new emotions

That Feeling When Humiliation From Years Ago Hits You All Over Again

We updated Roger Hargreaves’s Little Miss and Mr. Men universe as a suggestion to include some of our new emotions.  Illustration: Zohar Lazar

This week, the Cut is exploring a scientific theory that suggests we have infinite emotions, so long as we can name them — and so we did, asking writers to identify new ways to feel.

Rembarrassment: An overwhelming feeling of humiliation at the memory of an awkward or shameful experience from long ago; often acute and unrelated to current circumstances.

You’re in eighth grade. You’re gangly, shy, and slow to transition out of the hand-me-downs from the boy down the street. You recently entered a Supercuts with high hopes they might bestow upon you a fun, flippy bob; you left with what is, unmistakably, a mullet. You are teased without mercy for these and other things it hasn’t even occurred to you are weird until they are brought to your attention via mockery from your peers. You spend most days trying to disappear.

Your English teacher is an alcoholic, which has little to do with this story beyond accounting for her penchant for assigning non sequitur oral presentations so she can sit in the back of class and put her head down. Next year, she will be fired when it’s confirmed her thermos frequently contains Long Island Iced Tea, but for now you are beholden to her hangovers. Her latest idea is to have students present their favorite songs and make note of poetic devices in the lyrics.

By this point, you’ve already begun failing the school-mandated hearing tests. Still, this assignment feels like a reprieve — you come from a musical household and have read all the liner notes in your father’s large collection of CDs. You know just the song you will pick: the Rolling Stones’s “Sympathy for the Devil.”

When the day comes, you stand before the class and wax on about the subjective nature of history and the brilliance of telling a story in the first person from the villain’s perspective. As you talk, you can hear your classmates’ snickers. When you’re finished, you see one of the popular girls lean across her desk to whisper something to her friend. They both burst into laughter.

What someone has neglected to tell you is the rest of the girls have chosen their songs exclusively from Britney Spears’s new album, Oops! … I Did It Again. You sit through a dozen presentations of how Britney uses end rhyme, and no one in the class talks to you much after that.

Twenty years later, you lie in bed, your mind blissfully empty, when suddenly you are awash with rembarrassment — the feeling of their eyes on you and the mystery of the joke contained in that whisper all churn your stomach afresh.

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That Feeling When Old Humiliation Hits You All Over Again