According to the Macmillan Dictionary, embarrassment is a “feeling of being nervous or ashamed because of what people know or think about you.” Its close synonym is shame. The feeling of embarrassment is common to humans and is linked to other emotional issues like worry, fear, and anxiety—particularly social anxiety.
Embarrassment stems from various reasons with varying levels of seriousness. A student caught cheating and a student teased about a crush can both experience embarrassment. Regardless of the reason, many would prefer to avoid this feeling, as it is uncomfortable.
The Bible has a lot to say about embarrassment, although the word is rare in the pages of Scripture. It appears 29 times in seven translations. The Amplified version (AMP) uses it seven times, the New English Translation (NET) uses it 18 times, and the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) uses it five times. The synonym shame appears more frequently.
Embarrassment is first mentioned in Genesis 2:25, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not embarrassed or ashamed in each other’s presence” (AMP). This was prior to the fall, so the origin of embarrassment can be traced to sin. Things changed after Adam and Eve ate the fruit. Then the couple, who were once at ease with each other, felt shame (Genesis 3:7,10).
Embarrassment may or may not be a sin, depending on the context. Feeling embarrassed by Jesus and His gospel can be considered sinful (Matthew 10:32–33; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26), whereas being self-conscious about a smudge on one’s shirt is not. However, embarrassment is often linked with sin and self. What do people think of and like about me? How could I have made the same mistake again? What if they knew what I did last night? Such questions reveal the roots of this feeling.
Peter is an example of how embarrassment can be connected to sin and self. He denied Jesus out of fear and self-preservation. The resulting sorrow after the cockcrow came from shame for his sin (Matthew 26:69–74; Mark 14:66–72; Luke 22:55–62; John 18:15–18, 25–27). Judas felt similar remorse, but his worldly sorrow led to no repentance (Matthew 27:3–10; 2 Corinthians 7:9–10).
Embarrassment can also arise from the sinful actions of others and traumatic events that distort one’s perception. Victims of abuse and those exposed to constant degrading comments may feel shame, even about their existence. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is another trigger.
It is important to note the embarrassment that can come from being a Christian. First Peter 4:16 states, “However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” Biblical Christianity is not popular, and every committed follower of Jesus should expect to be mocked, brushed off, or even hated. This is particularly evident in evangelism. Sharing the message of Jesus is harder in a postmodern world. But we must still share the gospel and not be ashamed of it (Romans 1:16).
We will always face embarrassment, but there are biblical ways to manage it. When it comes from self and the need to please others, we should remember that our identity is in Christ (1 Peter 2:9; Colossians 3:3–4; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20). We have God’s full approval and don’t need to crave the human counterpart (Colossians 1:22; 1 John 3:1; Ephesians 1:6; Romans 5:1, 10).
The Christian who’s embarrassed because of sin should find solace in the words of Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The redemptive work of Christ is sufficient, and God is always ready to restore any broken fellowship. We also need to build our confidence in Jesus and the truth of Christianity to avoid being ashamed of Him. Dwelling on Scripture, praying, listening to sound teaching, and engaging in a healthy church can help. Apologetics is also a valuable study.
Tackling the deep sense of embarrassment that comes from abuse and trauma can be more complex and requires the expertise of a trusted Christian therapist or counselor.