The different between embarrassment and humiliation has been a topic of discussion this week. Embarrassment being an inside job and humiliation being an experience of power and something that cuts a lot deeper than embarrassment. Humiliation is often covered up and put in the corner, but it can be complete with outing and public scrutiny. The never ending dance includes familiar friends of shame and guilt. Shame is also an inside job, and you feel completely alone and guilt focusses on behaviour and can often be shared. There is no end to opportunities to experience these emotions and see them play out everyday! On the weekend, I was at a friends birthday party and some of the in-real-life Dad jokes caused embarrassment to the children of the father in question, but there was no guilt or shame to be seen.
Exploring these themes with aplomb is Brene Brown and her work around shame is bringing a revolution to emotional growth. Empathy, resilience and self-compassion seem to be the holy trinity inoculation and anti-dote to these other emotions, and breaking them down to be clear about what is yours and what belongs to the other.
If your heart can be big enough to hold the hurt, it might also be that strengthened by generosity, be big enough to hold the healing. Matching the healing to size of the hurt, seems to be one of those equations of life that isn’t easily addressed. Lots of little hurts can amalgamate in all kinds of ways, being swept under the carpet, stored behind closed doors, hidden under a bed … look at all those metaphors which imply darkness, out of sight and mediated by a solid object. I think that is what we do to ourselves as well as our hearts harden and become impenetrable when we don’t let the hurts ooze out and act like the vulnerable human beings we are when we are betrayed and lost.
Coming out into the light, being exposed to the elements, it is inevitable we will be weathered. The innocence, power, creativity and splendour of the elements best described by John O’Donohue are at our disposal constantly being revealed in the landscapes around us and as the earth and the rivers are worn down and the wind wildly blows about us, as it does in Western Ireland, or for us in Australia how the sun beats down on us, the elements are irresistible. We are caught in their flow and our attempts to manage them with air conditioners, sunblock, umbrellas or even dams, doesn’t stop them being there. There are lessons we can transfer from the elements to our human condition. We can put up barriers, use devices, create and use psychological gymnastics but those emotions are with us and we need to work with them, not against them, to find our way out into the light and good weather of good health.
We are elemental beings where the great forces of air, earth, wind of course fire find themselves a home in our emotional selves and in our bodies. Humiliation is in the earth from which the very word derives and has us digging deep to get through it. Perhaps it is by working with the other elements to blow it away, give it space to breathe and let the sparks fly? Maybe then that it can be relieved of its duty to call us closer to knowing our worth and understanding humiliation as a by-product of institutional injustices. When that realisation comes to the fore … sparks will fly.