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Let's Talk About Humiliation

I have a Ph.D. in shame, so I know a little something about humiliation. Although to be honest, I haven’t studied it much in the literature. I wanted to jump on here and briefly share what I do know about humiliation. From experience and reading about it.

I’m trying to keep my videos short, so this is not a deep dive.

At its core, shame is a self-conscious emotion that makes us feel like we are wrong or bad. Guilt on the other hand is: “I have done something bad or wrong.” It’s external. You feel guilty for having done something. This might spark shame, so the two are closely connected because now you feel bad or wrong for having done something you perceive as bad or wrong.

Most of us don’t like to think of ourselves as bad or wrong, because it’s embarrassing. So, embarrassment is a by-product of shame. You can feel embarrassment when you’re alone privately, or publicly in front of others, which increases the intensity because being seen as shameful feels like the worst offense, this is when we are getting into humiliation territory.

Humiliation is often directed at us from others, usually publicly. Public shaming is a form of humiliation because you are being shamed in front of others. The goal is to make you ashamed publicly. See how this is different than simply doing something that makes you feel bad or shameful.

Humiliation is someone or a group of people set out to intentionally make you look bad or wrong in front of others.

I raise this because we underestimate the power of public shaming. But historically, shame was used as a form of punishment. Officials used to think it was more painful and effective than prison. We still find public shaming used as a form of disciplinary action. Again, this has to do with how society frames shame as the worst.

As Marit F. Svindseth and Paul Crawford (2019) explain in "Healing, Neutralizing, and

Preventing Humiliation," “public shaming, that is, humiliation, can drive people into

psychologically compromised states, which, in turn, may develop into self-or-other-directed

violence” (pp. 3–4).

If we are serious about having our shame covered and hidden, when others

threaten to expose said shame we will go so far as to enact violence as retaliation, fight shame with shame, and get aggressive, says Dr. Brené Brown (2010). Some will stop at nothing to keep their shame hidden, including meeting those who draw shame in them with revenge, intimidation, counter-shame campaigns, or violence.

Have you ever been humiliated? What did it feel like? How long did it take to recover? If someone humiliated you, did you find it easy to forgive them? Did you retaliate? Did your relationship with them survive? I’ll end it here.

Until next time, in solidarity

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