Thursday, 13 December 2012

Rare emotion

It was a surprise to realise I can't recall a single time in my adult life when I've felt humiliated. Humiliation is not an emotion I'm prone to.

To feel humiliated, I would have to feel that my fundamental sense of self-worth had been shattered, and that has never been the case. However serious the situation, whatever its personal impact, it has never been enough to destroy my belief in myself.

I might feel insulted, or rejected, or got-at, or belittled, or unappreciated, but never humiliated. That would be too extreme a reaction.

There was one particular occasion when I was working in a bookshop and my boss jumped on me for being late for work. Not only was I formally disciplined but my trade union colleagues didn't support me. I could have felt humiliated, but the way I was treated didn't affect my underlying self-esteem. I didn't feel I'd done anything seriously reprehensible or irresponsible. So I never felt more than victimised and isolated and unlucky.

There was another occasion at Newark Airport, New York, when a zealous security official emptied out the entire contents of my suitcase in front of dozens of other travellers. She was happily rummaging through my underwear and personal possessions, searching for God knows what. But I didn't feel humiliated. Her intrusive rummaging didn't damage my self-respect. I felt embarrassed and awkward and exposed but that was it.

Maybe if she'd discovered a stack of porn mags or a corset or a copy of Mein Kampf. But she didn't.

My childhood was a different matter. My father would routinely humiliate me by suggesting I was stupid or lazy or cruel or selfish and my self-worth was being battered every day of the week. The same applied at boarding school where I was bullied persistently for four years. Thankfully that sort of merciless denigration stopped when I moved out of the family home and got a place of my own.

Given my treatment as a child, it's strange that at some point my self-esteem became quite solid and hard to shake. I don't need constant reassurance that I'm a worthwhile person. I believe in my own values and attitudes and I don't constantly doubt myself. I may be endlessly anxious, but it's not my own self I'm anxious about.

24 comments:

John Gray said...

your childhood has made you strong,,,, well at least it has provided you with some armour

Grannymar said...

I'm with John, your childhood (which I don't condone) made you able to to cope with all that life can throw at you.

Nick said...

John: Funny, I'd never really thought of it that way, that my childhood made me strong. You're probably right.

Grannymar: Ditto. I guess a lot of what people say to me now is wee buns compared to what I had to put up with as a child.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I have to disagree. Emotional abuse as a child does not make people strong. Rather, some people are able to overcome it. The research on that is pretty clear.

Nick said...

Agent: That makes sense as well. Overcoming childhood emotional abuse and regaining your self-esteem is never as good as having loving parents and not losing that self-esteem in the first place.

Scarlet Blue said...

Not so long ago I was humiliated by a carton of Tropicana. I took a fitting revenge on my tormentor and spent the rest of the day cleaning orange and mango juice off the kitchen ceiling. So I took the ultimate revenge.... I now only buy Naked fruit smoothies.
Pride comes before a soaking in fruit juice.
Sx

Bijoux said...

I recently read that 48percent of people could be diagnosed with a mental disorder from the DSM-IV sometime in their life. When someone is nasty to you, just remember that and think it must be them, not you.

Nick said...

Scarlet: I feel your pain. Your lasting dread of Tropicana. Your horrified avoidance of Just Juice. I hope Naked doesn't let you down and leave your ego in pieces.

Reminds me of the time Jenny and I had to clean pink champagne off the kitchen walls of a rented flat.

Bijoux: Very good advice. All I can say is, at least half of that 48% are bloody good at hiding their lunacy.

Secret Agent Woman said...

The dagnoses listed in the DSM are not limited to "lunacy" (psychosis) - it includes depression, anxiety, bereavement, sleep disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, substance abuse and dependence, learning disabilities, and so on. There are even diagnostic codes for things like marital problems. I'd say 48% is low.

Nick said...

Agent: "Lunacy" was just my shorthand for diagnosable mental disorders. As you say, that covers a wide range of possibilities. And as Bijoux suggests, someone else's nastiness could well be a part of some recognisable mental disorder.

Secret Agent Woman said...

My point really is that virtually everyone could find a diagnosis or three that fits. But sometimes someone else's nastiness is just their nastiness.

Nick said...

Agent: Oh yes, I'm not ruling out that nastiness is just deliberate nastiness with nothing else behind it.

Nick said...

Interesting that nobody has commented on humiliation as such, except in a jokey way. I seem to have accidentally stumbled on a taboo subject, one that people are still too embarrassed to discuss freely.

Scarlet Blue said...

Nick, that was no joke! I get humiliated having to ask people all the time to open cartons for me, I also get fed up asking people to get things from high up shelves because I am a short arse. humiliation takes many forms.
I lost my temper with my inadequacy and threw the carton on the kitchen floor. It exploded. It took 3 hours to clean up the mess. It wasn't funny at the time. I should have swallowed my pride and asked my husband to open it.
I have also nearly broken my neck falling off a chair trying to reach something.
Humiliation isn't always caused by other people. This is what I meant by my comment.
Sx

Nick said...

Sorry, Scarlet, I didn't realise you were serious, you made your comment in such a humorous way. Yes, I can imagine that having to ask for help all the time must be humiliating. My 90 year old mother has to do it constantly, though if it's humiliating she doesn't let on. When I'm food shopping, people sometimes ask me to get things from high shelves or read labels for them. I'm pleased to help and it never occurs to me they might feel humiliated, so thank you for pointing that out.

Nick said...

Actually I often wonder why items are put on such high shelves in the first place. And why labels are in such tiny print that some people can't read them. Why do shops make things difficult for their customers?

Nick said...

Oh and I often have to open jars of marmalade etc for Jenny because my fingers are stronger than hers.

Scarlet Blue said...

I think small writing on labels and high shelves are probably to do with logistics :-)
Sx

Rummuser said...

I share some of your background. My late father too took immense pleasure in humiliating me and some of the stories of my childhood at his hands are what my family legends are made of. That I became what I did is despite that with a fiat that I had little to do with that transformation. It just happened.

And I am not anxious about anything including me!

Nick said...

Scarlet: Whatever the reason, they're not very customer-friendly.

Ramana: I'm glad that like me you overcame your childhood experiences. You must have been blessed with plenty of inner resilience.

Jay at The Depp Effect said...

Wow. I'm seriously impressed! To be so constantly humiliated when young and grow up so self-confident is a real achievement! Well done.

My younger son had his self-confidence destroyed by a bullying teacher who loved to stand the boys up on a chair in front of the class and tell them how worthless/stupid/lazy/etc they were, and encourage the others to believe it too and laugh at him. He never, ever did it to a girl, the worthless creep. However, my son has - after many, many years, managed to shrug off this ordeal and is now pretty unshakeable, like you. He says that it made him stronger, and I guess for some people, this is how it works.

Nick said...

Jay: Wow, that must have been a shocking experience. It's appalling that teachers like that don't get sacked. I'm glad to know that after so many years your son's managed to recover his self-confidence. It can be done if you have enough loving and supportive friends.

Presumably you didn't know about the bullying until after he left school?

Wisewebwoman said...

Your posts always get me thinking, Nick. I am so happy for you that you were able to survive the horror of your childhood.

Mentally I link shame with humiliation. My father's family were shamed when he was very young. Publicly in a church. Long story.

He reacted by constantly shaming his children over and over, sometimes publicly. It was his modus operandi.

It took me years and years to leave that behind (though occasionnaly I can be triggered by bullying misogynistic men).

Still working on it.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

www: I agree, shame and humiliation are strongly linked. Shame also involves loss of self-esteem, I think. I'm glad you finally managed to leave the sense of shame behind.