Getting Over Embarrassment and Self-Consciousness in the Role of Teacher

Mary Anne recently suggested we talk about being self-conscious as a teacher. Since self-consciousness is more or less the same as embarrassment, this triggered my longstanding desire to do a study of embarrassment in the Course. It is particularly prevalent in the early dictation, and then, significantly, reappears twice in the Manual for Teachers. This reappearance makes sense, because the role of a teacher is one of being on stage, so to speak, performing in front of others. As a result, embarrassment will quite naturally arise.

What follows are passages that mention embarrassment. The beginning ones are from Helen’s shorthand notebooks, then we have one from the Urtext, and two from the Manual.

A—You better reread them now. There is nothing special or surprising about this at all. The one thing that happened that was the Universal Miracle which was the experiences of intense love you have felt. (don’t get embarrassed—things that are true are not embarrassing. Embarrassment is only a form of fear, and actually a particularly dangerous form because it reflects egocentricity.)…

Do not feel guilty about the fact that you are doubting this. Just reread them, and their truth will come to you. I love you. And I am not afraid or embarrassed or doubtful. My strength will support you, so don’t worry and leave the rest to Me.

Comments: Helen was embarrassed over the intense spiritual love she experienced at times. But Jesus says she shouldn’t feel embarrassed over what’s true. If the love was valid, if then there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Then Jesus says that embarrassment is a particularly dangerous form of fear, dangerous because it’s egocentric.

Jesus later comforts her by asking her to lean on him. He says he loves her, and in contrast to her, he is not embarrassed about his love. His love for her is totally valid, so why should he be embarrassed?

What is embarrassment? There are a couple things to consider in coming to a definition. One is that you are really only embarrassed when the attention of others is on you. You don’t get embarrassed unless someone else is around. Another is that you do not just feel embarrassed when you’ve done something wrong. Just having attention put on you is enough to do it. Even getting a compliment can do it. In view of all that, here is my proposed definition:

You feel embarrassed when you are exposed to the attention of others and you fear that they will see something unworthy or invalid in you.

People are seeing you. You feel exposed. And in that exposure, you fear that they will see something wrong with you, something inadequate, unworthy. It’s as if you have been standing on a faulty foundation and now people will see that.

So I said, suddenly a little timid and very surprised, “You mean You think I’m nice?” and burst into tears. And He said He must think so, really, because He keeps giving me everything, and He’s not angry because I keep on rejecting him, but he is sorry because I suffer so much for no reason. I told him I really do love Him, but I have trouble about it (though I did mean it for a little while anyway, before I got embarrassed), and He said he understood very well, and would keep on trying.

Here is Helen again being embarrassed about love. Why is love so embarrassing? I think it has something to do with the fact that when we love something, that love feels very central to who we are. It is therefore particularly exposing. As our love exposes that central place in us, we are particularly prone to fearing that people will see something unworthy at our very core. Maybe that unworthy thing, we think, will be our love itself. Maybe they will believe that we love something that really should not be loved.

Following the right involuntary guide enables you to recognize both physical and spiritual dangers, and provides the means for avoiding each of them in the most efficient way.

This is a case in which the end does justify the means. It is only when means and ends are not of the same order of reality that there is fear. It arises out of the inescapable awareness which man was given by God for all time, that only the appropriate means can work for the different kinds of ends he must accomplish before he can achieve his one end.

This awareness is a built-in check which was necessary if man was to use the temporary expedient of time usefully. While there is time, communion and bread are both necessary. Without either, man feels deprived, and he cannot escape by confusing the two. All depression and all fear and embarrassment ultimately stem from this confusion.

The basic idea here is that when means and end are of the same order of reality, all is right. We feel at peace and without fear. Means and end being of the same order means we use material means to achieve material ends, or spiritual means to achieve spiritual ends. When we mix them up—for instance, using material means to achieve a spiritual end—that’s when we feel afraid. This mixing up of the spiritual and material, confusing the two, is the source of all embarrassment. Why? In light of later passages, I think it has to do with confusing ourselves (spirit) with the body (material). When we think we are this body, then attention directed at us naturally causes embarrassment because the body is so inherently flawed. How many of us are OK with being physically exposed given our highly imperfect bodies?

Note: The Biblical quotation “if you are ashamed of me I will be ashamed of you” is interpreted as a threat only as long as you remain at the first step [realizing you can’t hide, though you really want to].

What it really means is that if you are ashamed of me (or embarrassed by love), you will project and therefore make it impossible for me to reach you.

Make every effort you can not to do this. I’ll help you as much as you will let me.

Helen felt embarrassed by her love of Jesus, ashamed about how deeply she felt about him. She then projected this onto Jesus, seeing him (erroneously) as being ashamed of her. That is the real meaning of that biblical line, “if you are ashamed of me I will be ashamed of you.”

Note re Wally: Your intense reaction to him involves both denial and projection. Wally’s chief weakness is mockery, which he utilizes because he is embarrassed by love. He does not yet have your own strong counter-component, which has made you able to sustain a great amount of intense but unnecessary conflict. You hate him because his solutions remind you of your own troubles, which become magnified by this kind of defense.

My best guess about the meaning of this: Helen hates Wally. He is embarrassed by love, which he then covers up by being mocking. (This is the story of all my teenage crushes. I felt embarrassed by being in love and then covered that up by mercilessly mocking the poor girl.) Helen is also embarrassed by love, but not being as weak as Wally, she doesn’t have to resort to the indirectness of mockery. She covers her love up by being more directly confrontational, which leads to “a great amount of intense but unnecessary conflict.” When she looks at Wally, he reminds her of her own embarrassment of love and defense against love. So she projects her self-hate onto Wally. Now she hates him.

Returning to Mrs. Albert (not Andrews), she corrected your error about her name without embarrassment and without hostility, because she has not made your own mistake about names.

She is not afraid, because she knows she is protected. She made the correction only because you were inaccurate, and the whole question of embarrassment did not occur to her.

She was also quite unembarrassed when she told you that everything has to be done to preserve life, because you never can tell when God may come and say “Get up, Dave,” and then he will.

She did not ask what you believed first, and afterwards merely added, “and it’s true, too.”

The right answer to the SCT item is: When they told me what to do, I: referred the question to the only Real Authority.

You took a lot of notes on “Those who are ashamed of me before men, them will I be ashamed of before God.” This was rather carefully clarified, even though the quotation is not quite right, but this does not matter.

The important thing is that elsewhere in the Bible it also says “Those who represent (or plead for) Me to men will be represented (or pleaded for) by Me before God. (Note: this quotation is also not in correct Biblical phrasing, but it is what it means. Note that one who represents also “witnesses for.” The quotation thus means that you represent or “witness for” the Author in which you believe.

Your witnessing demonstrates your belief and thus strengthens it. I assure you that I will “witness for” anyone who lets me, and to whatever extent he himself permits it.

Helen had identified the person with their name. But Mrs. Albert hadn’t made this mistake, so when Helen got her name wrong, Mrs. Albert was completely unruffled. Her name had been mistreated but she hadn’t. So she corrected Helen’s mistake without either embarrassment or hostility.

Helen also had been embarrassed by/ashamed of her love for Jesus. Mrs. Albert, however, spoke up freely and without embarrassment on behalf of Jesus when she said that God could come and raise Dave from his deathbed. Saying this was, according to Jesus, a miracle that Mrs. Albert gave Helen. It showed that Mrs. Albert’s authority was not another person but God. If she had asked Helen what she believed first, that would have implied that she was only going to say what Helen agreed with. That would have made Helen her authority. Instead, though, she offered her conviction about God without testing the waters first, thus showing that God was her Authority.

As a result, just as Helen being ashamed of Jesus kept him from reaching her and helping her, so Mrs. Albert being unashamed allowed him to “witness for” her.

Here we have two ways in which Mrs. Albert was unembarrassed. One was correcting Helen about her name. The other was speaking up for her belief that God could heal Dave. Both stemmed from an immense security she felt about herself. Jesus said “she knows who she is” and “she knows she is protected.” Clearly, her security about herself was all about her sense of connection with God.

Do not attempt to break God’s copyright, because His Authorship alone CAN copy right. Your own right authorship does not lie in remaking His copies, but in creating LIKE Him.

Embarrassment is ALWAYS an expression of egocentricity, an association which has been made before. Both of you have completed the SCT stem: When I was called on to speak—with—”I became embarrassed and COULD NOT SPEAK.” This should be corrected to “Recognized my Authorship.”

Tell B. that he cannot be embarrassed by his own words unless he believes that HE is responsible for them. We have already corrected “word” to “thought,” and he IS free to allocate the authorship for his thoughts as he elects. He can speak from his Soul or from his ego, precisely as he chooses. If he speaks from his Soul, he has chosen to “be still and know that I am God.” These words are inspired, because they come from KNOWLEDGE. If he speaks from his ego, he is DISCLAIMING knowledge instead of AFFIRMING it, and is thus dis-spiriting himself.

The dis-spirited have no choice BUT to be narcissistic, and to be narcissistic IS to place your faith in the unworthy. Your real worth IS your divine authorship, and your Soul is its acknowledgement. (Urtext, from the equivalent of T-4.In)

A lot of ideas are woven in here, but let me try to summarize them. When Bill is called on to speak and feels embarrassed, it is because he is identifying with his ego and speaking from his ego. God is his Author, but he has decided to break God’s copyright and remake himself. This self, however, is unworthy. Therefore, when he identifies with it, he places his faith in the unworthy and feels unworthy, and hence dispirited. Now, when he is called on to speak, and attention is directed at him, he becomes embarrassed and cannot speak. If he speaks, the faulty nature of his supposed foundation (his making of himself) will be on view for all to see.

Instead, he needs to acknowledge his true Authorship, realize he didn’t create himself, identify with his Soul, and speak from it. Now he will feel inspired rather than embarrassed and his thoughts and words will flow from his true Author.

The real basis for doubt about the outcome of any problem that has been given to God’s Teacher for resolution is always self-doubt. And that necessarily implies that trust has been placed in an illusory self, for only such a self can be doubted. This illusion can take many forms. Perhaps there is a fear of weakness and vulnerability. Perhaps there is a fear of failure and shame associated with a sense of inadequacy. Perhaps there is a guilty embarrassment stemming from false humility. The form of the mistake is not important. What is important is only the recognition of a mistake as a mistake. (M-7.5)

The reason the healer doubts the outcome of a healing is because he doubts himself and doubts the healing he gave—similar to Bill’s feelings about speaking. (He then projects this self-doubt onto the patient, thinking that the patient didn’t adequately receive the healing.) The problem is that he is trying to trust the wrong self. He is identifying with and relying on his illusory self. Out of this identification it only seems fair and just to feel humble—in the sense of unworthy—about himself, and then out of that humility to feel embarrassed.

So, when you identify with the self you made, you feel a lack of worth and validity. You feel as if you are standing on a shaky, unsound foundation. Then, when attention is directed at you—especially at you performing a role—then you fear that others will see this unsound foundation.

A major hindrance in this aspect of his learning is the teacher of God’s fear about the validity of what he hears. And what he hears may indeed be quite startling. It may also seem to be quite irrelevant to the presented problem as he perceives it, and may, in fact, confront him with a situation that appears to be very embarrassing. All these are judgements which have no value. They are his own, coming from a shabby self-perception that he would leave behind. Judge not the words that come to you, but offer them in confidence. They are far wiser than your own. God’s teachers have God’s Word behind their symbols. And He Himself gives to the words they use the power of His Spirit, raising them from meaningless symbols to the call of Heaven itself. (M-21.5)

Here, a teacher of God has been approached by a patient who brings a presented problem (assumed to be medical, but it could also be mental/emotional). The teacher needs to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and speak from that. What hinders his ability to do this, however, is that he fears the validity of what he hears, which doesn’t come from him and which may not seem to fit the presented problem. Yet he feels responsible for these words, and so if they are invalid, then he is invalid. That is why he finds the situation embarrassing.

Again and again, then, we see the same thing. When we identify with a faulty self, we fear its exposure before the eyes of others. Since love is a statement of who we are, we fear our love being exposed, because that will expose the faultiness of who we are. We are embarrassed to speak our convictions, even if they might help someone else, because they too expose who we are, so that our invalid nature can be seen by everyone. We are embarrassed to speak, period, because our poor performance, we feel, will reveal to everyone the inadequacy of the person doing the performing. Even when we let the Holy Spirit speak through us, we feel responsible for what is said, feel it reflects on us, and therefore fear that its lack of validity will expose our lack of validity. We are embarrassed by our efforts to heal another, because the expected failure of the healing will show what a failure we are.

All of this comes down to identifying with the wrong self, the self we made. We identify with the body, and because of its imperfection, we feel embarrassed. We identify with our ego and see the words it produces as revealing of its/our own lack of worth. We identify with the illusory self and thus doubt its ability to heal, and feel embarrassment when it fails.

The key, then, is to refuse to identify with the self we made, refuse to identify with a self that is unworthy, that has no sound foundation. We need to consciously identify with the soul and speak from the soul. We need to claim, rather than break, the copyright God holds on us. We need to acknowledge Him as our Author. We need to not feel responsible for our identity.

These are all familiar ideas, of course, but I see at least two things that are perhaps new. One is the importance of consciously reminding ourselves of this while in the teacher role. The other is that the motivation for doing this is to be free of crippling embarrassment and self-consciousness. We tend to constantly see our identity as putty in our own hands, as if we are constantly molding and shaping our image and our very self. This idea can seem attractive, since we can then mold ourselves into something really special. But what if the result of this idea is undermining and even chronic feelings of self-consciousness and embarrassment? What if the result is feeling that our very identity is constantly standing on a faulty foundation? That at our very core there is something fundamentally and irretrievably wrong with us? That is powerful motivation to stop just trying to ramp up our usual efforts at molding ourselves better, and instead drop the whole idea that we are a sculpture of our own making.

[Please note: ACIM passages quoted in this article reference the Foundation for Inner Peace (FIP) Edition.]

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