The Role of Anger and Humiliation

Lesson objective:

What is humiliation and how does it relate to anger? This lesson answers those questions and discusses some post-traumatic symptoms that are associated with humiliation, anger, guilt, and shame.

Certain forms of trauma can be particularly humiliating. The experience of violence and conflict, for example, often carries great risk of being subject to humiliating events.

When rights are taken from you. 

When people are taken from you. 

When you lose things that were yours. 

When the world ignores your pain. 

When you feel disrespected constantly. 

In the aftermath of such traumas, each day may feel like little more than an exercise in humiliation. Like a routine of the same self-conscious torture.

Specific experiences can induce guilt and shame, but humiliation and anger also play a large part in the overall experience of conflict, violence, and war, and trauma in general.

Humiliation and anger both are normal and understandable emotions in the context of tremendous suffering. They are unique from shame and guilt, and deserve to be specifically mentioned. 

Anger and shame are closely related. They exist in a risky cycle, where feelings of shame may persist to the point of inciting anger. 

In the same way, the experience of constant anger can produce shame. Feeling anger is uncomfortable. For many people, experiencing constant anger feels in some way wrong, against their ethical or moral code. Or it may co ntribute to hopelessness, as anger focuses on things in the past, present, or future that seem impossible to change. 

Shame plays a key role in the relationship between trauma symptoms and the anger and aggression that might follow. 

Feelings of shame often come before anger and hostility. In other words, when the experience of stress and trauma mix with feelings of shame, it is common to also experience anger. The path is usually quite clear: trauma and stress, then shame, then anger. In this way, anger and aggression can further contribute to the isolation that often comes with feelings of shame.

Slightly differently we have humiliation. 

Technically, humiliation is not a self-conscious emotion, like guilt and shame. Humiliation is usually caused by something external—by someone or many someones. That said, like guilt and shame, humiliation still emerges from how we attribute the cause of our pain. In humiliation, somebody has made us feel powerless, ridiculed or abused us, tortured us or attacked our symbols as a way to make us suffer. It doesn’t matter who, but the cause is still somehow external.

Humiliation is the emotion we experience when we feel we have been diminished in front of others. And in the same way when we feel guilt, we might want to repair our behaviors, when we feel humiliated, we might long for justice and revenge. 

When you feel humiliated, you may ruminate and replay various acts of humiliation you have endured. Over and over again, you may rehearse the feelings and the scenarios as a way of contemplating new or different responses, or because they were so overwhelming and negative. 

At the same time, humiliating moments are often kept private. You might be reluctant to reveal or share with others an experience that has made you feel attacked. You may think others would judge you if they knew how angry and vindictive you feel. 

Humiliation is uncomfortable. Keeping it inside is uncomfortable, but so is releasing it. 

And it is at that juncture that humiliation can turn to shame. We might not be ashamed of what happened to us, but we are ashamed of our reaction to it. And in this way, humiliation plays an important role in how we react to traumatic experiences and how we relate to unwanted responses and symptoms after trauma.

Guilt and shame are very lonely places. While guilt can indeed motivate healthy reparation and reconciliation, shame is often much more sinister, targeting your core sense of self.

Importantly, though, you are not just the sum of your stressful or traumatic experiences. The way each of us reacts to stress, conflict, or guilt and shame is also shaped deeply by the experiences we had before conflict, by aspects of our culture, and by our genetic make-up. 

You are not the sum of your stress and your emotions. What matters is that you try to understand the potential consequence and impact of your self-conscious emotions.

When we do this, we might better understand why we are feeling a certain way and, most importantly, find the necessary support and path forward.