Humiliation

“Oh, humiliation is poisonous. It’s one of the deepest pains of being human.”

— Pierce Brosnan

Like all negative emotions, shame, guilt, embarrassment, and humiliation seem to be concentrated in our species. We are, as far as we can tell, most aware of ourselves and so are most aware of our place compared to others, and most sensitive to what we look like when viewed through their eyes.

Shame, guilt, and embarrassment are all shades of our special kind of suffering, but it’s humiliation that we fear the most. Shame is internal, secret, it hurts but that hurt is ours alone. Guilt maybe public, but it is counteracted by the possibility of forgiveness and redemption. Embarrassment is temporary, and if the victim is strong and well humored enough the episode may actually bring them closer to their peers.

But humiliation is something altogether different. It puts you beyond redemption and out of cohesion with society. It is a shame that has been brought out into the public sphere. It’s guilt without forgiveness. It is the dark side of embarrassment that dwells in loneliness.

Humiliation is a forcible removal of your pride. It is a public lowering of your social station through “intimidation, physical or mental mistreatment or trickery, or by embarrassment” usually as a result of a person perceived to have “committed a socially or legally unacceptable act.” It is the loss of your ability to say who you are. It is as if your very identity has been taken and spoiled. It’s an intense emotion, and it hurts the deepest parts of us.

Of the negative emotions, humiliation may be the hardest for us to cope with because it is out of our control. It’s up to others when our isolation will end.

Even if we were to forgive and accept ourselves for the transgression and consider ourselves ready to reclaim our place in society, others might not. It is up to other people whether we can live comfortably as who we are and what we have done, and there may be nothing at all we can do to persuade them. We may be forever cut off from our place in our communities and that causes great pain and loneliness in us.

“Avoiding humiliation is the core of tragedy and comedy.”

— John Guare

Humiliation is the price we pay for protection and security. It is the price we pay for shared responsibility and fate. It’s a deterrent to taboo and destructive behavior as well as a reassurance to others that their cultural beliefs, rituals, and rules are working to keep the community going. Humiliation has been so helpful to our survival that it became embedded in the human condition. Humiliation shaped us, together.

 

Humiliation has made us who we are and—in a cruel and twisted way—made us stronger, but it has had some pretty severe side effects. Of the negative emotions, humiliation may be the most intense and damaging of all.

A person who suffers a public shaming can go on to suffer depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, anger, and private shame. These people seethe with rage and long for revenge, or they turn their anger inward and find they can no longer face themselves. Cut off from their communities and denied the opportunity to redeem and reclaim their status leads them to feelings of hopelessness and desperation. They will do anything to have any status at all rather than none.

We go to great lengths to avoid humiliation. We lie, to ourselves and everyone we meet. We make our mistakes, our flaws, and our greatest shame our deepest secrets, we let them fester and grow because to be filled with such self-loathing is preferable to the hate we might find in another’s eyes. We’ll do anything to avoid humiliation, even kill.

People die every day for someone’s humiliation. Whole wars have been started, massacres carried out, and families obliterated over regular old human humiliation.

“Public humiliation comes to us all, and never so surely as when we’re just a little bit pleased with ourselves and feel, just for once, that everything is going our way.”

— Kate Reardon

We suffer because we fail to see humiliation as a natural, essential, or universal emotion. We simply never consider that we will find ourselves feeling it. Humiliation, we think, is always deserved and, we think, we would never break the kind of social rules that warrant the embarrassment and ostracization. Humiliation, we know, as a means to an end, a tool to control others and only others are ever deserving of being controlled.

We suffer because we forget not just that the feeling of humiliation is in all of us, but the desire to inflict humiliation is in us too. We loathe to feel it ourselves but are quick to wield it against others for the pettiest reasons. Those people who lower others this way to gain a higher place in the hierarchy gain nothing by taking humanity from others. Those people have lost who they are and become a slave to their need for control.

We suffer because we allow our pride, the flip side of humiliation, to grow far too large. We inflate our place in this world and believe too strongly in its permanence.

There are other, more abstract kinds of humiliation, ones I believe can be positive forces in human life, should we have the forethought to see it that way. They are of spiritual humiliations, the lowering of the human status as a species, often only individually, but the time will come soon, I think, when we will feel it collectively.

This Earth, this rocky planet third from the sun, our only home and hope, will remind us that we have conquered nothing and are despite our technology and intelligence are at the mercy of forces we provoke with our ignorance, neglect, and arrogance. We will be lowered by climate change, by dwindling resources, by disease. I only hope the humiliation won’t come too late to save us.

And of course, the universe reminds each of us in time of our powerlessness too. We’re reminded that for all our bravado and grandiosity we are still quite fragile beings, some of the weakest on the planet even, and that at the end comes for us all. When it does, we’ll have nothing but regret and longing, just before we have nothing at all. The truth of who we are is one giant humiliation, and the worst part is we do not let ourselves feel this humiliation enough or for any of the right reasons.

Humiliation is the beginning of an honest examination of ourselves and if we can avoid bitterness, anger, and everlasting shame over it. Through humiliation, we find humility and humanity. We find out that the identity we hold so tightly to was but an illusion, easily shattered and stolen. Humiliation pulls back the curtain, tests the ego, and reveals the true self underneath. If we can hold on, we can find a new place in our world, one that suits us much better and offers peace, finally, from deception and fear.

“One improves by learning to be productively ashamed of who one currently is.”

— Alain de Botton

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter H under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by lucas clarysse on Unsplash

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Fear

“Man goes constantly in fear of himself.”

— Georges Bataille

Human fear is ancient. It speaks in the tongues of ancestors we wouldn’t recognize and keeps alive by the old ways we no longer understand. 

Fear is the oldest part of us. Humans survive by fear. We came together because of fear. We fought, massacred, and enslaved one another and then plundered and destroyed nature all because we were afraid. We found religion and our we found our courage because of fear. This world is a cruel and confusing place, our fear led us to remove ourselves from what was dark and dangerous, and to make a new world in our image, and still, we are haunted by our fear. 

We’ve been on a journey to conquer fear but in all the wrong ways. We strive to rid the world of fear rather than to face what terrifies us. Humans have forgotten that fear was once regarded as a kind of wisdom, now we see only weakness, and feel only contempt. Our fears have been regulated to the parts of the mind we no longer listen to and so our terrors manifest in strange ways in the new world. We no longer know what exactly it is we are afraid of, only that where ever we go there is the threat of danger, of suffering, and of loss.

“The amygdala is the part of the temporal lobe responsible for primal emotions like rage, hate, and fear. It’s our early warning system, an organ always on high alert, whose job is to find anything in our environment that could threaten survival. So potent is the amygdala’s response to potential threats that once turned on, it’s almost impossible to shut off, and this is a problem in the modern world.”

— Peter Diamandis

We fear our own fear foremost and go to great lengths to avoid it. Fear is an unpleasant emotion, it’s completely understandable. At the first sign of pain, emotional or physical, we learn the first lesson, do not do that again. Do not go near anything that looks like that, that makes you feel like that, that can remotely be linked or lead to pain like that. A hot stove, a knife in an outlet, a car accident, a heartbreak, an assault, a movie scene, the death of a loved one, and so much more. Fear erects boundaries and restricts you from your own life all in the name of keeping you and the ones you love safe.

Fear has no other purpose.

It is rare that fear is a positive force in the human life. Fear seems to bring out the very worst in us. It forces us into a constant state of fight, flight, freeze, or fall. Fear draws us in, warps desire, and hijacks the ego. You become a primitive version of yourself, ignorant, resentful, trapped. You lash out, you blame, you become suspicious. Sometimes you become delusional and see enemies where there are none and wish to strike out before you have to strike back. We fear suffering, pain, and loss but what does that mean in a world where our needs are now are so easily met ad we are so far from becoming meals for animals bigger and faster than us. What we are afraid of now no longer looks the way it did when the amygdala was being formed.

The parts of our brains that process fear do not understand statistics or proportion. This is why we hate to fly in planes but drive cars. This is why some of can’t drive cars at all. This is why we manipulate one another and fight wars based on the flimsiest of differences. We are seeking out things to fear now, new dangers and horrors to escape from and there is no shortage.

Like desire, fear can be hijacked. It is to the benefit of government and economy to keep you in a perpetual state of panic. You fear are prayed and played up to keep you under control, to keep you working, and to keep you consuming. This is not a conspiracy theory. It isn’t personal, and I don’t believe it is even intentional or conscious for most public figures or companies. We are only doing what works to make a living and keep the peace, but we are approaching a society so full of fear that no one is able to fully live their lives anymore.

“It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more.”

― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Most things we fear we’ve never seen, but we can imagine all the worst things in our minds day and night. Fear grows in the unknown and thrives in the imagination. We fear most what we cannot control and the more we try to protect ourselves the more fearful we become. Fear follows right behind us as fast as we can run gaining strength and power.

In the last year or two, maybe more, maybe my whole life on some level, I have suffered from intense death anxiety. I’ve spent countless nights wide awake wondering if this day was my last. I worried when I might die and how. I worried about leaving my loved ones behind, or worse, them dying and leaving me behind instead. I was afraid never to see my girlfriend again. I laid awake worried I had been wrong, and hell was real, or reincarnation, or something darker. What is there was nothing but darkness, loneliness, and the mind going slowly insane for eternity?

The thoughts started to creep up on me during the day while I worked, while I cooked, while I sat talking with my girlfriend. I would think “what if I died right now?” and I would be in a panic all over again. So I did something that seemed to make no sense, I downloaded an app that reminded me 5 times a day that I was going to die and shared a bit of wisdom from a historical figure or book.

Five times a day, Every day for months now I have clicked a notification that says “Hey, don’t forget you are going to die,” and you know what happened? I stopped lying awake at night in terror. The thoughts stopped intruding while I was just trying to live my life. I took control of my fear. Instead of trying to avoid it, which was making it worse, I found validation and let myself feel it, and it lost its power.

I have other fears too. I have a driving phobia. Last month my girlfriend went out of town, and I was forced through my anxiety to drive myself where I needed to go. I’m still somewhat scared, but I’ve gained confidence by leaps and bounds. I see my fear for what it is, and I know now for a fact I am stronger than it. When I am afraid, I ask myself what the worst case might be and what would happen to me. If someone I love dies, I will be sad. If I lose my job, I will find another. If I am afraid of war, or terrorism, or sinkholes, or the earth escaping the gravitational pull of the sun, I tell myself I will survive.

Fear is part of who we are, and like all things human it is better to accept it, explore it, and, as humans do, conquer it. Better to make it your friend. Better to give it space to exist in your life. You can’t escape it anyway.

In between everything you want to do and the things you find yourself doing instead is fear. The things you think about before you drift off to sleep, the thoughts that come to you without prompt and set your heart racing, face them. Think about them, write about them, talk about them, immerse yourself in your fears, find their source and you will find out who you truly are.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

— Marie Curie

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter F under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence”

Photo by Larm Rmah on Unsplash

Ego

“That which comes and goes, rises and sets, is born and dies is the ego.”

― Ramana Maharshi

Existing as a human being requires navigating not only the dangerous landscape of nature but the complex and challenging labyrinth of human society and culture. We have to be able to find our place in time, in this world and the hierarchy of humans. When your mind makes a map of the world around you with all the people and all the object and concepts that exist the ego is the big red dot that signals “you are here!”.

We have to be able to remember and anticipate, plan and execute, make friends, make war, make families, and governments. We have to be able to fit in, and we have to be able to lie. All of this requires a sense of who we are relative to everything we aren’t. We require a sense of continuity with ourselves despite our changing bodies and nature. We require the ego self.

Think of the self as an onion the ego is composed of the outer third or so of layers. It is your identity. It is who you tell people you are, who you tell yourself you are. For most of us, it’s our job, our nationality, our race, gender, sexual orientation, and marital status. It’s your culture and your upbringing. It’s how much power we wield and how much we much we must yield to others.

It’s your favorite movie genre, your hobbies, your dreams, and aspirations. It is your memories and who you love. It is who and what we hate and who and what we fight for. It is who you speak of when you say “I am…” and the answer to the question “Who am I?”. It is where you consciously see and experience the world from, and it is what people consciously experience of you too.

The ego is what endures. It is why you can look at a picture of yourself as a baby or remember your favorite cartoon as a kid or your first love in high school and know that person is the same one that you are now. It is why you can picture yourself in the future and feel a connection. The ego is the person you know best and the part of yourself you have the best chance of understanding, though few of us do.

“If a man thinks he is not conceited, he is very conceited indeed.”

― C.S. Lewis

To most of us, the ego is a bad thing. We think of the egocentric, egotistical, the egomaniac, the selfish, self-centered, self-absorbed, arrogant, and vain. We think of the conceited types who treat the rest of us as if we were only minor characters in their great story. We are just a means to their ends.

Then again, aren’t we all a little conceited? Aren’t we all naturally self-absorbed, self-servicing, and vain. Of course we are, how could we not be? Isn’t the world around us just setting and the people plot devices, minor characters, and extras?

Everything you think, do, and say is about you, even the things you tell yourself aren’t. We’re all more than a little narcissistic. We’re all completely self-absorbed. Conceit is our truth. It is our reality. We have a natural and inevitable obsession with the self because ours is the only perspective we can see from. We are the main character of the story. The reason the story exists. We are each the dead center of the universe. Conceit is common and completely understandable.

I mean, none of us can be truly sure that other people really exist the way that we do. How do I know you feel and think as deeply as me? I do I know I’m really not the center of the universe? From this perspective, all evidence tells me that I am.

“Part of me suspects that I’m a loser, and the other part of me thinks I’m God Almighty.”

― John Lennon

Our egos are inflated, not some egos, all egos. The ego, you, are in incessant need of soothing and stroking. You are a baby and a beast, spoiled and raging deep down. You don’t always show it, but it is in you. The ego’s job is to help you contain it, mask it, and direct it, but you are always putting yourself first.

Our egos may be large, but they are also deceptively weak. Which means we are weak and at the whim of it cowardice. The ego functions best when functions unnoticed. The ego is a liar. It masks itself. It shapeshifts and gaslights. It’s a slippery thing. It blends in and hides in plain sight. It tricks us into becoming someone we may not really be in order to fulfill our deeper desires.

For most of us, the self is cobbled together from bits and pieces of our parents, our friends, media, culture, and religion. It’s made without our input or direction. We never put much thought into what we are made of, and as a result, many of us are made simply of suffering, superstition, anger, and fear.

Most of us are made of weak egos, a weak sense of the self, and an identity that is unstable. We don’t know our place in this world, and we don’t know who we are. We avoid challenging situations and loath to change. Reality can be hard to cope with for the weak ego.

“Humility is, in a sense, admitting how egotistical you are.”

― Criss Jami, Killosophy

But to strengthen the ego feels wrong. To be consciously self-obsessed feels wrong, but remember you already are all about you may as well admit it and control it. A strong and healthy ego isn’t the same as having an over-inflated ego. A strong ego is the sum of a reasonable amount of self-esteem, a strong drive to examine and know the self, and to present a true image of the self to the world with courage.

A strong ego can accept reality readily. The strong ego can control and shape the self and offer peace and stability. Having a strong sense of self and a solid knowledge of who you requires a great deal of humility. A strong ego-self means accepting the reality that you are both the main character and an extra in the background of another person’s universe.

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter E under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence”

Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash