Shame vs Embarrassment: Difference and Comparison

The words shame and embarrassment are sometimes used interchangeably without much concern, especially in spoken or verbal English, however, there is a lot of difference between both the words and their usage in written and verbal English.

It is true that in some given contexts, shame and embarrassment can be interchanged, but as two independent words, they mean different emotions.

This article will help you understand the proper usage and meaning of both these commonly used words.

This article highlights the differences and meanings of both terms and helps you understand the requirement of both using examples and a descriptive table.

Key Takeaways

  1. Shame relates to a deep sense of worthlessness or failure, while embarrassment stems from a temporary social faux pas.
  2. Shame is linked to moral or ethical violations, whereas embarrassment arises from social or behavioral mistakes.
  3. People tend to internalize shame, while embarrassment dissipates as the situation resolves.

Shame vs Embarrassment

In English, shame refers to the feeling of guilt or embarrassment from an unintentional wrong deed. In this emotion, the person regrets their action that led to the consequences. Embarrassment is an emotion that arises from an uncomfortable situation or social awkwardness. This emotion is not self-inflicted.

Shame vs Embarrassment

The meaning of the word ‘shame’, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour’ and ‘sad or regretful circumstance or behaviour’.

According to ancient meanings, shame has always been used as the emotion to conceal or hide from the masses or any situation due to self-realization or guilt.

The word itself has a lot of emotional magnitudes and describes the situation or mindset to be uncomfortable due to self-action and guilt or mistakes.

When speaking of the term ‘embarrassment’, it is very much used colloquially as this term describes many of our life’s situations perfectly like; “ The crowd looked and laughed at me as passed by, it was funny, but I was very embarrassed”, this sentence describes that embarrassment not necessarily has to do with something negative or realizations like guilt.

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An embarrassment can occur for various reasons, commonly converging to the definite meaning of uncomfortable and social awkwardness. Due to some misinterpretations and similarities, it is confused with the terms ‘shy’ and ‘shame’.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonShameEmbarrassment
MeaningThe word shame clearly translates to “covering yourself.” It is a human feeling that is nearly uncontrollable.A feeling of self-consciousness or social awkwardness that causes situational awkwardness.
EtymologyOld English sc(e)amu (noun), sc(e)amian ‘feel shame’, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch schamen (verb).Early 17th century in embarrass from French embarrasser, from Spanish embarazar.
OriginThe word shame has been used since Old and Latin English began.It has derived from the term embarrass, which is a relatively newer word in Latin English.
PronunciationIt is pronounced as “shaym”It is pronounced as “uhm·ba·ruhs·muhnt”
ExampleIt is a shame that the bar next street got shut down.
The guilt inside you causes shame.
The embarrassment caused me to quit the dance.
She was flushed by embarrassment.

What is Shame?

The Oxford English vocabulary defines shame as an unpleasant sense of embarrassment or sorrow induced by the awareness of incorrect or stupid behaviour and a sad or remorseful event or behaviour.

According to ancient definitions, shame is used to cover or hide from people or any circumstance due to self-realization or remorse.

It is also prone to experiencing both shame and humiliation simultaneously, especially when one is discovered presenting wrong info or lying about something based on facts or is decisively true.

External circumstances, such as individuals, might cause someone to feel ashamed, whether or not they are aware of it.

In a more usual scenario, someone could be put in a state of humiliation and shame by their acts or words, which is referred to as “to shame.”

Furthermore, “carrying a sense of shame” does not necessarily mean “being conscious of one’s guilt”, it is necessary to understand that ‘shaming’ another person is an act of creating hatred and humiliation, which results in consequences.

The term ‘shame’ holds deep meaning and hence cannot be confused with a neighbouring term ‘embarrassment’.

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The colloquial usage of this term is very common, and as mentioned earlier, this is a word that describes the unexplainable yet uncomfortable situations we face in our daily lives.


What is Embarrassment?

Embarrassment is a feeling that a person as if he or she perceives that what he or she has done is not culturally or socially acceptable in an un-strict manner.

Based on the situation, it entails a certain amount of loss of dignity and an increase in awkwardness.

Embarrassment and shame are remarkably similar, but they have two different characteristics: shame can originate from an individual’s actions that are solely understood and comprehended by yourself, but embarrassment does not.

Additionally, shame is the outcome of socially inappropriate conduct, even if it is not ethically reprehensible.

Unlike shame, embarrassment may not always be self-inflicted, but guilt, apart from circumstances when it is objectively ‘assigned,’ is virtually always self-inflicted.

Embarrassment could be a highly personal feeling relating to someone’s nature, as in situations when unwelcome scrutiny, or just too often, in one’s private issues, has resulted in embarrassment.

People with superior complexity who believe they are perfect can undergo this embarrassment phase at some point in their life, and it can be lethal.

Reports show that many people have a fear or phobia of embarrassment that results in them becoming antisocial and unsociable humans in their daily life.


Main Differences between Shame and Embarrassment

  1. Shame translates to “covering yourself”, it is a human feeling that is nearly uncontrollable, whereas embarrassment is a feeling of self-consciousness or social awkwardness.
  2. Synonyms of shame include humiliation, ignominy and chagrin, whereas synonyms of embarrassment include awkwardness, self-consciousness and discomfort.
  3. Shame is not a subjective or personality-dependent trait, but embarrassment is a subjective and personality-based trait.
  4. Shame can be self-inflicted, like guilt and doing something stupid, but embarrassment can occur due to the public and the masses.
  5. Shame is something that occurs when you do something that is socially forbidden or unacceptable, but embarrassment can be caused by social awkwardness.
Difference Between Shame and Embarrassment

Last Updated : 13 July, 2023

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8 thoughts on “Shame vs Embarrassment: Difference and Comparison”

  1. The article is very comprehensive and its engaging way of discussing the differences between shame and embarrassment is truly thought-provoking.

  2. This article takes on a very professional and intellectual approach in explaining the meanings and differences of shame and embarrassment. A delightful read!

  3. This article does a wonderful job of explaining the differences between shame and embarrassment. I would really love to read more articles like this!

  4. I must say, the discussion and analysis of the psychological and emotional aspects of shame and embarrassment are very insightful and educational.

  5. The article provides insightful historical context on the words that adds great depth to the understanding of shame and embarrassment. It’s quite enlightening.

  6. Interesting how this article delves deep into the etymology, pronunciation, and examples of shame and embarrassment. I appreciate the in-depth analysis.

  7. The comprehensive explanations and real-life examples provided really help in understanding the complex emotional concepts of shame and embarrassment. Great work!


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