You have been insulted, your ego is bruised, your pride is hurt, you have been shown powerless and diminished in some way, and now you are hurt and mad as hell! You have just been humiliated, it is unfair, and you don't like feeling foolish. Humiliation often results in violent retaliation and revenge.
Remember, at the end of the day, the only opinion of yourself that matters is your own.
- Feeling disrespected.
- A loss of stature or image.
- An image change reflecting a decrease in what others believe about your stature.
- Induced shame
- To reduce the pride or fail to recognize the dignity of another
- An event perceived to cause loss of honor and induce shame.
- Feeling powerless.
- Being unjustly forced into a degrading position.
- Ridicule, scorn, contempt or other treatment at the hands of others.
Root: from Latin humilis, low, lowly, from humus, ground. Literally, “reducing to dirt”.
Synonyms include losing face, being made to feel like a fool, feeling foolish, hurt, disgraced, indignity, put-down, debased, dejected, denigrated, dishonored, disrespected, dis'ed, defamed, humbled, scorned, slighted, slurred, shamed, mortified, rejected, being laughed at. While humility is considered a strength, humiliation is hurtful; the distinction pivots on autonomy.
Appreciation is the opposite of humiliation.
Humiliation involves an event that demonstrates unequal power in a relationship where you are in the inferior position and unjustly diminished. Often the painful experience is vividly remembered for a long time. Your vindictive passions are aroused and a humiliated fury may result. There are three involved parties: 1) the perpetrator exercising power, 2) the victim who is shown powerless and therefore humiliated, and 3) the witness or observers to the event.
Because of the powerlessness and lack of control that it exposes, humiliation may lead to anxiety.
Humility is recognizing and accepting our own limitations based on an accurate and modest estimate of our importance and significance. The humble person recognizes he is one among the six billion interdependent people on this earth, earth is one planet circling the sun, and our sun is one of a billion stars in the presently known universe. Because of this broad and sound perspective on her significance, the truly humble person cannot be humiliated.
Humility reduces our need for self-justification and allows us to admit to and learn from our mistakes. Our ego stands down.
Humiliation and Shame
Shame is private, humiliation is public.
The essential distinction between humiliation and shame is this: you agree with shame and you disagree with humiliation. Humiliation is suffering an insult. If you judge the insult to be credible, then you feel shame. Others can insult and humiliate you, but you will only feel shame if your self-image is reduced; and that requires your own assessment and decision. A person who is insecure about their genuine stature is more prone to feeling shame as a result of an insult. This is because they give more credibility to what others think of them than to what they think of themselves. This can result in fragile self-esteem.
People believe they deserve their shame, they do not believe they deserve their humiliation. Humiliation is seen as unjust.
Forms of Humiliation
Humans have many ways to slight others and humiliate them. For example:
- Overlooking someone, taking them for granted, ignoring them, giving them the silent treatment, treating them as invisible, or making them wait unnecessarily for you,
- Rejecting someone, holding them distant, abandoned, or isolated,
- Withholding acknowledgement, denying recognition, manipulating recognition,
- Denying someone basic social amenities, needs, or human dignity,
- Manipulating people or treating them like objects (it) or animals, rather than as a person (thou).
- Treating people unfairly,
- Domination, control, manipulation, abandonment,
- Threats or abuse including: verbal (e.g. name calling), physical, psychological, or sexual,
- Assault, attack, or injury
- Reduction in rank, responsibility, role, title, positional power, or authority,
- Betrayal, or being cheated, lied to, defrauded, suckered, or duped,
- Being laughed at, mocked, teased, ridiculed, given a dirty look, spit on, or made to look stupid or foolish.
- Being the victim of a practical joke, prank, or confidence scheme.
- False accusation or insinuation,
- Public shame, disrespect, or being dis'ed, downgraded, defeated, or slighted
- Forced nakedness,
- Rape or incest,
- Seeing your love interest flirt with another, induced jealousy, violating your love interest, cuckolding,
- Seeing your wife, girlfriend, sister, or daughter sexually violated,
- Poverty, unemployment, bad investments, debt, bankruptcy, foreclosure, imprisonment, homelessness, punishment, powerlessness,
- Denigration of a person's values, beliefs, heritage, race, gender, appearance, characteristics, or affiliations,
- Dependency, especially on weaker people,
- Losing a dominance contest. Being forced to submit.
- Trespass such as violating privacy or other boundaries,
- Violating, denying, or suppressing human rights,
- Losing basic personal freedoms such a mobility, access, or autonomy; being controlled, dominated, intruded on, exploited, or manipulated,
- Diminished competency resulting from being disabled, immobilized, tricked, weakened, trapped, mislead, thwarted goals, opposed, sabotage, or let down.
- Diminished resources resulting from being defrauded, robbed, cheated, evicted, or being deprived of privileges, or rights,
- Having safety or security reduced by intimidation or threat,
- Dismissing, discounting, or silencing your story,
- Being treated as an equal by a lower stature person.
The Paradox of Humiliation
An insult usually hurts, but it is important to resolve in your own mind, based on evidence, why the insult hurts. What loss does it represent to you? Decide if the insult:
- is an unjustified attack that does not decrease your stature, diminish your self-image, nor tarnish your public image or reputation, or
- is justified and has diminished your public image or reputation, or
- is justified and has diminished or revised your self-image.
Begin the analysis by deciding if the insult is based on information that accurately represents you. Then reflect and consider if your image accurately represents your stature. If you decide the insult is unjustified then you can simply ignore it (“don't take the bait”) or you can describe why it is unfair and ask your offender for an apology. If your public image exceeds your stature, then the insult may a justifiable retaliation for your arrogance and it may contain an important message you can learn from. If the insult is justified it may cause you to feel shame and then lead you to revise your self-image to better align it with your stature. The insult is never justified if it is an attempt to reduce your stature below the threshold of human dignity.
Public Image, Self-Image, Stature, and Revenge
For an insult to diminish your public image, the public has to believe it is true. For an insult to diminish your self-image or self-esteem, you have to believe it is true. An insult cannot diminish your stature because your self-image is not your self. An insult may cause you to reassess your self-image or self-esteem.
Revenge is often sought as a remedy for humiliation; perhaps using the phrase “protecting honor” as justification. But revenge cannot be an effective remedy for humiliation, because it does nothing to increase your stature.
Humiliation is more demeaning and hurtful than “taking offense” at something. “Taking offense” is cognitive; you have questioned, disagreed with, or attacked my beliefs and perhaps my values. We disagree, and I think you are wrong. Offense is intellectual; it is about what I think. “Humiliation” is visceral; you have attacked me, my being, my self, and made me feel foolish about who I am. The attack is personal and credible enough that you have caused me to doubt my own worth, and thereby induced my shame. Humiliation is existential; it is about who I am.
Humiliation has been linked to academic failure, low self-esteem, social isolation, underachievement, marital conflict, delinquency, abuse, discrimination, depression, learned helplessness, social disruption, torture, and even death. People in power use humiliation as a form of social control; it is a common tool of oppression. The fear of humiliation is also a powerful motivating force.
Although shame and humiliation are human universals, the particular circumstances and events that cause humiliation can vary greatly from one culture to the next. An event that is benign in one culture may cause great offense, shame, and humiliation in another. For example:
- Under Islamic law a woman who spends time alone with an unrelated man brings great shame to her family.
Victims of humiliation may be able to achieve resolution through either of two paths. The first is to reappraise the humiliating experience in some way that acknowledges the victim's strength and ability to cope with a difficult situation. This approach increases self-confidence and diminishes the fear of humiliation. The second path is to leave the degrading environment and find a more appreciative environment.
- “The most dangerous men on earth are those who are afraid they are wimps.” ~ James Gilligan
- “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt.
- “The truly humble person cannot be humiliated.” ~ Donald Klein
- “The fear of humiliation appears to be one of the most powerful motivators in individual and collective human behavior.” ~ Donald Klein
- “Persistent humiliation robs you of the vantage of rebellion.” ~ M. Silver
- “Ridicule is man's most potent weapon.” ~ Saul Alinsky
- “The difference between how a person treats the powerless versus the powerful is as good a measure of human character as I know.” ~ Robert I. Sutton
- “When you dismiss my story you dismiss who I am; you diminish me.” ~ Leland R. Beaumont
On Apology, by Aaron Lazare
Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank, by Robert W. Fuller
Violence, by James Gilligan
The No Asshole Rule, by Robert I. Sutton
Relation of Threatened Egotism to Violence and Aggression: The Dark Side of High Self-Esteem, Psychology Review, 1996, Vol. 103, No. 1, 5-33, by Roy F. Baumeister, Laura Smart, Joseph M. Boden
Humiliation and Assistance: Telling the Truth About Power, Telling a New Story, by Linda M. Hartling, Wellesley College
The Humiliation Dynamic, Donald C. Klein, Ph.D., The Union Institute
Humiliation: Assessing the Specter of Derision, Degradation, and Debasement, Linda M. Hartling (1995) Doctoral dissertation. Cincinnati, OH: Union Institute Graduate School.