Someone tells you to hold your ego in check and show a little humility. You translate the message into one of bowing your head shame. But is humility a demonstration of shame? Does it really require a denial of who you are? These two words, share the same Latin root—humilis, which means low. No wonder we are confused! However, the two words have quite different meanings. Humility can work wonders in the face of shame.
What is Humility?
Humility is a balanced way of being, cultivated by mindfulness. The whole of your life—cognitive, physical, financial social, spiritual, recreational, intimate—means one or more areas may dominate at any given time, but the motion is fluid like an amoeba. All these aspects together create a synergistic harmony that form the umbrella over your daily existence. Resilience is the norm. You experience fewer emotional extremes with shorter duration. Faced with adversity, you have a wellspring of internal nourishment fed by all aspects of your life.
Humility is an intentional and strategical responsive, a clear-minded approach to life. Humble people know who they are and how they contribute to the world and community in which they live with a conscience that guides their behavior. When someone lives a life of humility, they hold themselves accountable for mistakes without demeaning themselves to self-deprecation. They self-regulate their emotions to fit their expression to the situation at hand—they do not honk and cuss at the person on crutches trying to hang onto their groceries as they cross a busy parking lot. People living in humility know when to speak and how much to say to whom. Humble people own their part in the experience and apologize when necessary.
They are honest about their thoughts and feelings; but they do not spew venom on others, nor on themselves. A sense of acceptance helps them see a situation with crystal clarity. They may baffle people as they tend to look on the lighter side of the situation even to the point of finding humor. The lesson and the opportunities of the situation emerge because the person sought them with a fervor born of a desire to make the best of an unpleasant circumstance.
How is Humiliation Different?
Simply put, humiliation is your interpretation of an external event and your reaction to that interpretation. As an automatic, unconscious response, humiliation is the conglomerate of provoked feelings and emotions activated when you are embarrassed to an extreme degree, a reaction to something done to you, not who you are. With few healthy coping strategies—or when the intensity of embarrassment overwhelms your senses—your reaction may run the gamut from complete nervous system shutdown to engaging in dangerous behaviors. Feelings of loss of integrity, reputation, dignity, face, or impactful vision can cloud workable solutions. Reactions of others may further damage your emotional state and contribute to your distress. Humiliation stops the flow of creativity needed for problem-solving, blocks the pathway to support, and stifles insight and wisdom from the experience.
Do humble people get angry?
Indeed, they do! Strong and hard-to-manage emotions reminds you of your humanness—everyone has these inescapable feelings. They are signals that a personal violation has taken place. Attempts to “manage” the guilt, anger, shame, and despair of grief can lead to depression, anxiety, or other mental and physical issues. Mistakes, tiny and mountainous, challenge you to explore your values, beliefs, and opinions. Feeling and expressing strong emotions are a necessity. Humble people own their part in the event and apologize when necessary. Clear, well-protected boundaries help humble people to not get caught up in the unnecessary, and often self-defeating, drama of the situation. Instead, they use the energy of strong emotions to turn toward a more favorable outcome. They self-advocate and ask for help. By naming emotions and feelings, they are in a better position to seek beneficial methods for discharging them. Humility does not cancel human feelings and emotions but offers ways to work through and regain equilibrium when they are knocked off-balance.
What to do about humiliation?
First, grab your faithful journal and write. What happened—the sequence of events. Record as much detail as possible. This exercise will help diffuse some of the raw, difficult feelings. How you rebound does not dictate whether you are on the path to resolution. It may, however, usher in a sense of peace which can lead you to clarity about possibilities, and liberation.
How to cultivate humility.
Again, look to your best friend—your journal. Think of someone you admire for their peaceful presence. What words, behaviors, and gestures does the person use? How do they speak about themselves? How do they speak of others? Do they brush aside compliments, or do they accept kudos with grace and with ease? Do they praise others and share the credit? Do they seek solutions rather than blame?
Make a list and write notes. Next, list similar qualities in yourself. In what ways are you already using the traits? How can you strengthen those attributes? Share your observations of the other person with them if you feel comfortable. Let them know you want to improve your life and ask them how they developed the trait.
Now, of the qualities you admire do you see as doable for you? Do you need to learn strategies or techniques? Do you need formal training?
Finally, to begin your trek into humility, acknowledge qualities you admire in others that are simply not in your realm of possibility. I enjoy an eclectic mix of music, but musical rockstar is not on the horizon for me. You may have other innate personality traits that are parts of your universal uniqueness. Everyone has a different sameness.
One of the hallmarks of humility is affirming your dignity, your preciousness, your worthiness as a human being. Treat yourself and others with a kind hand. Know you and everyone else is experiencing something every moment of every day. How you interpret and respond to the vagaries of life will help you live the contented, humble, meaningful life you envision.
Caring for yourself when you feel the shards of humiliation
This is an immensely vulnerable time for you. Treat yourself with compassion and gentleness and insist that others do the same. Likewise, treat others with dignity and respect as your way of modeling to them what you need from them and because healthy behaviors lead to collaboration and cooperation. Thus, productive outcomes are more likely to occur. This brings in feelings of community and solidarity. Plenty of rest will help your body begin its self-repair. Eat good, nourishing food and drink copious amounts of water, unless a healthcare professional instructs you otherwise. Self-advocate, taking care to protect yourself and others. Avoid making big decisions and get professional mental health and medical help if you need it.
Self-compassion and self-advocacy will take you a long way in beginning to heal from the trauma of humiliation. Yes, often, humiliation is done in such a way as to be devastatingly traumatic to the victim of the hurtful behavior. Marshalling all of your resources—physical, mental, emotional, social, familial, financial, and professional—offers a renewed sense of empowerment that is at your disposal.
Remember, your number one responsibility is self-love manifested by self-care. Be well. Be safe. Meaningful journaling.
Author bio: Billie Wade is a writer living in central Iowa. She is the creator and founder of Journaling to Heal, a program she designed to help people as they travel their journey of healing from emotional stress and trauma. Her background, education, and experience enhance her innate compassion and reverence for other human beings. She shares her strength and wisdom on www.journalingtoheal.com.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org