I’m reading Caroline Myss’s book Entering the Castle and I’ve reached the section about humiliation.
Recall when you’ve been humiliated in the past and your fears about humiliations.
Whenever I think about past humiliation there is a particular story that always comes to mind. I must have been seven or eight years old. My parents had a party. Many of my dad’s co-workers and friends were there, gathered around, sitting in chairs, probably drinking beer. I somehow ended up near my dad and he said, “Hey, kid, you want to play 52 Pick Up?”
I am sure what my childish mind thought in reaction to that question is, “Wow, Dad wants to play a game with me. I have Dad’s attention.” Of course I want to play 52 Pick Up. I’d never heard of 52 Pick Up and had no idea what it was, but I sure did want to play a game with my dad, so I said yes.
He said, “No, you don’t.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Nah, you don’t want to.”
“Yes, I do.”
We went back and forth like this for awhile. I’m sure my father quickly realized the error he’d made in making such an offer to me. I’m sure he had no idea how desperate I was for his attention or how thrilled I was to have him single me out for what I assumed would be a fun game.
His resistance to play the game escalated in direct correlation to my insistent begging until finally he gave in. He took a deck of playing cards, threw them into the air where they scattered all over the floor. He said, “There’s your 52. Pick them up.” His friends roared with laughter, and I’m sure he joined in. Even now as I write this, I get tears in my eyes at what I perceived as a cruel thing for him to do to me. I can remember the burn of embarrassment in my cheeks and probably the sting of tears as I bent to the task of picking up those cards. I don’t remember crying at the time. Dutiful child that I was, I suppose I picked up every last card in that deck, returned it to him, and I probably got teased by him and his friends some more. And if I had any dignity left, I hope I took myself away from their company for the rest of the evening.
For years I’ve played this scene in my head periodically and it’s what I immediately thought of when asked to think of past humiliations and how they’ve influenced my life and my choices.
This incident crystallizes how I’ve always viewed myself. Someone desperate for love and approval and attention. But then, isn’t that what we all want? I can look back now and see that neediness and how it played into my younger years and my early relationships, which basically boiled down to, “Why don’t you like me?” “Please be my friend.” “Why don’t you love me?” “What’s wrong with me?” “Why do you ignore me?”
What do we all want when you get right down to it? We want to feel special. Important. Loved. Approved of. If you don’t get those needs met in childhood by your parents, I’m pretty sure you’ll do what I did. Seek them out in other relationships until finally, you realize you don’t need these things from other people. You can give them to yourself and you’ve always had them from God.
What occurred to me when I read this passage and thought of this incident is what if I had been a different child? A joyous child? Instead of the needy, please-don’t-ignore-me little thing that I was?
What if, when my dad threw those cards, I’d simply joined in the game?
What if I’d happily picked up those cards and flung them around the room laughing in delight? What if I hadn’t let myself be humiliated and embarrassed? I could have joined in the game and turned the humiliation into something fun and delightful and silly.
Maybe that’s what I need to learn. It’s only how I view a situation. I can choose to be humiliated but isn’t it like every other emotion we allow others to make us feel? We choose to be manipulated or controlled or viewed in a certain light. We have it within our power to turn the tables on those individuals simply by our behavior.
We can be humble without being humiliated, can’t we? They aren’t the same thing. Humble means having or showing a consciousness of one’s defects or shortcomings; not proud; not self-assertive; humility is the state or quality of being humble. Humiliation, however, means to hurt the pride or dignity of by causing to be or seem foolish or contemptible.
Maybe my dad was trying to teach me to be humble and I wasn’t ready to learn it until many years later. Instead I allowed myself to be humiliated. Maybe I didn’t know it then, but I had a choice about how I reacted. I always have a choice. And in that knowledge lies power.