Humiliation is the negative emotion experienced when being degraded by others in public. It’s caused by shame that’s made public. Although in exceptional circumstances people can humiliate themselves, predominantly humiliation is due to others exposing someone’s shame.
Humiliation is a reduction in rank and self-esteem of a persons by bringing to light their shameful behaviours in front of others, so as to demean the target of attack and reduce their status and perceived worth. Even when an element of truth exists in the situation, the public shame or humiliation is usually overstated and used as a tool to gain control over the social environment. It’s often unfair, and a planned malicious expression to injure and corrupt the view of a specific person in the eyes of others. Yet, sometimes, it’s also an unavoidable consequence of justice.
Couples can, and do, humiliate each other and even their children as a way of controlling behaviour. The meaning in what they say is similar to “you do that and I’ll make others think you’re disgraceful” or “I will make you squirm and suffering.” This is as an attempt to condition people’s behaviour by giving them a negative experience associated with it (Pavlovian fear conditioning). Humiliation usually produces intense feelings inside the people who are humiliated. It creates mini shock responses. Feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, anger, outrage and even failure can make a person freeze psychologically as the feelings mix with the fear of punishment. The whole experience would be considered humiliating.
This shocking or stressing factor alarms the people on a physical level to avoid such situations, but at the same time deprives them of the chance to explain explicitly and memorise what is going on. This is because people memorise less explicit details when shocked. Humiliation may inhibit a person’s actions, but it’s not a good educational tool unless the aim is to teach a person how it feels to be increasingly traumatised. It’s like a psychological cattle-prod.
Humiliation has little educational merit, and it’s predominantly used as a form of cruel social control. The fearful shock-factor makes people alert to threats, yet it severely reduces their ability to think and remember intellectual content. As the memories are then more likely to be implicit-memories that reside outside the boundaries of conscious reflection, it’s incredibly difficult to learn from such events in the present and in hindsight, yet typically a deep sense of avoidance is felt.
Originally, humiliation meant the process of being humbled. The overriding sense to the word now is that of being punished, tortured, mistreated, and generally abused publicly: bring someone to their knees; break someone in public; ruin someone’s reputation.
Humiliation is different from feeling humbled. People can feel humbled by the circumstances they find themselves in and it can be an entirely personal affair. No one else has to know for people to feel humbled by events that have taken place.
As humiliation is reducing the social value of a person in the eyes of others, however, those other people are part of the degrading process. Nevertheless, much of the time there would be no sense of good motive or just cause. It could be to gain control over a social environment with any form of malicious intent.
Because others have to know personal details of the people humiliated, embarrassment is similar to humiliation. An element of social pressure is inherent in both. Embarrassment is the less intense form of humiliation.
As an aim, humiliation is an abusive practice and should have no place in Western, modern judicial systems; it’s no longer the intent of the letter of the law to seek humiliating outcomes. Such unjust practices were used in the past by states to horrify the public. The idea was to abuse the individuals publicly as a form of punishment, so others were terrified from repeating the actions of the individuals who were humiliated. Horrific acts could be employed and forced on to the people being humiliated. Humiliation was used, and still is, in many forms of torture. Although it would technically be more of a horrifying act as personal shame may not be present, a prime example of horrific state sponsored humiliation is the outdated practice of tarring and feathering people in public. The inhumane nature of humiliation is what can cause people to break. This is also the reason it’s increasingly seen as a more backward and unintelligent way of forcing people to conform.
Humiliation, at its core, is often about getting people to become submissive from the realisation that others view them as wretched, contemptible or disgusting. Causing people so much psychological anguish that they give in and obey. This duress and disgust from others helps those responsible for the humiliation to dominate the submissive and ultimately get what they want. Many humiliating circumstances are created by power-trips based on domination that is ego-centric in nature. This is why humiliation is so heavily associated with abusive personalities. This process of breaking and marring the reputation of people in public can in no way be compared to personal humility or remorse of any kind.
People may not have done anything that is worthy of disgrace, yet lies and inflated truths can be created. This can lead to a group publicly abusing someone, but the supposedly humiliated person feels contempt and disgust for his or her punishers. Humiliation is used to make others feel a deep sense of imposed pain, shame, and guilt. The exposing of shame or the imposing of shame on another while experiencing the feelings of being dominant are the hallmarks of people who purposefully humiliate others.
People seek to corrupt the reputation of others. Not to stop criminal behaviour, but to gain power. Cruel people are willing to cause an effect regardless of morality. They are people who will use power abusively. This can be seen in an ego-trip of being dominant over another human being. “I am dominant and you will respect my authority” can often be a motive of the humiliating person. “I will make you feel pain and know what it’s like to be publicly abused if you do that” is another humiliating motive. Because retaliation is less likely, abuse of all forms is highly associated with positions where a power differential exists. This is true of humiliation.
Nevertheless, humiliation is used on a day-to-day basis in smaller, more unnoticeable doses. It has a far more insidious effect on society than is commonly acknowledged. People who are repeatedly treated in a humiliating fashion can experience serious psychological conditions. Depressive episodes are probably the most common and disturbing effect. A general mistrust of people due to a loss of faith in human nature can be partially responsible for this. Long lasting self-esteem issues can develop as people are forced to acknowledge seriously degrading feelings about themselves. If a false inward acknowledgement is believed, it can create an erroneous sense of shame that can linger for years and even a lifetime.
Gossip is “unconfirmed as true personal details about others in casual conversation”. Gossip is concerned with the reputation of others, so it’s relevant to both embarrassment and humiliation, for both of these emotions relate to social pressure.
Malicious gossip is intended to harm the reputation of others, and it’s probably the most frequent situation where humiliation is purposefully used in current day social environments. Malicious gossip uses lies and inflated truths to publicly humiliate people. This often involves one person within a group singling out someone outside the group to humiliate, and then the group joins in.
Malicious gossip is not to be confused with lively conversations that people have about themselves or their friends and family in an informative and caring fashion. A common charade of a malicious gossip, however, is to present their self as a caring and informative person. As society generally lets people off if their intentions are good, this can be explained as an attempt to avoid being seen as responsible for the trouble caused by misrepresenting people. Malicious gossips want to be seen as good, so they can get away with being bad, for perception of malicious injustice results in anger and aggression towards the malicious agent.1 A way to reduce someone’s anger is to convince them that the damaging behaviour was not intentional. Because many malicious gossips see this, they use it as a tool to pacify the people around them by stopping potential accusations and responsibilities coming their way. When coupled with the passive-aggressive nature inherent in gossiping, this masquerade makes the effects of malicious gossip difficult to spot. Thus it can go unnoticed.
In history, males have bullied others in their environment mainly by getting them to fear physical injury. Malicious gossip has traditionally been used by female groups to humiliate others into psychological submission by fearing injury to their social status by malicious misrepresentation. Female brains mature significantly faster than male brains and are typically years ahead of males in their teen years. Females also have a larger part of their brain devoted to processing emotions on faces and have a greater capacity to express those emotions on their faces to elicit sympathetic behaviours. A huge power differential exists regarding understanding behaviour. Therefore, especially through the young adult years where females are far more socially adept, malicious gossip may well be considered as the female form of bullying.
The malicious gossip uses lies and inflated truths to conjure disgraceful and degrading images of people in the minds of others. This is an attempt to gain control over the social environment and make other people fear them. People do not want others to treat them in a humiliating fashion and spread lies about them in their environment. Malicious gossips make people afraid to challenge their immoral behaviour (not through fear of physical intimidation) by fearing rumours of misrepresentation.
Although teenage and young adult women are the most common people to employ humiliation through misrepresentation and manipulation of information, they are definitely not the only offenders. Politics is highly associated with humiliating accusations. Think of the politician who authorises the release of information that will embarrass a colleague or an opponent of whom they are jealous and envious. Humiliation can be used by people to reduce the chances of promotion of a colleague whilst increasing their prospects by eliminating a rival. Humiliation can be used as a passive-aggressive weapon to hurt a victim by corrupting the victim’s image in the eyes of others.
As normally females develop greater emotional and social comprehension from a younger age than males, this creates a power differential that can be abused. Humiliation is used to gain attention and social status by reducing the reputation of another. To get the attention of others and gain some social dominance, the malicious gossip attempts to ruin the life of another by singling them out and marring them. This leads to young people all over societies being treated in this cruel malicious fashion by their peers and suffering the psychological effects of being attacked and disgraced. Malicious gossips, just like most bullies, have a tendency to target vulnerable people that cannot hit back.
However people become the target, the malicious gossip seeks to bring them down a notch or two by making them feel small and ashamed in public. This behaviour, in reality, sends lots of young minds into despair.
Social media can be employed to mar people. The effect can be to send them into episodes of depression that can spiral out of control. Sometimes ending in suicide. When a group of girls has influence over a gang of boys, physical intimidation is more likely to be used in conjunction to enforce the malicious gossip. Victims of malicious gossip do not usually speak out, but in these cases victims could also be terrified too, so reducing the likelihood of speaking out further. Just like adolescent boys or men who intimidate and demoralise others to the point of breaking, so do teenage and young adult women who maliciously humiliate others. They can think it makes them cool and superior. It’s not uncommon for malicious gossips to walk around like they are most intelligent. “Look how clever I am, I can humiliate that person.” “How disgusting is she?” This is the narcissistic ethos to which malicious gossips live.
People are easily fooled, and drawn in to insulting others – missing the true intentions behind the marring and overlooking an immoral attempt to gain control over the social environment by making other people feel insecure about themselves and others. When people feel insecure, they naturally become passive, so this creates an opportunity for others to dominate the social situation.
It can be very hard for younger adults, especially males, to recognise such behaviour, and because they don’t want to become the target, it can be so easy for people to duck their heads and let the situation pass. When people do become the target, it can be difficult to control strong emotions that become too resentful, too envious, too jealous, and passive-aggressive in nature. It can be difficult to remember no shame exists in talking about the abusive behaviour of malicious gossips to friends, family or teachers. This does not make you like them, and it’s not manipulation to air such concerns. Talking genuinely about concerns is completely different from malicious manipulation of conversations.
Just like physical bullying, psychological bullying is detrimental to people’s health. These malicious and immoral practices should be seen in the same way that any bullying is viewed – abusive.
If in the process of seeking justice someone is unavoidably humiliated from having his or her shameful behaviour revealed, then this would be reasonable as it’s raised from a “need to know” situation. Be that as it may, humiliation alone is frequently used to scare and bully people with rumours aimed at corrupting their image in the eyes of others and so robbing them of social opportunities.
Latin. Humiliare = to humble.
1. Subdued or brought low in condition or social status.
2. To be made to feel insecure by shame or wounded pride.
3. To be caused to kneel or beg.