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Public·200 Sugar Warrior
Matthew Hernandez
Matthew Hernandez


Humiliation is the abasement of pride, which creates mortification or leads to a state of being humbled or reduced to lowliness or submission. It is an emotion felt by a person whose social status, either by force or willingly, has just decreased.[1] It can be brought about through intimidation, physical or mental mistreatment or trickery, or by embarrassment if a person is revealed to have committed a socially or legally unacceptable act. Whereas humility can be sought alone as a means to de-emphasize the ego, humiliation must involve other person(s), though not necessarily directly or willingly.



A person who suffers from severe humiliation could experience major depressions, suicidal states, and severe anxiety states such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The loss of status, like losing a job or being labeled as a liar or discredited unfairly, could cause people inability to behave normally in their communities. Humiliated individuals could be provoked and crave for revenge, and some people could feel worthless, hopeless and helpless, creating suicidal thoughts if justice is not met. It also can lead to new insights, activism and a new kinship with marginalized groups.[4]

Feelings of humiliation can produce 'humiliated fury',[5] which when turned inward can result in apathy and depression, and when turned outward can give rise to paranoia, sadistic behaviour and fantasies of revenge. Klein explains, "When it is outwardly directed, humiliated fury unfortunately creates additional victims, often including innocent bystanders. When it is inwardly directed, the resulting self-hate renders victims incapable of meeting their own needs, let alone having energy available to love and care for others." He goes on to say, "In either case, those who are consumed by humiliated fury are absorbed in themselves or their cause, wrapped in wounded pride..."[6]

A study by researchers at the University of Michigan revealed that "the same regions of the brain that become active in response to painful sensory experiences are activated during intense experiences of social rejection." In other words, humiliation and loneliness are experienced as intensely as physical pain.[7]

Donald Klein described humiliation as "a powerful factor in human affairs that has, for a variety of reasons, been overlooked by students of individual and collective behavior. It is a pervasive and all too destructive influence in the behavior of individuals, groups, organizations, and nations."[6]

A society that suffers from humiliation is an unstable one. The cognitive dissonance between the way in which the society is perceived and the way in which it sees itself can be so great that violence can result on a massive scale against people belonging to an out group. According to Jonathan Sacks, "By turning the question 'What did we do wrong?' into 'Who did this to us?', [hate against an out group] restores some measure of self-respect and provides a course of action. In psychiatry, the clinical terms for this process are splitting and projection; it allows people to define themselves as victims."[10]

Approaching this subject from a multi-disciplinary perspective involving history, literature, philosophy, sociology, anthropology as well as psychology and psychoanalysis, I wish to acknowledge that psychodynamic thinking has not been central to my study of humiliation and its consequences (Leask, 2012). The readers of the journal are likely, therefore, to be experts in a field in which I am not. However, my aim is to indicate that acts of humiliation, at whatever level or in whatever circumstances they occur, consistently contain the same elements and have similar consequences, even if the extent of suffering or the ability to reduce the impact of the act of humiliation will vary, in part because of the resilience built in by successful early relationships and in part because of strategies of resistance (which themselves may owe much to such early relationships). I also suggest that recognising the specific nature of humiliation has implications for the relationship between the therapist and the patient.

An example such as this suggests that humiliation is an act that causes a change for the worse in the position of the victim and in the victim's feelings about himself and his relationship to the world. Since power is central to humiliation, the victim of an act of humiliation can be described not as feeling but as being humiliated, as the victim of an act of power. Humiliation is something actively done by one person to another, even if through institutions or directed in principle at groups. It is a demonstration of the capacity to use power unjustly with apparent impunity.

Personal accounts of humiliation suggest that the victim tends to pass through different sets of responses, from a sense of bewildered helplessness to rage and from there to revolt, resistance or submission, which may also involve despair and self-destruction. The first stage frequently involves surprise and shock at what has happened, dismay and disorientation because of the rejection or exclusion involved, grief at the loss sustained and bewilderment at the injustice suffered. How is a child to make sense of an abusive parent, a woman to come to terms with the realisation that a loving husband can be mercilessly violent towards her?

The anger resulting from humiliation might also be matched by a realistic sense of powerlessness. Responses to this include strategies of avoidance: looking away from reality; self-deception over what has happened; and refusing to face up to the new, reduced circumstances (Philpot, 2009, p. 14). The victim may become indifferent to the fate of others around him, or actively cruel, since this restores some sense of power to him.

Despite the differences between them, there is often an interplay between humiliation, shame and guilt, which is important to note when considering the consequences of humiliation. The avoiding action taken by people fearing humiliation can lead to them doing things they accept, internally, are wrong, for which they feel shame: joining in with the humiliation of others, for instance. Resorting to a sense of shame is also a way of seeking to control what is uncontrollable by admitting or claiming one's part in it: the victim blames himself for doing wrong, not the person who has wronged him. Similarly, feelings of guilt imply an acceptance of an external authority with agreed rules, such as a parental figure; since the rules have been broken, the victim accepts that the authority is entitled to punish him. Feeling guilt (like feeling shame) in response to humiliation is a way of trying to make sense of the inexplicable, of trying to impose a pattern on what otherwise appears as random, arbitrary behaviour. This is particularly common in childhood. It is safer, psychologically, for a child to see himself as a bad child, rather than as a child with bad parents. In doing so, he is able to cling to a sense of basic fairness and to avoid admitting the injustice of the humiliating acts. Blaming himself at least provides an explanation for what has happened (Philpot, 2009, p. 13). As it also excuses the humiliator, it is in the interest of the humiliator to develop a sense of guilt or shame or both in the victim (Smith, 2008, p. 373).

Phil Leask is a writer and researcher with a Ph.D. from University College London. His doctoral thesis considered the concept of humiliation and its significance in representations of the former German Democratic Republic. He is currently working on a research project on narratives of identity across generations and across borders, drawing on personal accounts of people in or from the GDR.

This paper suggests that humans have innate needs to be seen as attractive to others. These needs form the basis for shame and mediate evaluations of social standing (status), social acceptance and social bonds. Shame and humiliation are associated with attacks on, and losses of, social attractiveness. The internal experiences of shame are derived from submissive strategies where one seeks to signal to others awareness of loss of social standing and limit possible damage. However, it is suggested that shame and humiliation differ from each other in a number of ways. For example, in shame the focus is on the self, while in humiliation the focus is on the harm done by others. Variations in the defensive strategies of shame and humiliation (e.g. avoidance, escape versus aggression and revenge) can pose particularly difficult problems in therapy. A focus on the role of social attractiveness in shame also allows for important distinctions to be drawn between shame and guilt.

Many years later, I was asked to take part in a TV show in which a group of final-year medical students were put through a week of 1950s-style ward training. In essence, we subjected them to a traditional regime of education by humiliation in which, although to some extent artificially staged for the TV cameras, the action was unscripted and was treated seriously by all concerned.

A very warm welcome to our future conferences! Please see an overview here. Please be aware that our work is a labor of love, maintained entirely by volunteers who give their time and energy as a gift. All our efforts are pro bono and not-for-profit endeavors, there is almost no money involved. The idea for this global work was born in 2001, and this website came into being in 2003. Ever since, this work continuous to evolve. In 2011, the websites of the World Dignity University (WDU) Initiative and the Dignity Press were created. All our websites are intentionally designed as complex archives to inspire people who are sincerely interested in exploring the topics of dignity and humiliation. We avoid any "marketing" of our organisation. For our leadership tasks we particularly welcome people who have just retired and would like to offer their expertise for a good cause and commit some years of their life to build a new career for themselves, a career that draws its validation not from a salary but from meaningfulness. Futhermore, if you know about any dignity-IT-volunteers for our WDU platform, we would be very glad if you could introduce us! (Knowledge of Joomla would be essential, and the capability to program using Python, Django, databases, and html.) 041b061a72


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