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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 has just decreased. 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-emphasise the ego, humiliation must involve other person(s), though not necessarily directly or willingly. Acting to humiliate oneself may be linked to a personal belief (as with mortification of the flesh, with some religions), or it can be part of erotic humiliation where the belittling activity provides emotional and/or sexual arousal or heightened sensation.
Humiliation is currently an active research topic, and is now seen as an important – and complex – core dynamic in human relationships, having implications at intrapersonal, interpersonal, institutional and international levels.
Humiliation can be defined as the result of someone causing another to feel very ashamed or foolish.
Sometimes humiliation is a by-product of institutional prejudices, as when racism, sexism, or ageism, or is built right into the structure of our laws, or is part of the unquestioned practices of a workplace.
A person who suffers from severe humiliation could cause 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 (either wrongly or correctly) as a sexual predator, 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, losing sense of reality and may eventually commit suicide.
Feelings of humiliation can produce 'humiliated fury' 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..."
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 isolation are experienced as intensely as physical pain.
Punishments and interrogation tactics
Humiliating of one person by another (the humiliator) is often used as a way of asserting power over them, and is a common form of oppression or abuse used in a police, military, or prison context during legal interrogations or illegal torture sessions. Many now-obsolete public punishments were deliberately designed to be humiliating, e.g. tarring and feathering lawbreakers, pillory, "mark of shame" (stigma) as a means of "making an example" of a person and presenting a deterrent to others. Some practices, such as tarring and feathering, became tools of unofficial mob justice. In folk customs such as the English skimmington rides and rough music (and their continental equivalents, such as the French Charivari), dramatic public demonstrations of moral disapproval were enacted to humiliate transgressors and drive them out of the community.
Some states in America have experimented with humiliating or shaming lawbreakers by publishing their names and indicating their offense (e.g., with soliciting prostitutes or drinking and driving). In 2010, there was public outcry about reports showing police in Dongguan, Guangdong, China leading a parade of arrested prostitutes for the purpose of humiliating them. The national Ministry of Public Security reprimanded the local police and affirmed that such punishments are not allowed.
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Humiliation can also be a consensual sexual practice, as part of an agreement with a sex partner to engage in erotic humiliation as part of bondage and domination activities. This is a type of psychological humiliation in a sexual context, whereby one person gains arousal or erotic excitement from the powerful emotions of being humiliated and demeaned, or of humiliating another; often (but not always) in conjunction with sexual stimulation of one or both partners in the activity. The humiliation need not be sexual in itself, as with many other sexual activities it is the feelings derived from it which are sought, regardless of the nature of the actual activity. It can be verbal or physical, and can be relatively private or public. Often it can become ritualized, and unlike some sexual variations it can also be easily carried out over a long distance or online. The distinction between humiliation and dominance in an activity such as erotic spanking is that the sought-after effect is primarily the humiliation; the activity is just a means to that end.
A wider human perspective
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."
Though it is a subjective emotion, humiliation has a universal aspect which applies to all human beings: "it is the feeling of being put down, made to feel less than one feels oneself to be."
Not all acts of humiliation are intentional. Sometimes, feelings of humiliation can arise simply because of misunderstandings.
- Lindner, Evelin, Making Enemies: Humiliation and International Conflict. London, England: Praeger Security International, 2006.
- "Humiliate", Merriam-Webster
- DePaulo, Bella. "10 Steps for Getting Over Humiliation", Psychology Today, February 3, 2014
- Torres, Walter J.; Bergner, Raymond M. (June 2010). "Humiliation: Its Nature and Consequences". Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. AAPL. 38. Retrieved 11 May 2016.
- Lewis, Helen B. 1971, Shame and Grief in Neurosis. New York: International Universities Press.
- Klein, Donald C. (Ed.), The Humiliation Dynamic: Viewing the Task of Prevention From a New Perspective, Special Issue, Journal of Primary Prevention, Part I, 12, No. 2, 1991. New York, NY: Kluwer Academic/ Plenum Publishers.
- Martin, Courtney E. "The Violence of Humiliation", On Being, September 10, 2014
- Thompson, E. P. (1992). "Rough Music Reconsidered" (PDF). Folklore. 103: 3–26. doi:10.1080/0015587X.1992.9715826. Retrieved 14 July 2012.
- Zhang, Ning (2010-07-27). "Prostitute humiliation dents police image". China Network Television. Retrieved 2012-01-19.
Lewis, H. B. (1971). Shame and guilt in neurosis. New York: International Universities Press.
- Lindner, Evelin (2010). Gender, humiliation, and global security: dignifying relationships from love, sex, and parenthood to world affairs. Contemporary Psychology Series. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger. ISBN 9780313354861.
- Miller, William Ian (1993). Humiliation and other essays on honor, social discomfort, and violence. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 9780801481178.
- Whisnant, Rebecca (July–September 2016). "Pornography, humiliation, and consent". Sexualization, Media, and Society. Sage. 2 (3). doi:10.1177/2374623816662876. Pdf.
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