This is to clarify; at some level; the difference between shame and humiliation. I follow Silvan Tomkins in his view of these themes. As elsewhere in these writings I have said that shame is the gap between the desired and acquired. The state of pleasant emotion now interrupted.
But how is it that shame and humiliation are near the same? That is Tomkins says that shame and humiliation lie on a continuum going from shame to humiliation. It is an idea, a concept to consider, a way to describe what we do experience. We could say that we feel lesser and more shame. Is “shame” the same as “humiliation” in the sense of our desire being blocked their only difference being one of intensity? We are saying yes that is the case.
Let me be clear this is not an exact science. Language is imprecise and one rich benefit of understanding what “Affect Psychology” has to offer is understanding how vague and how personal our emotional language is and how much more we should pay attention to it.
So, for any given person intense “shame” can and does have the same meaning that intense “humiliation” has for someone else? For our purposes we are going to purposefully make the distinction that humiliation is more intense than shame.
But then there is the problem that, it is hard to remove “humiliation” from the image of any external force acting on us. My point is and will be does “shaming” and “humiliating” always have to come from “outside?” I have said already that it does not. This is to clarify and parse the words and dynamic a bit more. If there is an outside force, a person or situation that “humiliates” me it can also “shame” me. Again it is an internal assessment on my part. It is what I feel. What I feel will be based on my emotional biography and what I have learned to label this feeling. “I was absolutely humiliated or I was shamed.”
So to humiliate is to shame and or to humiliate all depending on the internal environment of the person humiliated. One defense against humiliation, of course, is simply to become acutely aware of this feeling. That said I am never offering the idea that therefore it is ok to suffer it and we should just “toughen up.”
The contrary is being suggested the very act of humiliation or shaming (it works both ways, that is you can call humiliating “shaming.” ) is in effect a physical assault on the brain tissue, a preemptive strike from which the brain first has to recover. The brain has to first recover from cognitive shock; this puts anyone at a disadvantage and raises the chances of a dangerous or at least an inappropriate response many fold.
Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.
Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nathanson Paperback (March 1994)
W.W. Norton & Company; ISBN: 0393311090