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The Terrible Effects of
Deliberate Humiliation

by Beverly Smallwood, Ph.D.

I was shopping this week in a local retail outlet when I noticed that one of the salespersons was wearing big rabbit ears. "Must be getting into the Easter spirit a little early," I mused.


As I checked out, I playfully asked the salesperson, "Is wearing rabbit ears a part of your job description??"

She said, "Well, kind of. I?m having to wear them because my performance quota was not up to par last month."

I couldn't believe my ears. I asked, "You're wearing them for punishment??"

"I guess you could say that," she replied. "I'll just have to do it. I have to have a job."

On the way to my car, I had flashbacks.

The little boy in my grade school class who actually had to sit in the corner with a dunce cap on his head. The manager in one of my client companies in another state who humiliated his employees by cursing and ridiculing the ideas they shared. (Of course, they quickly learned to keep any improvement ideas to themselves.)

The face of the embarrassed, frightened little girl whose mother's voice echoed across the grocery store, telling the child how stupid she was, popping her legs a few times for good measure. The adolescent who described to me his quiet rage, growing ever closer to volatility, born of months and years of torment from cruel classmates.

The countless children and adults who, years later, have sat in my office and recounted humiliating words from parents' or teacher' scritical moments in the formation of their self image. Did these bring back incidents from your own history?

I couldn't help wondering, how did the person using rabbit ears management learn this philosophy? Most probably, from someone significant who humiliated him or her.

You say, this makes no sense. Having experienced the pain of embarrassment at the hands of someone else, why would one do that to another person? Go figure.

But it happens. We can probably chalk it up to that fallen part of human nature that reaches for the false comfort of feeling better by making someone else worse.

But does humiliation ever work?

In preparing to write this article, I went online to Google. Oh, m'gosh, you really wouldn't believe what popped up when I typed in "humiliation"! Here's an example: "Get your dosage of spanking, bondage, mummification, flogging and whipping, slapping, cross dressing, torture and humiliation!!

Good grief! Move along quickly, but pause and reflect on just how nasty humiliation is!

Here's one of the more benign entries:" My Humiliation Page: In the hopes this public humiliation might spur me on to really acting on my New Year's resolution, I am resorting to posting the following... My current weight is 233 pounds.

I did actually go to this website (not the other one!), and saw that its author posted again the next year that he had put on 15 more pounds. Dont call your webmaster to create your own "humiliation page." It apparently doesn't work!

I remember hearing a story about a weight loss group in which, when members gained instead of lost pounds, they had to crawl around on their hands and knees, snorting out a song entitled, "I am a pig." This just reinforced the identity of animalistic overeater, one that was sure to play out in continued excess.

So here's the skinny:

Humiliation may produce some fear-based behavior change immediately, but its harm far outweighs any presumed benefits. Humiliation belittles, diminishes, makes smaller. People who experience this kind of toxic atmosphere suffer severe damage.

Most of us would never set out to harm others, especially not people we love, such as our kids. Next time that incredibly clever put-down remark comes to mind, tape your mouth!

I memorized a poem I read once. I don't remember the author. Here goes?

I watched them tearing a building down,
A gang of men in a busy town.
With a heave ho ho and a lusty yell, They swung a beam and the side wall fell.
I asked the foreman, "Are these men skilled,
And the kind you'd hire if you had to build??
"Oh, no," he laughed, "No, no, no indeed.
Why, common labor is all I need.
We can wreck in a day or two
What it takes a builder a year to do."
I asked myself as I went my way,
Which of these roles have I tried to play?
Am I a builder who builds with care,
Measuring life by the rule and the square?
Or am I a wrecker who walks the town,
Content with the labor of tearing down??

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist, professional speaker, and executive and personal coach who specializes in creating Magnetic Workplaces® and in bringing out the best in people. She's author of the upcoming book: This Can't Be Happening to Me!. Sign up for her free email newsletter at her website: http://www.MagneticWorkplaces.com. Contact Dr. Bev by email at: Bev@MagneticWorkplaces.com or by phone, 877-CAN-LEAD (226-5323) or 601-264-0890.

Some Related Articles:

The Heavy Price of Putdowns
Labeling is Disabling: Achieving Congruent Communication
How NOT to Motivate Your Children and Students
Eliminating Our Own Victim Mentality
Maybe Not Bones, But Hearts...and Worse!
Self-esteem is the Key to School Success

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