Recently, I was in a meeting and was very publicly called out for one of my faults. As the words were shared, I felt myself folding inward. My posture slouched. I wrapped my sweater tighter around myself, as though it could shield me from the humiliation. I began ducking my head and looking out from the corner of my eye like a shy little child.
I felt small.
I stewed pretty hard on this humiliation for a good 48 hours. I pressed pause and replay, rewound and fast forwarded, zoomed in and scanned out, assessing the crowd. Then, a small inner voice said, “You don’t have to relive this over and over again.” And so I shelved that ugly VHS replaying in my head.
I sat still with the feeling only – humiliation.
I will be honest. She and I haven’t been best friends. In fact, if I were to describe humiliation, then she would not be a friend at all. She would be that overly friendly stranger at the grocery store. You know, the one who kind of creeps you out and that you awkwardly pretend not hearing. Maybe, humiliation could even be personified as the obnoxious DISH representative at the mall or Walmart – the one who knows you don’t want to talk, but still asks how much you are paying for internet/cable service. (**Side note: My husband cracks me up when these people ask that question. He says, “That’s none of your business.” Poor, unsuspecting DISH rep. I feel for you. I really do. Just not enough to stop and listen.) My point is that humiliation is one of those feelings that everyone wants to ignore, push away. Yet, it is still a valuable teacher.
As I sat with the unique, searing pain of embarrassment, I had to draw on some reserves, because I felt very overwhelmed. I tried to imagine what a therapist or wise friend would ask about my experience. The first questions were somewhat inane. Are you humiliated often? Are there certain people who humiliate you often? That sort of thing. Along the way, one really good question came up.
Have you communicated that it is okay for people to speak of you this way?
Pause. Long pause. Longer pause.
Not directly, but perhaps unconsciously.
You see, I am an expert at negative self-talk. I can wield it with the precision of an Olympic fencer. Here is what I mean…
I use my negative self-talk to let people know its okay to be real. They don’t have to pretend and no one is perfect. I also use it as deflection from scrutiny. For instance, someone who is annoyed with me might call out my faults and I instantly acquiesce, agreeing with them and perhaps adding to it. The other person is so dumbstruck that they sort of don’t know what else to say. It’s also an effective tool in becoming a pseudo-comedian. There are few people who do not relate to a good, humiliating story.
Yet, in all of this vocal, negative self talk there is a misnomer to my soul. Perhaps, but I’m not necessarily sure of this, I am inadvertently giving permission to others that they may speak of me in that way too. Now, I don’t really like to be humiliated by others. It hurts deeply and this begs a question. Why don’t I feel hurt when I talk negatively about myself to others?
I am numb.
Self-deprecation has been a shield from others at times, but it has also been a sword too. If I stab myself with a sword, then I prevent you from doing it first. The problem is…
I still stabbed myself. I am still bleeding. Maybe I don’t have the momentum and force that another person would, but I’m still bleeding. I still injured myself.
So this is something I’m going to be working on. I’m still not opposed to sharing my faults. Authenticity is still my cornerstone. I won’t use it as a tool though. I won’t manipulate it to gain friends, prevent hurt or shield myself.
Yet again, an uncomfortable feeling shows me the way forward. Humiliation, perhaps the most brutal of teachers, is indeed my friend.
Wow, I’m honestly a little freaked out about this prospect!