Humiliation and its relationship to embarrassment shame

humiliation and its relationship to embarrassment shame

and Emotion Lab for their input and support in creating the Relationships and .. how accurately humiliation, embarrassment, shame, or guilt described their. The interplay between humiliation and shame after a humiliating act is discussed. a distinction between humiliation and related concepts such as shame. to mean much the same as embarrassment or shame or ignominy. Shame, guilt, humiliation, and embarrassment are painful and . One is related to the degree, with humiliation being much more severe.

The parent sexually abusing a child is doing something the child, even in his confusion, senses is in conflict with all that he has been brought up to believe about what is right and to be expected from a parent. Michael Clemenger was abused by people who hypocritically railed against the very acts they were committing. Unpredictability reinforces the power of the humiliator and inculcates a fear of humiliation which is powerful in itself.

In the examples quoted above, all the victims were vulnerable to arbitrary or unpredictable acts by those in power. Humiliation and resistance Can humiliation be refused or rejected by the intended victim? Because of the power relations involved, this appears unlikely. A partial exception arises when people are engaged in resistance activities which demonstrate that they do not accept or share the norms and values of those in power. Communists in Nazi Germany believed they might be killed for their attempts to resist the Nazis, but not that they could be humiliated.

Jehovah's Witnesses imprisoned in the German Democratic Republic GDR displayed an extraordinary capacity for resistance while waiting for a better life after this one Kabelitz, —p. In such cases, resisters see their punishment and exclusion as predictable consequences of the power struggle they are involved in.

They see themselves as temporarily defeated, not as victims of humiliation. Herman lists the actions that perpetrators use to humiliate a victim and suggests that the consequences of such actions can include PTSD or complex PTSD p. Where resistance as a way of staving off humiliation is successful, the struggle to resist may in itself be traumatic. However, such resistance might also reduce the incidence of PTSD. It showed up in the study as the strongest predictor of the severity of subsequent PTSD symptoms.

humiliation and its relationship to embarrassment shame

Significantly, the study suggests that resistance based on political commitment and understanding leads to a better long-term outcome in relation to the impact of potentially traumatic events and the likelihood of depression.

This provides little solace, however, to the vulnerable individual victim of humiliation, particularly a child in a family or in other settings where those in authority misuse their power. Here, any desire to resist is compromised by the huge imbalance of power, physically, emotionally and socially, and the ambivalent attitude of the child towards the parental figure Philpot,pp.

humiliation and its relationship to embarrassment shame

Consequences of humiliation Humiliation, except in trivial cases that we tend to shrug off, can have a life-changing effect on the victim, as the examples above suggest. Another well-known example arises from the brutal humiliation of Rodney King, a black man, by four white police officers in Los Angeles in The initial acquittal of the officers, widely interpreted as an indication that the state and the society condoned the humiliation, led directly to riots in which over 50 people died.

There is every indication that King's problematic childhood had left him poorly equipped to deal with the attack on him and its aftermath.

King's own view was that time heals and that he had finally found peace. Six weeks later, King drowned, apparently accidentally, in his swimming pool, while heavily intoxicated by alcohol and a variety of drugs. A sense of invasion of the sort King experienced, of personal boundaries illegitimately crossed and of the self being diminished as a result, is central to the personally destructive power of humiliation.

Ripstein says that the response of the state through the legal system is important, something that is relevant to the King case as well as to the examples of child abuse. Of course, that is the explicit intention when the state itself deliberately engages in humiliation, as in Nazi Germany. The victim's responses Any act of humiliation may be experienced as traumatic but, as is reflected in the psychoanalytic discussion of trauma, different influences and background experiences, particularly early relationships and the ways in which these have been internalised, influence how individuals react when they become the victims of traumatic humiliation Baron-Cohen,pp.

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 next stage is likely to involve rage and a desire to lash out and seek revenge. For the victim of humiliation, the sense of injustice is a primary cause of rage. Hitler's use of the perceived humiliation of Germans resulting from the Versailles Treaty is an obvious example. Anger, hate and violence are psychologically damaging to the victims of humiliation, and a cycle of humiliation and retaliation may be set up, leading to yet further suffering and destruction.

This applies not just at the level of national and international politics; as is often noted, it is not uncommon for victims of child abuse to become abusers themselves in later life Bentovim et al.

Losing trust in the world: Humiliation and its consequences

The anger resulting from humiliation might also be matched by a realistic sense of powerlessness. Responses to this include strategies of avoidance: 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: 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: 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.

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Blaming himself at least provides an explanation for what has happened Philpot,p. 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,p.

The sense of powerlessness among victims of humiliation can lead to paranoia, despair or depression. One response to this involves closing off from the world physically and psychologically while metaphorically creating a hard skin or shell to control what is allowed in or out Bick, ; Turp, When none of the coping strategies proves effective and the reality of the victim's position overwhelms him, he may reach the stage of personal fragmentation and disintegration, with severe difficulties in day-to-day functioning at either an individual or a social level.

This was the position reached by Michael Clemenger and Rodney King even after each of them thought he had successfully let go of the effects of his humiliation. Professional responses Inevitably, in the course of their work, therapists will find themselves face to face with the personal consequences that arise from living with the contradictory feelings, experiences and defences resulting from humiliation.

The therapist's reading of the situation is likely to have profound implications for his or her practice. Just as professional intervention in cases of child abuse involves ensuring the child is safely out of reach of the abuser — the humiliator — so the therapist will, at the very least, seek to provide a safe space in the consulting room for the humiliated adult patient.

However, he or she may also be faced with the knowledge that the patient is still under the control of the humiliator and that the humiliation may be continuing.

Losing trust in the world: Humiliation and its consequences

A number of examples are given below of how therapists see themselves contending with the consequences of the patient's humiliation. However, she does not recognise the specific consequences including shame that result from humiliation. There is a danger here of blaming the victim and therefore humiliating him again — at which point the consulting room ceases to be a safe space — rather than helping him to mourn the losses engendered by the experience of being humiliated. Many of Gilbert's proposed interventions seek to deal not so much with the humiliation as with the rage and hatred arising from it, as if this is ultimately all that can be done.

Gilbert implicitly accepts this when talking, apparently approvingly, of a patient considering leaving a job where he was being humiliated p. For the patient, such a move represents an admission of powerlessness and a clear victory for the humiliator; there is no justice involved, only the possibility of starting again elsewhere and trying to manage the remaining feelings of rage and hatred or, in this case, depression, arising from the humiliation.

Another way of expressing this would be to say that Natalie grew up with a constant and justified fear of humiliation, since all the elements of humiliation are present here: Natalie's lies and deception, therefore, are the means she uses to defend herself against humiliation by her mother. Mollon recognises that this gives her a sense of freedom and agency, since it indicates she retains a private core self. Natalie's problems involve an unrealistic transference to others whom she sees as equivalent to her mother.

The indiscriminate use of lies that results from this seriously damages her other relationships. It is here that it would be helpful for the therapist to acknowledge also that Natalie had been repeatedly humiliated and was not responsible for her mother's invasive behaviour.

This could then lead Natalie to discover something different: In order to hold her humiliating mother at arm's length, it might be necessary to continue lying to her and for Natalie to recognise that she need not feel shame for this defence against her mother's continuing attempt to violate her core self. Conclusion I have argued here a number of theoretical points about the nature of humiliation. Firstly, I suggest that humiliation is a specific way of exercising power with a specific set of responses and consequences that are often catastrophic and life-changing.

Secondly, I argue that humiliation is an act of power, demonstratively and unjustly used with apparent impunity, and that humiliation is not an emotion in itself and therefore not to be confused with shame, but that it leads to a predictable set of emotions which may at times include shame but in which rage and the desire for revenge, combined with a sense of impotence, tend to dominate.

In line with many other theorists, I also argue that acts of humiliation cannot be made not to have happened and that their emotional impact is likely to persist over the long term. At the same time, I acknowledge that the both the degree of suffering arising from an act of humiliation and the capacity to move on from such an act and to rebuild one's life varies from person to person, partly at least in accordance with the inner strength and resilience that arise from successful early relationships or from strategies of resistance.

All of these theoretical points have implications for therapists in their work. They imply that it is important for therapists to have a dual focus. Secondly, they need to accept that a patient's stories might include fantasies and delusions but might also contain accounts of real, terrible suffering at the hands of someone else, and of injustice that cannot be remedied.

Where the humiliating acts are in the past, the patient has a chance to mourn what he has lost rather than engage in a futile search for restitution or what in German is called Wiedergutmachung: He can then be helped to shed his sense of being a victim and move forward towards re-establishing trust in others and a sense of autonomy, but without denying the continuing impact of what has been done to him and the knowledge that it can never be undone.

Where, however, the humiliating acts are continuing — where, that is, the extreme imbalance of power has not been altered — the patient may have a realistic sense that he continues to be a victim whose capacity to act autonomously is still heavily compromised.

Here, it may be helpful for the patient to identify the possible options — which may themselves have painful, disruptive consequences — for bringing the humiliating relationship to an end or escaping from it, or to reach an understanding of why he persists with or even takes refuge in relationships that are humiliating.

Recognising the specific nature of humiliation, the therapist can provide the necessary place of safety in which the patient can start to think about and articulate what it means to be a victim of humiliation.

In this place of safety, the patient needs to know or sense that the therapist will not deny the reality of his experiences, will not seek to treat him as someone for whom shame is or should be the central emotion arising from these experiences and will not seek to impose on him a sense that everything that has been done to him can be put behind him.

The therapist will recognise humiliation for what it is: Notes on contributor Phil Leask is a writer and researcher with a Ph. His doctoral thesis considered the concept of humiliation and its significance in representations of the former German Democratic Republic. In this post and a follow-up one, we will be examining these often hidden emotions, with an eye to disentangling them from one another in this post and then seeing how we can best respond therapeutically in a companion article.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember as we go into this discussion is that each of these experiences does have a function, so while they are uncomfortable, they can — if addressed in a healthy way — serve our greater growth.

Known to most people at some stage in their lives, shame is seen in one of the earliest recordings of human behaviour: The Online Etymology Dictionary a identifies several sources of the root word: These origins address both our felt sense of what we need to do in shame — cover up — and also the physiological response of redness or blushing.

In our contemporary understanding of shame, we seem to be more involved with the first notion, that of covering, in that we may physically try to cover ourselves, as in making a covering gesture over our brow and eyes with a downcast gaze or beyond that, work very hard to ensure that our shame is always hidden and never seen by anyone. Sadly, the less we talk about it, the more it festers, engendering shame-based thinking and reinforcing our sense of shame as going beyond anything that we say or do.

We get a sense of this with some of the shame-based thoughts that shock us with their severity: The sad fact about shame is that it occurs on several levels: In other words, shame settles in as a permanent part of ourselves Hazelden Foundation, The origins of deep, toxic shame are usually in childhood; thus, in therapy we can uncover the experiences that led to shame to help relieve it and engage in new experiences to foster a sense of goodness and worth.

It has often been rooted in experiences of a sexual nature, such as when sexual abuse occurs. We even try to hide the presence of the shame in which the toxic experiences are hidden; we do this through masks of narcissism, addictions, self-harming behaviours, eating disorders, drug use, dissociation, or anxiety and depression.

5 Ways to Handle Being Humiliated by a Loved One

Some respond with arrogance, blame, or contempt. Unfortunately, all of these defences lead to even deeper shame and lower self-esteem. Mild to moderate shame can motivate us to lead lives with higher ethical and moral standards. It develops in step with our compassion and empathy for others, helping us to regulate our behaviour. But pervasive, permanent, deeply-rooted shame is overwhelming and ends up being destructive, not least because it lacks a channel for discharge, staying inside us and intensifying Burton, ; Brighton Therapy Partnership, n.

Note that this means that we can feel guilty about something that society in general does not disapprove of, such as driving a luxury car when children are starving in the worldor eating meat when we say that we intend to be vegetarian.

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Shame and guilt often occur together, which is probably why we confuse them. We probably feel guilty about injuring the person guiltbut also feel bad about ourselves shame. Shame is ego dystonic: Guilt, unlike much shame, is inversely correlated with poor psychological functioning. As an example of the difference between the two, we can imagine the situation in which a friend asks us to do something for her: The latter is an appropriate reaction of remorse, which will hopefully lead to asking our friend for forgiveness and trying to do reparation: Shepard observes that the element separating shame and humiliation is that of deserving.

It made me wonder what he was smoking while he slapped it together. I have been showing up, being cooperative and attentive and trying hard, and he humiliates me in public like that? I am a stupid waste of space. I should never have tried to gain admittance into this university.