as one of those people who walks down the street cussing out an imaginary person. So I have that to look forward to.

Aw, fuck!
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:08 AM on July 23, 2008


I do this all the time.

A few years ago it became a (somewhat disturbing) gauge of the depth of my attachment to my mate when I realized "I love you presh" had displaced almost all the other weird content of these blurtings.

I decided that in my case it was happening because I always have some verbal thing circulating just below consciousness that I am actively suppressing saying aloud, and that when a really embarrassing memory surfaces unexpectedly, the suppression mechanism has to instantly switch to that memory, which allows the previously suppressed material to pop out.

By the way, is there a more flagrantly appropriate decompostion for a word in English than embarrassing (=me-bare-assing) possesses?
posted by jamjam at 9:14 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


For me there also has to be an element of surprise. Consciously dredging up a particular memory never results in a reaction


Absolutely. For me it's always something I did or said that, objectively speaking, isn't even that all that terribly bad that comes popping into my head out of nowhere to make me physically cringe and erupt in some nonsense word.

Why doesn't the opposite happen? Why don't random good memories show up out of the blue to make us coo comfortably?


I'm interested in some of the techniques people have come up with to suppress this. I must try them out. (Here's a hot tip: don't bother googling "control ejaculations.")
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:20 AM on July 23, 2008


Yep, I'm a yelper.
posted by bonaldi at 9:28 AM on July 23, 2008


Why don't random good memories show up out of the blue to make us coo comfortably?

Love is fleeting. Embarrassment is forever.
posted by ook at 9:34 AM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


Amazing. I thought I was a freak. I spontaneously double-over/cringe and sometimes make a sound like I just got punched in the stomach.
posted by the jam at 10:27 AM on July 23, 2008


Yay for this thread! I do this at least once a day! I like syzygy's idea about seizing and confronting the memory rather than letting the verbal tic "short-circuit" the unpleasant train of thought - going to try this.

An aside about this - a few years ago I was reading Dickens' "Bleak House" for the first time. Somewhere in that novel (sorry I have no way of finding the passage!) Dickens follows a minor character around for a while and gives an exact description of this phenomena - the guy has a memory of an acutely embarrassing event and gets out of it by mumbling some nonsense phrase to himself.

I tried to explain to a friend how excited I was that Dickens had illustrated this tiny psychological moment that I thought was unique to me. My friend had no idea what I was talking about!
posted by arcanecrowbar at 11:00 AM on July 23, 2008


Wow. I can't believe I am only the second person in this thread to say this doesn't happen to them.

I'm honestly sitting here reading all these, laughing, and telling myself you're all friggin' insane. Neat, though. I never noticed this compulsion in anyone before. Maybe I'll keep an eye out for it now.
posted by joshrholloway at 11:49 AM on July 23, 2008


Oh wow. This compulsion resonates with me so hard. My tic is sucking air through my teeth and grimacing.
posted by danb at 12:10 PM on July 23, 2008


If an embarrassing memory comes up (along with some sort of "oofy" noise or clutching my body like I've just been covered in slime) if I'm in the car I have to change the radio station or the track playing on my iPod. I don't know what that has to do with it but the song must go, right now...
posted by Brainy at 12:25 PM on July 23, 2008


Mine are "givemeagun!" (so I can shoot myself) and "ineedaknife" (with which to slash my wrists.) Lately, though, it's been "Nobody!" I know that this last one used to mean something, but I can't even remember what.

Uh, those are mostly uttered in my head, occasionally mumbled...I'm not walking around screaming about needing a gun...

arcanecrowbar: I just started reading Bleak House yesterday...when I find that passage I'll paste it into this thread.
posted by Ian A.T. at 12:31 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Mine results in a vicious feedback loop. A long time ago, I resolved to propose to my then-current girlfriend. Although a string of increasingly more embarrassing incidents happened that night, I was determined to go through with the proposal. In the midst of one such incident, I blurted out, "Will you marry me?"

It seems to be Pavlovian. When I get embarrassed now, the first phrase that comes to my lips (and one I'm not always successful in suppressing) is "Will you marry me?", which leads to further embarrassment. Even if I just mentally revisit those incidents, I have an almost uncontrollable urge to speak the fateful line (let's try it....yep, still there).

So, if we should ever meet and I start to blush for whatever reason, please disregard the next thing that comes out of my mouth.
posted by joaquim at 12:34 PM on July 23, 2008 [3 favorites]


Holy crap, I do this too. Entire sentences sometimes. It's really horrible, and I've always been really embarassed about it.

Yay, Metafilter. If we're insane, at least we're insane together.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:48 PM on July 23, 2008


Put me in the crowd with the rest of the crowd going, "Holy schnikees, I feel better knowing I'm not the only one that does this..."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:32 PM on July 23, 2008


Data point +1. Also feeling the upthread comment regarding twitching to the left specifically.
posted by Iteki at 3:46 PM on July 23, 2008


Yup. Same as ook. I feel slightly less odd now.
posted by mw at 4:27 PM on July 23, 2008


I definitely have always done this, and have used the same phrases as many already noted. But I also go through phases of having variations on a theme. Example: For a while, earlier this year, everything I said in those moments had something to do with eyeballs. As in, "oh my eyeball!" Or "blowing up your eyeballs now".
posted by Coatlicue at 5:34 PM on July 23, 2008


When convulsed by some withering strand of memory from my former life, "bad dog," I often say, apropos apparently of nothing and a little too loudly.
posted by Electrius at 6:41 PM on July 23, 2008


Holy cow. In my house we call this "exorcising your demons." Distressingly, this tends to happen a lot when I'm walking down the sidewalk. It's horrifying to realize that I just did it again and surely look like a madwoman. Sometimes I really have to concentrate hard to keep myself from having these little outbursts.

Whenever this happens from now on, though, I'm just going to think of you all doing the same thing and feel a whole lot better about myself. Awesome thread!
posted by HotToddy at 6:51 PM on July 23, 2008


Definitely, at the very least daily. And god, what a comfort to read this thread.

For me, all of these things come out before I can stop them and frequently cause people to ask me what is the matter:I always chalked it up to my brain being stupid. Which I am still pretty sure is the case.
posted by The Loch Ness Monster at 6:55 PM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


I just showed this awesome thread of awesomeness to my husband, who does not have embarssing memory-triggered blurt spasms. That ruled even more than reading the thread myself.

I am about this close to having "AskMe 97265" tattooed in lurid copperplate somewhere on my body.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 6:56 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I do this. Except what I do is repeat a random word or phrase a few times. Usually, it will have nothing to do with the memory itself, and will be some sort of nonsequitur. Sometimes I just say it in my head, but oftentimes it slips out.

Awesome, I feel less weird now.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:11 PM on July 23, 2008


Holy crap. I do this too. Usually it's vocal and it definitely occurs during mindless activity. I find myself muttering things like, "fuck why did I..." when these memories come up. Hell, I did it in the shower today.
posted by eyeballkid at 8:11 PM on July 23, 2008


This happens to me, but in broader circumstance: any situation I am rehearsing in my head will cause me to react physically to what befalls me in the scenario (or, if I am not in it, the character I most sympathize with).

The timing of this is funny, as I only recently realized that I do this. The understanding came upon me thusly: my mind was wondering as I rode my bike, and a particularly poignant scene played out that caused me to squeeze my hand involuntarily. The jolt this gave me was an abrupt introduction to behavior I had previously been unaware of. Since then, I've noticed it many times.
posted by invitapriore at 9:51 PM on July 23, 2008


& I'm gonna second eyeballkid here...

this happens to me when I'm doing something mindless, ESPECIALLY when I'm playing a repetitive videogame, and the rest of my mind is left wandering.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 1:12 AM on July 24, 2008


Wow, I do this too. I thought I was a freak. I guess either I'm normal, or there are lots of freaks here. If I'm normal, so are you.
posted by dg at 1:34 AM on July 24, 2008


Nth
posted by Jacqueline at 8:15 AM on July 24, 2008


also a member of the embarrassment induced Tourette's club

I didn't know this was shared by so many others,
and sure would be interesting to know what separates those who have this involuntary response
and those who have no idea what we are talking about
posted by sloe at 11:54 AM on July 24, 2008


In.
posted by hAndrew at 12:57 PM on July 24, 2008


I do this, too. When in public, I sometimes grimace as well, as I recall some past moment of past embarrassment or anger. The worst is when I remember a point in my life where I could have done things differently. Oh, boy. I looked off into space just thinking about that one.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:53 PM on July 24, 2008


Thank you all. Thanks for sharing. Now I won't feel like such such an idiot next time I blurt out "I love you" when I think of that particular ex who messed me up so...
posted by papafrita at 2:09 PM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


For me I have an involuntary shudder. Just a quick head shake to try and stop thinking about it :).
posted by OwlBoy at 8:21 PM on July 24, 2008


I do this. I usually wince and shake my hands and head quickly from side to side.
If someone asks me what the hell I'm doing, I usually say that I bit my tongue. Works every time.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:23 AM on July 25, 2008


Looks like this is a true phenomenon in need of a name.
posted by yclipse at 5:17 AM on July 25, 2008


Yup. It's a sudden contraction of the diaphragm and vocal folds for me, which results in an entirely unformed but voiced, well, noise. When I was an ultra-Calvinist teen, I was convinced it was the devil making me do it ...
posted by scruss at 6:47 AM on July 25, 2008


This is a dissertation waiting to happen.

Quick, send this to some psych PhD candidates!
posted by blahblahblah at 12:54 PM on July 25, 2008


I'm so glad this is here. I didn't think I was alone in that tic, but it sure is nice to know what company one is keeping.

This occurrence has caused me so much embarrassment and grief over the years, I've caught myself living in fear of providing another coal into the fire, as it were. I taught myself to say "monkeys" when I felt that, for a variety of reasons.

Now that feeling starts and I can blurt out "monkeys" at whatever volume best fits the occasion. Much friendlier and helps calm me down again from the little jolt of adrenalin that comes along with that surge of remembered loss or humiliation or whatever.
posted by batmonkey at 11:16 PM on July 25, 2008


This is mind-bendingly amazing. I never would have imagined that anyone else did this. I never even thought about it, analyzed it, until this thread. I blurt out a phrase of 3 or 4 random words that pop into my head, like "go on the left" or "It's right here."

My dimestore psychoanalysis would suggest that this is a diversionary tactic to prevent the people around you from "hearing" your shame, from hearing what you are thinking. I think that when a powerful feeling of embarrassment hits like this, even though it is contained in thoughts and thus not visible to surrounding people, the feeling of embarrassment or shame is strong enough to overshadow one's awareness of what is external and what is internal, and the blurting out of almost random words ( or patterns of words as reported by MeFites above) is a diversionary tactic to distract onlookers, even though they don't REALLY know what's being played out in your mind.
posted by planetkyoto at 8:47 AM on July 26, 2008


Long time reader - first time poster, but I had to post after reading this. I do this ALL the time. "oh lolly" or (and I have no idea why) "skittles" seem to be the eruptions of late.

It happens alone or in front of other people before, and I often just start humming after, so I can say "oh, I was just singing to myself..."

I really though I might have some kind of mild tourettes or something, because it really happens daily. I have carefully broached the subject with friends before - and I got some funny looks that seemed like they had no idea what I was talking about.

These are always responses to "cringe moments", embarrassing memories and the like. But sometimes they are not even moments that I did - sometimes they are embarrassing moments that I witnessed, which drives me crazy - why am I cringing over someone else's moment....?!

It is so interesting (and a little comforting) to hear that, at least I am only as crazy as the rest of you.
posted by robot rex at 11:34 AM on July 26, 2008


My suggestion, for those of use who vocalize a word or two: "Wince Words".
posted by yclipse at 7:02 AM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


Usually I just mutter some unrelated nonsense, but lately I've found it's involved "hate" a lot. For example, "HATE you!" or "Oh, I.. haaaaate..."

I tend to think of it as a way to distract myself. If nothing else, I can be embarrased about saying some stupid non sequitur for no good reason, which is usually easier on me than whatever memory just popped up.

Or maybe it's a magic spell to ward off the unhappy memory demons.

I bet another thing we all have in common is that we were afraid to tell anybody, because, y'know, embarrassing memories, plus talking to yourself? GREAT combination.

I like "Wince Words".
posted by Kalthare at 2:16 AM on July 29, 2008


I said BURN! once while having one of those memories.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:51 AM on July 29, 2008


I do this too. Every once in a while for no reason I'll recall something from high school or elementary school that was horrifying, and physically wince... sometimes putting a hand on my face as I try to shake the memory out of my head. And it's not rare that I'll be driving, think about an ex boyfriend, and find myself saying something like, "Well of COURSE I was upset. You were being an ass."
posted by miss lynnster at 9:13 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


That said, I also do it when I remember good things. I'll remember a meaningful conversation and wince that I can't go back there and give someone a hug or say something better than I did. A lot of times because I was young and didn't know the things I know now.

It'll be a long time (if ever) before I'll stop replaying my last conversation with my dad in my mind during the strangest of times. Every once in a while, without realizing it, I'll stare into space and repeat his last words to me out loud (imitating his deep voice): "I don't feel good. I WILL talk to you later." and I wish I'd stop doing that. People in earshot are like, "Uhhh, okay... bye?"
posted by miss lynnster at 9:21 AM on July 29, 2008


Wow. Just wow. Until reading this thread I actually thought I might be suffering from some form of low-level turrets (which who knows, maybe we all are).

This happens to me whenever I recall embarrassing moments. They could be from yesterday or from 20 years ago (although the childhood ones seem to have a greater emotional pull). I'll often make some nonsense noise or just as frequently say "you f--kin' f--k" which as far as I can tell is directed at myself. Most often this happens when I'm driving or on the can and my mind is wandering. When I'm around other people it definitely turns into fist clenching.
posted by Smarson at 11:58 AM on July 30, 2008


haha great question .. no time to read all the responses but rest assured.. I have done the exact same thing.

Mine is more like Tourette's though, so if anything that is bad .. but I wouldn't worry about the need to make a sound of some sort though. Its kind of like a healthy release of the embarrassment, me thinks
posted by Ryaske at 7:59 AM on July 31, 2008


I do it, but only for one particular set of memories, and it has only been in the last couple years. Never happened before, that I can recall. Sort of a "wistful whimper" sound.

...the occurrence appears to be random, and the sound/memory appear to happen at the exact same moment (ie., I don't remember, and then react, they're simultaneous).

And yes, it's an embarrassing memory.
posted by aramaic at 8:26 AM on July 31, 2008


I do a Dr. Zoidberg gesture or sound (or both).
posted by grobstein at 8:36 AM on July 31, 2008


WAIT also I snort like a pig.
posted by grobstein at 10:03 AM on July 31, 2008


I remember being small and seeing my mother washing dishes, mumbling to herself and saying 'shit' a lot. I never knew what that was about until one day I was doing dishes, thought of some old boyfriend, grimaced, mumbled and said 'shit' and instantly thought - "why is she (my mother) doing that?" - only to realize that it was me.

And I felt terrible sorry for us both - all that time she'd been beating herself up right in front of me.

These days, I mumble, grimace and say "I'm Ayyyyy-Shamed", as if I am acknowledging the sensation.

Lovely thread.
posted by anitanita at 7:06 PM on July 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Oh. My. God. I have been sitting here reading every single comment, laughing so damn hard I have to keep wiping away the tears to read. This is the funniest shit I have read in a very long time.

Um.. yeah, and I do it too.

And just like everyone else, I too thought I was the only freak with some kind of weird emotional Tourette's syndrome. I have a private name for it: accumulated case of the weebie jeebies.

I call it that because I don't say any particular words, but whenever I remember something particularly embarrassing, shameful by whole body jerks, shudders and spasms for a moment and I make this strange vocalization noise. It also happens every one in awhile without the associated thought or feeling.

Can you say "validation" boy and girls? I knew you could. Hello fellow freaks.
posted by trixare4kids at 8:56 AM on August 3, 2008


I suffer from this.

If I'm listening to my iPod when it happens, I'm compelled to change the track, regardless of what is currently playing, and with no destination track in mind except for one that is different. That's weird, eh?
posted by Cantdosleepy at 8:20 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I do this too! I do the "I love x" thing and "I miss x" and I'll say other random things, too.

I talked about this with friends once, and two of them both said that they have violent images pop up in their head when they remember something embarrassing. One's was decapitation.
posted by hought20 at 5:03 AM on August 8, 2008


Oh, wow. I do this too all the time, especially in the past 5 years or so. One phrase that seems to be stuck in my head is "I want to go home." I have no idea where it came from and I often say it... you know... at home.

This thread makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.
posted by brundlefly at 12:26 PM on August 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


When this happens to me, I ululate like a Muslim at a protest. I'm pretty sure that if I had a tin tray to hand, I'd bash myself over the head until I was bloody as well.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:17 PM on August 21, 2008


I am reading this with my jaw dropped in awe. I laughed, I cried, I became aware. Blurting is what I do mostly. Sometimes I'll shake the memory out or clench my hand. But sometimes a word will just pop into my head and "chinchilla" is floating out there. WTF?? I'm laughing so hard right now. Wow. Thanks for these memories.
posted by eddiebaby at 11:44 PM on January 28, 2009


I do this too, but I didn't always. I used to dwell on those memories of humiliation, dragging myself down in a spiral until I was convinced that I was utterly worthless and unredeemable.

Over time, I learned to dismiss those embarrassing thoughts, the process manifesting itself as a sound or shrug, or more recently, a smile. It's a coping mechanism to remind me that I'm existing in the here and now, not in my past mistakes.

Now I tend to laugh at those silly moments in memory.
posted by trebonius at 8:29 AM on June 3, 2009


I was finally going to post on this and now I am feeling such love for everyone because I now know I'm not some psycho weirdo! (well, maybe) I kept thinking I had to have some bizarre mental problem because I've never noticed anyone else that does this, at the office, for example. So if there are that many other people that do this, maybe it isn't as noticable when I do it, as I think it is. ? I can only hope!
posted by Eicats at 11:34 AM on July 22, 2009


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