How to deal with memories of long past embarrassments?
March 4, 2008 7:32 PM   Subscribe

How to deal with memories of long past embarrassments?

First off, I am sure that a lot of the answers to this question (assuming it gets any of course) will be along the lines of: Get Therapy. This is both potentially correct and completely useless. I likely will seek out such resources though, for various reasons, that will probably be in July or later. What would be useful would be more specific recommendations for what kind of resources to look for in the greater Seattle area (preferably north Seattle). I've never been to any kind of therapy so what kind of specialties to look for or what to expect would also be good info.

I especially am wondering if anyone else knows what I am talking about here and if they know of anyone for whom treatment was successful.

Ok, that out of the way, I need help coping with a mental problem. What it boils down to is that whenever I am not concentrating on an activity (eg: reading, video game, painting etc...) I invariably and uncontrollably remember minor embarrassing incidents from as much as 20 years ago. It's like living in a bad Chris Farley movie. As soon as my attention wanders even a bit immediately I remember, as if living it over again, some stupid minor cringe inducing maddening faux pas.

Things that were a minor embarrassment years ago torment me constantly. Oddly enough, usually bigger mistakes not so much. I know on some level that these memories were minor incidents at the time and should have no bearing on my life now but I just can't stop. I feel incredibly guilty about forgetting my wallet when going out and having to borrow a few bucks from a friend in high school.

And it's getting worse. Once in a while I'll have a bad day where I have to completely tune out the world and focus on something for 6-8 hours or end up a gibbering wreck (eg: must sit in a quiet space and read an entire novel cover to cover, or play a computer game that is difficult enough to require real concentration all day). It doesn't happen often but it does seem to be getting more frequent.

So, any links to resources, advice or similar anecdotes would really help me out. Thanks.
posted by Riemann to Health & Fitness (48 answers total) 78 users marked this as a favorite
I had this problem for a number of years myself.

I think the first thing at play here is that you are blaming yourself for these incidents. If they happened so long ago, it's OK to forgive yourself for any role you might have played.

It might also be productive to talk to others who were involved (if they're still around). Chances are they won't remember this huge, embarrassing event.

Therapy might help, because there are definitely deeper issues at play here. You need to think about what it is you're really worried about, because it's likely that it's not these minor incidents.

Good luck.
posted by reenum at 7:38 PM on March 4, 2008

You have to realize that everyone embarrasses themselves. It's the human experience. Take pride in your fuck-ups!
posted by mpls2 at 7:40 PM on March 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

For me, this type of thinking about the past is correlated with stress in the present. Finding ways to reduce stress may be helpful.
posted by winston at 7:43 PM on March 4, 2008

I do this when I am under stress or depressed. I have not sought treatment for this, so take what I have to say cum granos salis, and certainly give preference to the advice of professionals/those with professional experience, etc.

What I do is sit and mentally visualize either the actual resolution of the embarrassing issue (I borrowed and ruined my mother's pants---> I eventually bought her new ones), or I make up a resolution and replay it over and over in my head. At some point, I believe, my brain just can't tell the difference any more.

Hope this helps, even to know that other people do this as well.
posted by oflinkey at 7:43 PM on March 4, 2008

I used to suffer from this, but I rarely do nowadays.

My strategy was to say to myself any of several things:
- boy, that was pretty funny really! I'm glad I don't do that shit any more!
- hey ho, nothing I can do about that, so dwelling on this is pointless, so now I'm going to think about something else.
- (treating it as an external voice) Fuck off! I am just fine!

and then actively focus on some pleasant thing in the future that I was planning or looking forward to.

In retrospect, I invented my own personal version of CBT. Get "Feeling Good" out of your closest public library, and it will offer a lot of different strategies for dealing with these kinds of unpleasant thoughts.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:46 PM on March 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

Meditation technique I learned to combat a similar problem:

Get in relaxed and calm position and stay like that for a bit. Don't worry about whatever thoughts come into your head, just try to stay relaxed for a few minutes. I find focusing on breathing helps.

After a few minutes, mentally imagine yourself alone in a space (room, outdoors whatever) and your thoughts as individual balloons (or whatever shape you want) then just let the thoughts flow, but instead of reacting to the thoughts, just examine them as if you were a third party. For instance "Oh that's when X occurred" or "Oh I remember that." The key part is not to get react, but just let the memories flow. In time, they seem to not effect as much and eventually go away.

For more specific recommendations, try EMDR Therapy. It may sound weird or strange to you, but give it a shot, you may be surprised. Just approach it with an open mind.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:50 PM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Similar problem, smaller scale -- find it useful to desensitize myself -- unsparingly review the event again and again in my mind, and eventually I stop reacting and can let it go. If you have an infinite repository of embarassing events, this might not work; I usually find myself focusing on a few particular incidents that I can address and let go... incidents keep arising, unfortunately.
posted by bluenausea at 7:51 PM on March 4, 2008

If these embarrassments happened twenty years ago, then the person who fauxed the pas isn't you. It was somebody else who used to live in your body -- not that that's the same after twenty years, either. Heck, if something happened last month, you could make more or less the same case. So... why are you beating yourself up over someone else's mistakes?

That said, I do this too, though not as severely as you do. I am not sure I would want to give it up completely, because it does remind me to never do those things again.
posted by kindall at 7:51 PM on March 4, 2008 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for those responses. (especially so quick).

I understand that everyone embarrasses themselves and that these things (which, btw seem to be selected at random from as far back and pre-school) are not my fault / not important or anything to worry about. But, as I think is often the case, there is a disconnect between consciously thinking "that's no problem" and being able to stop feeling terrible.

Making up a resolution or attempting to alter memories is not an option I could live with. My mother does that (often within seconds she will remember something completely different from reality as having occurred) and I spent most of high school grounded for things I never said / did. I find it to be one of the most disgusting and aggravating traits imaginable.
posted by Riemann at 7:54 PM on March 4, 2008

Good advice from reenum. I have been guilty of kicking myself in the teeth as well. What has helped me is: I had to change my self-talk, and I did this in part by forgiving myself daily for things in my past. It sounds trite, but do your own version of self-affirmation every day. Let this become your new habit.
Also, read this:

You don't exist.
You just think you do.
We're nothing but the stories we tell ourselves. We know in our hearts what kind of people we are, what we're capable of, because we've told ourselves what kind of people we are. You're a carefully-rehearsed list of weaknesses and strengths you've told yourself you have.
(Self-confidence, for example, is a particularly nebulous quality you can easily talk yourself out of having.)
You owe no allegiance to that self-image if it harms you. If you don't like the story your life has become — tell yourself a better one.
Think about the person you want to be and do what that person would do. Act the way that person would act.
Amazingly enough, once you start acting like that person, people will start treating you like that person.
And you'll start to believe it. And then it will be true.
Welcome to your new self.

I've forgotten who wrote this so I'm sorry I can't give credit where it is due.
posted by rockhopper at 7:56 PM on March 4, 2008 [87 favorites]

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, chapters 8 (Self Talk), 9 (Mistaken Beliefs), and 10 (Personality Types & Anxiety) are highly recommended for issues such as these.

From the reviw on the above link:
"The Authoritative Guide to Self-Help Resources in Mental Health (Norcross, et al., 2003) gave the book its highest rating and praised it as a highly regarded and widely known resource. Thousands of mental health and medical professionals recommend this book to their clients and patients every year. Simply put, it is the single finest source of self-help information on its topic available anywhere.

posted by IAmBroom at 8:00 PM on March 4, 2008

From long experience I have discovered that nobody else remembers any of this shit except oneself.
posted by unSane at 8:06 PM on March 4, 2008

WOW, I thought I was the only person that did this. You describe it perfectly, especially the part about not focusing on anything specific then the even comes back as though you are experiencing it again, and the fact that they might have been small things, in the grand scheme. I do this daily, at least. I could be mowing the lawn, running on the treadmill, cleaning the bathroom, anything where my mind wanders, it doesn't matter. The shuddering feeling of embarrassment is is as strong today as it was then. What's really weird, is that certain tasks actually tend to trigger certain regrettable/embarrassing memories, i.e., mowing the lawn always triggers the same memory, whereas cleaning the bathroom triggers another (both memories have nothing to do with lawn clippings or toilet scrubbing).

The weird thing is it doesn't happen if I'm doing boring things, like just proverbially picking my nose, watching mindless TV shows, or even just staring at the ceiling. It is always accompanied by repetitive and mundane tasks. Generally, I end up analyzing it from every possible angle, looking for the logic in my actions or what would have been the right thing to do, and usually I come to the same conclusion (which is inconclusive, or just more regret).

As for dealing with it, I try to do the obvious and focus on something. For me that usually means changing the task to something REAL (playing with my daughters, talking to my wife, browsing AskMeFi).

I would second Feeling Good, it's a good book, Although I haven't cracked it in some time. Also, your obvious answer, therapy.
posted by tdischino at 8:07 PM on March 4, 2008

I want to clarify now that I have read your answer, Riemann. It is not that I make up a resolution and then believe it happened like it actually did. It is more like the "I should have said this during that conversation!" and then saying it in your own mind so that at some level, it was said. I can't hijack my memories and actively change them, I can only visualize a resolution and try to get my emotions to calm from that.

posted by oflinkey at 8:07 PM on March 4, 2008

I will be tracking this thread with interest, since this is something that I have struggled with as well. In my case, it seems to be the worst at night when I am trying to sleep. My mind takes the opportunity to rehash minor incidents dating back to childhood, in some cases. It is spectacularly frustrating and stressful, and I feel for you. I wish I had some good advice about how to resolve it, but I haven't really been able to do so.

I have noticed that it gets worse when I am stressed out about other things in my life, so if there are additional stresses you have, it may help to work to resolve those. Or, if there are certain activities or rituals that help you relax, try that.

One other kind of random thing... I am a huge Elvis Costello fan, and one of his songs ("This is Hell") includes the lines:
It's not the torment of the flames
That finally see your flesh corrupted
It's the small humiliations that your memory piles up

I picked up on that one day when I was struggling with this pretty bad, and it helped me to think, "Hey, this must happen to Elvis Costello, too!" Silly, maybe, but it was sort of comforting to think I wasn't alone.

On preview: Also, what unSane said.
posted by christie at 8:11 PM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'll chime in here and say I mostly agree with oflinkey and I am joe's spleen. I had this happen to me frequently when I was sliding down the Anxiety + Depression Spiral.

The "(treating it as an external voice) Fuck off! I am just fine!" method was pretty effective for me, but I imagine that's up to your own personal psychology.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:15 PM on March 4, 2008

You can't fix things from 20 years ago. That's why you are focusing on them. If it was something you could fix, you would fix it and it would go away. Instead, you are focusing on something you can do nothing about. Why? Because you don't want to think about some thing that is bothering you right now and only something you can do nothing about can fully take up your entire field of vision in such a way as to prevent you from dealing with something you don't want to deal with. Find out what that thing is and deal with it.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:15 PM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Someone up above mentioned meditation; I want to elaborate on that a bit. When you're meditating - with whatever goal, and not necessarily an 'empty mind' - it's natural to have distractions, especially at first. You'll notice there are sounds around you, you'll worry about work or projects that aren't going well, whatever. One of the things any good teacher will tell you is that this is natural, and that your next step shouldn't be to try to forcefully get rid of it, but to acknowledge that it's there. Think about it for a bit, if you have to, but don't punish yourself if you can't get rid of it. Eventually, though, with practice, you'll be able to let it go, and continue meditating. This skill is one that you'll be able to make use of when not meditating, and it sounds like it could be useful for your specific worries.

Essentially, your goal is to be able to step back a moment and say to yourself: "I'm having this thought. It's maybe not a very helpful thought, but it's there. But while it's there, at least I recognize that it's trying to be more important than it really is. Hello, thought." (Yes, I know that sounds corny and hokey; but it's hard to describe it otherwise.)

I'd recommend reading some stuff by Thich Nhat Hahn; a lot of it is about forgiving yourself and loving yourself. He is a Buddhist teacher, yes, but many of his essays are light on stuff that is explicitly Buddhism, and are useful whether or not you consider yourself a Buddhist.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 8:24 PM on March 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

This is less about whatever happened in the past than it is about feeling anxiety now. If your past changed you would probably have the same anxieties about different things. The most important thing for you to be concerned with is your anxiety, not your past. Learn about anxiety, try the things that are being recommended here. If your anxiety becomes disabling, consider medication.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:24 PM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Imagine your mind is a TV show.

Say in an announcer voice "And now this!"

And then re-run The Kitten Show. They are so fluffy, and warm, and cute, with adorable tiny paws.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:27 PM on March 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

When I was in the sixth grade, I heard a nasty slur for the first time, walking through the hallway at school. Not knowing what this word meant, I called a boy this name in class, a kid who teased me incessantly. He, of course, told on me, and then the teacher embarrassed me in front of the whole class. And I still didn't know what this word meant, and probably didn't for a long time. But this situation kept me up at night for years later; the memory could instantly ruin my mood, and I'd dwell on it forever. It wasn't the only memory that could do that either, but it's one of the most vivid examples that I can remember.

I like i_am_joe's_spleen's coping strategies, especially treating it as an external voice and telling it to go away, forcefully. But my main strategy is to just replace it: think about something else as fast as I could, anything else. Talking to celebrities in my head, imagining flying around the neighborhood and impressing my friends - something different, fantastic, and positive. It seems like you have to resort to some really stringent attention-centering devices, but with time, it gets easier. It's like a learning curve, where you slowly get better at pulling your attention away from these bad memories.

Other than suggesting therapy, I wish I had some substantial sources to link you to. It's a self-destructive thought process, and I hope you conquer it very soon.
posted by andeles at 8:28 PM on March 4, 2008

I taped a piece of Louise Hay's philosophy adjacent to the toilet so that as I sat every morning I would read this: You are each responsible for all of your experiences.

Every thought we think is creating our future.

The point of power is always in the present moment.

Everyone suffers from self-hatred and guilt.

The bottom line for everyone is, "I'm not good enough."

It's only a thought, and a thought can be changed.

Resentment, criticism, and guilt are the most damaging patterns.

Releasing resentment will dissolve even cancer.

When we really love ourselves, everything in our life works.

We must release the past and forgive everyone.

We must be willing to begin to learn to love ourselves.

Self-approval and self-acceptance in the now are the keys to positive changes
then I flushed.
posted by hortense at 8:36 PM on March 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

Zoloft. Seriously. Most people forget these things. I suffered from the same recurrent thoughts, the same virtual humiliations that play and replayed themselves in my head for years. Zoloft helps me remember that I'm not alone, and that the past doesn't need to control me.

There's also scientology, but that seems to have its own risks. Good luck. Learning to deal with the past is a sign of maturity. Some people need medication. And if that is you, there is no reason to be ashamed.

If you can deal with these recurrent thoughts without medication, more power to you.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:57 PM on March 4, 2008

This used to be a HUGE problem for me. I found that CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) techniques really helped me a lot. So did SSRI's, which helped me stop freaking out while I learned these techniques. I highly recommend the Shyness & Social Anxiety Workbook, since I think a lot of this embarrassment (at least for me) stems from social anxiety.
posted by tastybrains at 8:59 PM on March 4, 2008

My mother does that (often within seconds she will remember something completely different from reality as having occurred) and I spent most of high school grounded for things I never said / did.

Wow, that sounds like it would be incredibly maddening. Have you talked about this with someone? To me, that's another vote in favor of therapy. I can't imagine getting through a situation like that without a lot of things I'd need to talk about.
posted by salvia at 9:06 PM on March 4, 2008

I am so glad you asked this question. I have often considered asking it myself. I have suffered with this problem for about twenty years, sometimes worse than others. The memories come at me so suddenly sometimes that it's like being kicked. I agree that it seems to be related to the stress you are experiencing now, and is not really so much about what you did in the past.

Anyway, I did come up with one thing that helps. I had a serious illness not too long ago that could have killed me. When it became apparent that it wouldn't, I began to think of the pre-illness me as a different person. Now when these horrible memory darts hit me, I remind myself that the person who did that was not me. Could you find some kind of similar dividing line in your life, and forgive yourself for everything that came before?
posted by Enroute at 9:42 PM on March 4, 2008

I don't have an 'answer', but I'm adding on anyway as another reader who has experience with the same recurring problem, so that you realize it's pretty common. Heck, this thread just made ME realize it's pretty common.

Mine is usually based on guilt (merited or not) or a feeling that I should have done more/better/sooner. I usually blame my religious upbringing for twisting me up so, but I think it's a deeper and broader, more commonly human problem. High expectations-of-self (and of others) certainly play a part for me, as does the current (not remembered) stress level.
posted by rokusan at 9:58 PM on March 4, 2008

Use them as inspiration for a stand up comedy routine and try it out at open mike night at a local comedy club. (IIRC, Giggles has an open mike night, and I think Discover U teaches a class on stand up comedy.) That will help you see that a) they are funny and b) you will not be a social pariah if others find out about them.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:44 AM on March 5, 2008

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is what you need to help you retrain your self talk. Even if you don't find a therapist now, you can do a lot on your own. I've had good results with the book Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life. It offers a lot of tricks for trying to change your thoughts so they are just thoughts and no longer trigger unpleasant emotions.

My own trick that I developed years ago is to replay the memory as if it were someone else doing the embarrassing thing. Then forgive the poor dumb kid for being awkward and foolish. I've found it's a lot easier to forgive someone else than to forgive myself.
posted by happyturtle at 1:11 AM on March 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

For me it was the realization that regret (in it's many forms) is the most pointless wasteful emotion. I still do it but rather than dwelling on it I just roll my eyes at myself for being so pointless and get on with it. :) I have better things I could be doing.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 1:22 AM on March 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

I believe you might have a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder. I have it, not the hand washing kind, but the obsessive thought kind. I've always remembered this time when I was with my somewhat uptight aunt and uncle, and they put my little cousin to bed, and he was crying, and I thought I could quiet him down, so I went into his room and he cried even harder when I left. And my uncle, out of nowhere, was like "that was a really bad idea". I felt so embarressed.

Anyway, that's 27 years ago but when I think about it I still get embarressed. But I've grown out of thinking about it, and just accept it. I'm not sure why I remember it so vividly.

I got this book called Brain Lock about OCD and it's been helpful. One of the things it recomends is not analyzing your thoughts, just accepting that they are ridiculous and replacing them with other thoughts. I've found this to be very helpful. So if you remember some bad memory, instead of asking yourself why you are thinking of, you just say, oh...that's the OCD talking, and you disassociate yourself from the thought. Instead of dwelling on it, which is what you are doing when you analyze it.

I recomend the book. You can get it very cheap, used, on Amazon. I think I paid $3.
posted by sully75 at 4:19 AM on March 5, 2008

My own trick that I developed years ago is to replay the memory as if it were someone else doing the embarrassing thing.

I was going to suggest the same thing. You could perhaps write the story down and read it back as if it were written by someone else if you want to add a bit more structure to the process.

Also, check out the Royal Goof Society founded by distinguished physicist Max Tegmark and his brother Per. The purpose of the society is to celebrate "goofs", which are rated on separate 10-point scales for style and content. I particularly like the style scoring, you get extra points for such things as having ignored warnings, making a failed attempt to cover up and so on. Maybe you'll discover that one of your past embarrassments warrants a "perfect 20" but the site provides some pretty tough competition.
posted by tomcooke at 4:57 AM on March 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

You get better what you practice at. You've been practicing remembering and feeling bad, and now you are really good at it. Practice not doing it. Experiment with ways to distract yourself, focus your thinking and learn to live in a different mind set.
posted by ewkpates at 5:22 AM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Good heavens, I thought I was alone in this particular agony.

"The Flashback Machine", as I have come to call it, replays the most awful and humiliating moments of my life: being laughed at by packs of predatory popular kids, getting fired from jobs, and so on. It has tormented me all of my adult life.

I am afraid that I don't have any answers, though I intend to avail myself of the excellent suggestions here. I just wanted to speak up to add my voice to those saying that you're not alone in this.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:44 AM on March 5, 2008

I do this too. What kills these memories dead is finding an actual, honest-to-god bright side.

Talked back to a teacher and got shamed? You must have had balls, talking back like that. It's too bad some teachers don't like seeing their kids acting so brave.

Made a social gesture that fell flat? That's so kind of you, making a big gesture like that. Most people would have been too scared to even try, but not you.

Humiliating career failure? Gee, it's great being so ambitious that you're not scared of reaching too far!

Stage fright? That makes you ballsy, creative and ambitious — three for one!

Awful misunderstanding with SO? Pick one: Boy, I bet the make-up sex was hot! / Aren't you glad that train-wreck of a relationship is over? / You were so good to her. It's too bad she couldn't appreciate it.

We get exposed to a lot of fake optimism. The fake shit does not work. If these sound cheesy, it's because you've heard them before, from other people, as fake, pat, plastic answers. Trust me: when they're true — when you realize you really were a brave third-grader, or a good boyfriend, despite the undeserved humiliation you got — it's not cheesy, it's liberating.

And any situation (at least, any one that's mild enough to be just embarrassing and not tragic or infuriating or despair-inducing) has a bright side. Default: learn something really worthwhile from it. They say, "Hey, at least I learned something really worthwhile from it." Say it so you believe it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:47 AM on March 5, 2008 [4 favorites]

I tend to think of myself as a pretty healthy person, mentally and otherwise, but this is the one thing that I really used to suffer from. My mind would dig out some ridiculous memory from when I was 10, or 13, or 8 or whenever - something from long ago that really wasn't all that embarrassing if I thought about it rationally, but my mind simply would not let me forget.

I agree with the posters above that CBTherapy is a very good option. I also agree that these memories surface more when there is more current stress in your life. I think the biggest thing that helped me, however, was remembering - and really believing - this quote:

A man should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying that he is wiser today than he was yesterday. -- Alexander Pope

Truly believing that you are better today than you were yesterday, and understanding that everyone makes mistakes and that everyone learns from them, is key. Nobody is perfect. Nobody. And if you, like me, were brought up to pursue perfection, it can be really hard to let the bits of imperfection go. So instead, remember that the imperfections are what make us strong and make us who we are. It's not about never making mistakes or having embarrassing things happen to us, it's about what we do with those mistakes/events.
posted by widdershins at 6:49 AM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't discount medication. I take a low dosage of Ativan in moments of OCD replays and it works wonders. The loop stops, my brain clears and I'm free.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 7:53 AM on March 5, 2008

I'm going to recommend a couple relevant threads, although the specifics of the sorts of obsessive thoughts vary -

As I state in the last thread I experienced a definite improvement in this with a very low dose of paroxetine (Paxil) - but ultimately I elected to live without that, and they did get worse again, though I felt like that period gave me some breathing room that may have facilitated developing better mental defenses. But at this point I'm honestly ambiguous about whether medication was "worth it." I did take a long time to decide to experiment with it and I'm glad of that. However effective it actually was I'm confident it would not have been near so much without the foundation of a bunch of regular talk therapy.

I've said this before, I know it sounds like a hollow gimmick, but the thing that has done more for me than anything is developing a rational, assertive interior voice to which I try to respond to this sort of bad-loop thinking as soon as I notice these thoughts. As soon as I'm conscious of what I'm doing I allow them no excuse or regard or rational justification in my mind. These things are artifacts, like your thumping heart if a loud noise surprises you, and I attack their intellectual foundations as actively and explicitly as I can manage. I can't always stop them but over time I've found they have less and less potency.
posted by nanojath at 10:03 AM on March 5, 2008 [6 favorites]

Since there are a lot of good responses here, and you're already considering therapy, I'll throw out one that's slightly off-the-wall:

Watch daytime "reality" television. Talk shows, game shows, courtroom TV. Seriously. You will feel much better about yourself when you see how abso-fucking-retardedly these people reason, make (and defend) decisions, and conduct their lives. Unlike you, they seem to have no sense that they are embarassing themselves whatsoever.

I tend to dwell on little embarassments from years ago myself, and watching stoopid Americans on TV makes me laugh and exclaim, "Ha, they can only WISH they had made the same blunder I did years back!"
posted by Rykey at 10:16 AM on March 5, 2008

I'd just like to "ditto" the OCD comments. I've got it, mainly obsessions, and I have exactly what you're talking about. The moment may not have even registered on anyone else's radar when it happened, but on playback it's a huge deal.

I don't have a quick fix like the others, I've just noticed that when my OCD is stronger, so is this problem.
posted by starbaby at 10:48 AM on March 5, 2008

Go here, here, or here to see what I mean.

See, you're not so bad ;)
posted by Rykey at 11:01 AM on March 5, 2008

I do this too. Always have. Good memories fade, but embarrassment lasts forever, especially the trivial unimportant things. Knowing that those embarrassing memories are trivial and meaningless is not helpful (in fact it makes it worse, because i get in a cycle of getting upset at myself for being upset over something so trivial and meaningless.)

But it happens most often when I'm having other problems (work or family stress, seasonal depression, etc) -- it's like my brain wants to be feeling bad, so latches on to any old memory it can that'll fulfill that need. The fact that you're losing whole days to this suggests that you're in a similar situation: there's more going on than just the twinge of old faux pas.

As for resources: you already know this, and again if you're losing whole days you shouldn't wait until summer to get started. Therapists are all on a sliding scale, you can too afford it, whatever various reasons you have for not seeking it now are probably bogus, if you're in school check with your campus first, shop around until you find someone you're comfortable with, for more details read any of the umptyziddlysquillion AskMes on the subject.
posted by ook at 11:06 AM on March 5, 2008

I don't understand why nobody has suggested unburdening your brain by taking what is private and shameful to you and making it public. Take the monster out of the closet and you'll see that nobody hates you and the monster is really not all you've imagined it to be.

Tell your embarassing moments to someone. Or blog them. Or start an anonymous blog.

But stop bottling them up isn't doing you any good, as they appear to be trying to get out all the time.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:24 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am particularly plagued by this tendency. It's almost as if I'm not careful, my brain will get caught on a shame treadmill and I can't get off for hours. It's part of my super fun anxiety issues. It's compulsive, destructive, and very misery-making.

I'm dealing with it through a combination of talk and cognitive behavioral therapy and awareness and meditation techniques; or, basically, the same things I'm using for my anxiety in general. I haven't been able to make myself stop doing it, but after a year, I'm getting much better at short circuiting the treadmill (and my other compulsive anxious thoughts and behaviors).

I've often compared learning to deal with my anxiety with learning to play a musical instrument. I have to practice every day, it isn't very much fun, it requires a large amount of will and determination, and frequently is crap to listen to. However, I'm also amazed at how, with practice, I feel better and more in control. So, in short, therapy is what I recommend, particularly if it involves the CBT elements that can help you learn to change these ingrained behaviors.
posted by mostlymartha at 3:04 PM on March 5, 2008

Do you REALLY think that anyone else is still thinking about those incidents? Nobody sits around everyday thinking to themselves, "gee, so-and-so really crapped in his pants when he made that presentation two years ago, what a loser."

Two fucking years ago! You're the only one who ever gave a shit about this stuff. Everyone else forgot it in less than a week.

Go through that mental dialogue every time, and just move on already. It's what I do and it always makes me feel better.
posted by BeaverTerror at 7:02 PM on March 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

When my brain starts doing shit like this to me, I take it out into the sunshine for a good long walk. Preferably one that goes up hills and down hills and up hills and down hills and up hills and finishes off coming back to my house downhill when my legs are pretty much starting to turn to jelly. And along the way, I start remembering that walking hard feels really good, and then I start realizing that in fact it has been at least a couple months since I did this last, and then I start doing a good long hard walk at least once a week, and in a couple weeks I'm sleeping better, I'm less physically stiff, I'm more relaxed all day and my brain has come good again.

Endorphins are a lot cheaper than SSRI's, have no negative side effects at all, and for moderate depression and anxiety are rather more effective.
posted by flabdablet at 11:30 PM on March 14, 2008

Sorry I'm late to the party, but here's another previous question on this.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:35 PM on March 24, 2008

Oops, didn't mean to link to my specific comment, but to the thread.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:36 PM on March 24, 2008

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