There is a frightening statistic that states that one of the most common triggers of teen suicide is a humiliating experience. All those young lives tragically lost because they did not believe that they could face the world again. We all know what it’s like to feel humiliated and most of us will do all we can to prevent feeling that way. The fear of humiliation can stop us taking informed risks and it can interfere with the grieving process that follows a relationship breakdown. Countless people have told me that after being dumped by a lover, they find the humiliation harder to bear than the loss.
Why do we find humiliation so unbearable? We must know that good friends will love us no matter what. Most of us know that our family loves us unconditionally. We tell ourselves that we shouldn’t worry what others think and we teach our children not to put too much emphasis on the opinions of others. Yet we still fear humiliation.
It’s helpful to consider humiliation as just another emotion – alongside anger, sadness, frustration, and joy. As with any emotion, our bodies experience humiliation as much as our mind. We may blush or shake. We want to escape and feel trapped if we can’t. When we think of humiliation as just another emotion, we can learn to ride through it.
Think back to the last time you badly stubbed your toe. The pain is instant and excruciating. But we cope by hopping around the room swearing under our breath. If anyone comes near us, we beg them to leave us alone. After a minute or two of hopping and swearing, we notice that the intensity of the pain starts to decrease. It eases off and we know that we will survive. That’s when we can tell those around us how badly it hurt before getting on with our day.
Believe it or not, you can adopt the same strategy when dealing with emotional pain. It may take a lot longer than dealing with a stubbed toe, but we can learn to “surf” the humiliation, by feeling it, knowing what caused it, and waiting for it to peak before easing off. We can help our children cope with humiliation by acknowledging it, empathising with them, and reassuring them that it will ease off. Just as we know that there will be many times when we will feel angry and frustrated, we can expect to feel humiliated from time to time. Obviously, it’s important to try very hard not to humiliate others – especially our children, but we also need to be realistic and not make the mistake of avoiding life for fear of humiliation.