(n.) Finnish; that secondhand embarrassment you feel when someone is making a fool of themselves, vicarious shame, or shame by proxy. From myötä- (“co-”) +‎ häpeä (“shame”).

For some with deep empathy, their myötähäpeä is so acute as to hide under the covers during movies or television scenes when a character is being ridiculous, or to avoid parties where certain relatives are bound to make an embarrassing entrance.

If you’ve never felt it, you probably haven’t had kids yet …

Photo by Tony Alter via Wikimedia Commons.

Leave a comment 4 Comments

  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    Can you hear me laughing??? I love this fun word for a human condition that happens as I recall starting as a young child. Remember dreading being around those relatives that were always doing embarrassing stuff at gatherings? When you are small there is no where to run and so you just try and hide behind your Mom trying to be invisible. Then when I got to be a parent and my kids did things that caught me off guard, I remember those same feelings of aghast washing over me. There still wasn’t anywhere to run too!! LOL!!

  2. Karlyne says:

    My kids never did it to me (perfection, after all), but books and movies most certainly do! I’m cringing just thinking about cringing.

  3. Krista says:

    Oh yes. I have felt this way many times! Interestingly enough it’s more because of my husband than it is my children! He’s really good at embarrassing me at all the worst moments, but we tend to laugh about it later on!

  4. Lisa Von Saunder says:

    great word for those of us who have families like mine- ie way out there! I was often the source of their myötähäpeä however as well. nope no one is shy in my extended family.

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