Humiliation Does Not Work

We all have a story from the past where we felt humiliated. It’s one of those memories that really stick for some reason. We’re going to look today at what those reasons might be and why it is such an important tactic for you to avoid using as a parent or professional. If you can remember a time in the past when you felt a sense of being humiliated there is an embarrassment there and there might even be some guilt feelings in there, there is something about wanting to react to that situation, which is likely to be an unwanted reaction.

In NLP, we talk quite a lot about the motivators that come from our values, the things that we value most. Some people have a value for more positive types of emotion, which means that in order to motivate them you tell them good things that you would like to see as a potential outcome from them. For others, they are more negatively motivated so you tell them what it is that they will fail at and what it is that they won’t be able to achieve. The theory is that it creates a bit of a fire in their belly, that they kind of might want to prove you wrong or that that sense of loss or failure would really motivate them to work a bit harder or to try a bit harder. I think that that’s where sometimes our instinct to cause humiliation is really coming from – nobody wants to make somebody else look stupid least of all a young person but sometimes it’s a strategy that we might turn to almost shock a young person into paying attention.

I think shame is perhaps another good word to describe what it feels like to be humiliated. At that moment, when we humiliate someone else it’s going to cause them to have a very intense and quite negative reaction towards us. Whilst it might create “an in-the-moment Interruption” to whatever it was that you wanted to interrupt, it’s going to create a great deal of other resistance moving forward. I’ve seen it happen in families where there’s maybe a one-time event, a one-time source of humiliation to the young person but it was so profound to them that they held on to that sense of being humiliated for a very long time and became incredibly hostile towards the people around them because they carried with them a sense of injustice.

If you ever need to pull a young person to one side to let them know that their behaviour is not on track, do that, pull them off to one side and have a quiet word in their ear about it. Going straight in for the humiliation tactic is likely to have some big ripple effects and some very negative ramifications. Your young person could end up manifesting that feeling of hostility for a very long time and it will leak out into lots of other interactions that they have with you because they lose respect for you in that moment when you humiliate them.

Where you have a young person who was a little bit too cocky and you had a feeling of wanting to bring them down a peg or two to get them grounded again, avoid the humiliation tactic. My suggestion would be that rather than going for the humiliation tactic you instead let them know that you could have humiliated them at that moment, but you chose not to do it. This is going to be a quiet word in their ear to let them know that they were putting themselves in a vulnerable situation by behaving the way in which they were and that other people around them could see those unattractive qualities that they were displaying.

If you go down the humiliation route, the young person will hold onto this event and will resent you. They will feel that you were unjustified in your humiliation towards them. Don’t be the person that causes the humiliation. It’s going to happen to them at some point if they have that sort of attitude in how they’re engaging with others. They’re going to bring that on for themselves but don’t make it from you because if it comes from you, you’ve got an awful lot more work to do on the other side trying to correct it after it has happened.


By Gemma Bailey



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