Secondhand Embarrassment

What does secondhand embarrassment mean?

Experiencing embarrassment for someone else

Secondhand embarrassment is when you witness someone get embarrassed, and you are vicariously embarrassed yourself. For example, you may be secondhand embarrassed for a girl after she trips and falls in the lunchroom, spilling her food everywhere and on herself.

The term derives from secondhand smoke, a phrase coined to detail the effects smoke can have on non-smokers close to those smoking. But in this case, instead of smoke, it's embarrassment.

Secondhand embarrassment is not only a feeling; scientific studies have shown that the same parts of the brain activate when seeing someone embarrass themself as when they see someone hurt themself. Although it often is uncomfortable at the time (you may feel like your stomach is jumping out of your body), secondhand embarrassment is actually a good thing since it comes from our ability to empathize with others' shame.

Secondhand embarrassment may range from the mundane to the extraordinary. For example, you might experience secondhand embarrassment for Michael Scott when watching the "Scott's Tots" episode from The Office. Or, you may experience secondhand embarrassment for a groom at an actual wedding when the bride runs out on him.


OMG, I just saw someone's marriage proposal get rejected on the jumbotron. I'm feeling so much secondhand embarrassment rn
Oh man. Total cringe
Tweet about secondhand embarrassment for Kylie Jenner
Tweet about secondhand embarrassment for Kylie Jenner

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Updated January 25, 2023

Secondhand embarrassment definition by

This page explains what the slang term "Secondhand embarrassment" means. The definition, example, and related terms listed above have been written and compiled by the team.

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