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Humiliation (also called stultification) is a form of psychological abuse, the abasement of pride, the act of being made humble, or reduced to submission in standing or prestige. Humiliation often results in the emotion of shame.
Humiliation is not in general a pleasant experience, as it reduces the ego.
It can be brought about through bullying, 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 yourself 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 of the self
Humiliation need not involve another person; it can be a recognition of one's own standing, and can be a way of casting away false pride. Ascetics have used a number of techniques to humiliate themselves, including mortification of the flesh.
Humiliation of others
Humiliation of one person by another is often used as a way of asserting power over others, and is a common form of oppression or abuse. However, it can also be consensual, as part of an agreement with a lover of sexual humiliation. In either of these cases, it may be motivated by sadism. In addition, many punishments are deliberately designed to be humiliating, e.g. tarring and feathering, pillory, mark of infamy (stigma).
Humiliation may include (also in combinations):
- forced nudity
- forced cross-dressing
- rape, other forced sex (including forced masturbation) or forced simulation of sex
- forced watching of nudity and/or sex
- being kept on a dog leash
- being hooded (reason may be the humiliation, but also preventing the victim from seeing and identifying the other person and the location)
- being ridiculed
- small penis size humiliation (ridiculing a male's penis size as small and comparison with larger men)
- forced dressing up in formal clothes
Physical abuse is, in addition to the physical damage, also humiliating, as is intimidation. Rape may, in addition to being humiliating, cause physical damage, including being infected by a sexually-transmitted disease, and also the physical abuse of making an unwilling woman pregnant.
Some of the above are forms of sexual humiliation. However, some people find humiliation by others erotic in certain circumstances: see erotic humiliation. Not all use of humiliation is sexually motivated; it may be seen by some in positions of authority (like parents) as corrective in certain circumstances.
Punishment or interrogation tactic
Humiliation 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, bullying 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 of the 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).
The Chinese government routinely humiliates lawbreakers by parading them in public with a sign around their neck indicating their offense. Humiliation activities such as stripping a prisoner naked or having them simulate sex acts are often contrary to policies in police or prison settings. Nevertheless, these humiliation tactics have been used by secret police and military interrogators as a way of eliciting cooperation or breaking down the resistance of a prisoner.
- Main article: Erotic humiliation
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.
- Main article: Hazing
Hazing is an often ritualistic test and a task, which may constitute harassment, abuse or humiliation with requirements to perform random, often meaningless tasks, sometimes as a way of initiation into a social group. The definition can refer to either physical (sometimes violent) or mental (possibly degrading) practices; it may also include an 'erotic' element (notably nudity). Often most or all of the endurance, or at least the more serious ordeal, is concentrated in an orgiastic collective session, which may be called hell night, or prolonged to a hell week and/or retreat or camp, sometimes again at the pledge's birthday (e.g. by birthday spanking), but some traditions keep terrorizing pledges (a common term for the initiation candidates; alternative terms include newbie, rookie, mainly in athletic teams, and freshman) over a long period, resembling fagging. Hazing is often used as a method to promote group loyalty and camaraderie through shared suffering (male bonding in fraternities), either with fellow participants, past participants or both.
Hazing has been reported in a variety of social contexts, including sports teams, academic fraternities and sororities (see fraternities and sororities); high schools (in the sense of secondary education); college and universities; groups, like competition teams, fan clubs, social groups; secret societies and even certain service clubs; competitive sports teams; and armed forces. It is a subjective matter where to draw to line between "normal" hazing (somewhat abusive) and a mere rite of passage (essentially bonding; proponents may argue they can coincide), and there is a gray area where exactly the other side passes over into sheer degrading, even harmful abuse that should not be tolerated even if accepted voluntarily (serious but avoidable accidents do still happen; deliberate abuse with similar grave medical consequences occurs, in some traditions rather often). In military circles hazing is sometimes assumed to test recruits under situations of stress and hostility. Although in no way a recreation of combat, hazing does put people into stressful situations that they are unable to control, which allegedly should weed out those weaker members prior to being put in situations where failure to perform will cost lives.
Reported hazing activities can involve all kinds of ridicule and humiliation within the group or in public — many of which could easily be considered[by whom?] abusive if a candidate were not a consenting adult — while others are quite innocent, akin to pranks. Examples of hazing, often performed in combination, include Spanking; tickling; being hosed by sprinkler, buckets or hoses; covered with dirt or with (sometimes rotten) food; engaging in lengthy, tedious cleaning of toilets; waiting on others; being made to eat or drink too much (to the point of intoxication and vomiting); wearing humiliating clothing such as diapers, underwear, an apron, jockstrap, loincloth or duct tape; performing calisthenics and other physical tests. In the May issue of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, Michelle Finkel, MD, reported that hazing injuries are often not recognized for their true cause in emergency medical centers. The doctor said hazing victims sometimes hide the real cause of injuries out of shame or to protect those who caused the harm. In protecting their abusers, hazing victims can be compared with victims of domestic violence.
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." That statement captures the degree to which humiliation affects our lives, ranging from the deeply personal right up to global levels.
Even though it is a subjective emotion, it 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." This feeling can be felt as an individual (as when one feels offended by another) or as a community, group or nation.
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..."
Not all acts of humiliation are intentional. They can be committed quite accidentally. Sometimes, feelings of humiliation can arise simply because of misunderstandings.
Because these feelings can have very destructive consequences, ranging from interpersonal conflict to international terrorism, Lindner has called them the "nuclear bomb of the emotions." With an awareness of the emotional power created by humiliation, those feelings can - albeit with considerable effort - be turned into a force for constructive action, as exemplified by people such as Gandhi or Nelson Mandela.
- Public humiliation
- Social defeat
- Verbal humiliation
- Small penis humiliation
- 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.
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- Lewis, Helen B. 1971, Shame and Grief in Neurosis. New York: International Universities Press.
- Lindner, Evelin, Gender, Humiliation, and Global Security: Dignifying Relationships from Love, Sex, and Parenthood to World Affairs (Contemporary Psychology). Praeger Security International, 2010. ISBN 0313354855.
- Miller, William Ian (1993). Humiliation and Other Essays on Honor, Social Discomfort, and Violence. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
- Just Fight On! Centre Against Workplace Bullying UK
- mobbing.ca (Mobbing resources in Canada)
- Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies
- Emotional Competency article on Humiliation
- Silvan Tomkins Site Resources on Shame and Humiliation Studies
- Femenia, Nora. Healing Humiliation and the Need for Revenge
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See also: Meta-emotion
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