Both “humility” and “humiliation” come from the Latin root word humilis meaning lowly. Humility (humilitās) is to “lower” yourself in light of others; whereas, to humiliate (humiliare) is to “make lower” someone else. The definitions may seem confusingly close, but there is a very important difference between the two — one is a virtue; the other is a vice.¹
Humility as a modest view of oneself should make people feel good about themselves. A person who is humble is praiseworthy. Humility is a virtue that we express from our inner being as opposed to the vice of vainglory (arrogance/pride²). I find it interesting that the most humble people I’m acquainted with are also some of the most intelligent and confident people I know. Conversely, the most arrogant people I’ve had the displeasure of encountering are often the most insecure. I don’t think that this is a coincidence either. It is possible to be fully aware of and fully embrace one’s self worth without being pride-full.
Humiliation stems from feelings of the shame of being judged. Shame by definition is a painful feeling. What is the point of using shame as a weapon — whether against ourselves or our fellow humans?
Sexual humility, I would argue, offers a very wide berth to love and healthy sexual intimacy. Two sexual partners who practice humility by definition would each place the needs, desires, and joys of their partner above their own; thus, opening the door to a mutually honest, vulnerable, and loving relationship. As Brené Brown points out in The Gifts of Imperfection, “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.”³ A person who is confident has no need to humiliate another person, especially not their own partner.
Sexual humiliation on the other hand, serves only self. People with a deep-seated need to humiliate their partners in order to feel better about themselves will not be found in healthy, loving relationships. Healthy sexual relationships require a great deal of open communication. People who are prone to shaming (read: emotionally abusing) their partners through humiliation are not inclined to encourage open, loving communication. In fact, they are more likely to be Narcissists who gas-light their partners. In addition, humiliating someone who is not a partner about or because of their sexuality is equally cruel and abusive.
Sexual Shame is a byproduct of humiliation. Here in the United States entire generations have been shattered by sexual shame. While some people are quick to blame religion for this dispiriting phenomenon, it is important to keep in mind that the taboo of sexuality can be secular in nature.
No one is born with shame. Cultural sexual shame is first and foremost passed down to us through our parents. Later our under-educated peers take over by dictating the norms for what is considered acceptable sex — often the same peers who don’t know the difference between a vulva and a vagina. We then get Hollywood’s take on sexuality, completely outside the moral confines of any religion, where only stunningly attractive people are lustfully engaging in 180 second sex which always results in mutual orgasms, right? Oh, and don’t forget the Internet. Of course, when you consider the fact that online body shaming is practically a cultural pastime, that’s one helluva scary thought.
¹ For the purposes of this post, humiliation refers exclusively to the non-consensual act of humiliation.
² I make a distinction between healthy pride, as in being conscious of one’s own dignity and self-worth and self regard (satisfaction), and unhealthy pride, as in having an inordinately excessive opinion of one’s importance (narcissist).
This post was prompted by a friend in the Blogosphere, author Linda Hill, who is offering (“Just Jot It January”) daily writing prompts for fellow bloggers. Today’s word, “Humiliate,” originated with Jim Adams, whose own entry entitled Stitches caught my eye and inspired me to write this post.