Shame vs. Humiliation
by Sarah on December 5, 2018
Growing up I was bullied, teased and name called in every relational sphere of my life. I didn’t have a “safe zone” where I wasn’t on guard, bracing in fear of cruel words being spoken to me. I was mostly name called for being bigger than the other kids. I was my current, adult height (5’7”) in 6th grade and a normal weight for this height. Most of my friends were 4’11”! Before then, I was so tall for my age, everyone thought my sister and I were twins (she’s 2.5 years older than me).
Looking back, I realize that I matured early and was big for my age, not so much that I was a humongous person. But, the constant, hurtful words hit the core of my identity. I internalized the message that there must be something so intolerable about my appearance, that people were compelled to say something. I decided I needed to overcompensate in other areas so as to overshadow this perceived flaw.
Fast forward to my 20’s, when I lost multiple friendships with women who became jealous of me. When they explained why, it was very confusing because they basically were jealous of me just being myself. Now, on the flipside, I decided I needed to undercompensate and play small in order to reduce the probability of experiencing rejection again.
Positive characteristics of who I am were buried very deeply in my Shame, as well as the flawed and imperfect characteristics from all the bullying and name calling. As a young person discovering who I was, this was incredibly confusing.
When Brené Brown, a leading shame, vulnerability and courage researcher, talks about the difference between Humiliation and Shame, she says the variable between the two is whether or not we believe we deserve it.
If someone criticizes or calls me names in front of my classmates or colleagues and my self-talk is, “that person is a jerk and I don’t deserve that” I am likely experiencing humiliation. If my self-talk is, “that person is right. I am stupid, annoying, fat, ugly, a failure, etc. [fill in the blank]” I am likely experiencing shame.
They both feel really bad, but I will rebound from humiliation in a different way. I’ll probably tell someone about it and experience connection and affirmation within the experience or just simply let it go because I don’t believe I deserve to be treated that way.
In shame, I believe I deserve it. I hide it and keep it a secret, hoping no one ever finds me out because I believe what they’ve said about me is true.
NO ONE knew I was bullied and name called growing up nor did I talk about the backhanded compliments and jealousy I experienced as a young adult. I just tightened the margins of who I was, desperately trying to stay inside the lines of “too much” and “not enough” at the expense of my fullest self-expression.
Does any of this feel familiar? What has it been like for you?
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