defense mechanisms

Defense Mechanisms Triggered By Humiliation

Part 4 of the blog series Disarming Defense Mechanisms

In Part 4 of this blog series we will be addressing the kind of defense mechanisms that can cause true human devastation. When feelings of humiliation are triggered by insecurity, defense mechanisms can go underground and reappear at a later time in the form of rage towards innocent people.

But before we address the defense mechanism that causes abuse to others, let’s do a quick review of what we have learned in the first three blog posts of this series.

In Part 1, When We Hurt Those We Care About, we looked at how defense mechanisms work by first describing them as the protective part of our mind splitting off and establishing what we might refer to as a hidden control center.

We described the goal of this control center as being able to secretly influence us to take action to protect ourselves in extreme ways that we would not ordinarily engage in. It does this by feeding us thoughts that change our perspective which then changes our emotional state.

In Part 2, How To Stop Defensive Behavior, we tracked the defense mechanism often triggered by embarrassment. We discovered that the inner mind will try to convince us to shift the blame to others so we do not have to feel embarrassed about something we did or said. You were also introduced to techniques that allow anyone to easily overcome this defense mechanism when you find yourself on the receiving end.

In Part 3, Defense Mechanisms Triggered By Shame, We found that defense mechanisms triggered by shame operate by transferring shame to others. In other words, to get relief from our own shame we try to make others feel the same way.

We are now going to turn our attention to the defense mechanism that goes one step further than blaming or shaming. We know that to ward off embarrassment we may shift the responsibility of our actions onto others. We also know that to ward off shame, we may try to get innocent people in our lives to feel ashamed by expressing inappropriate anger at them.

As it turns out, the most effective way for human beings to ward off humiliation is to make others feel humiliated, often through the expression of rage. This defense mechanism works when the inner mind convinces the outer mind to exploit a weakness in another person in order to humiliate them.

Let’s now take a look at how taking away another person’s dignity can restore a sense of personal power in those who use this defense.

Childhood Humiliation

Humiliation tends to be a very difficult emotion for humans to process. Most of us associate humiliation with a loss of our human rights, freedoms, or a loss of human dignity. We may associate humiliation with human slavery or what prisoners of war might have had to go through. When our inherent rights as human beings are taken away from us, we can feel a powerlessness and helplessness that most people find intolerable.

We may think of the degradation, oppression, torment and helplessness associated with humiliation as something that happens in cruel and unusual circumstances far away from our everyday life. But surprisingly, events that cause these feelings in most people happen much closer to home.

The place where people most often witness or experience degradation, oppression, torment and helplessness was the place most of us went every day. The most common breeding ground for humiliation takes place in our childhood schoolyards.

Many children who do not necessarily come from abusive backgrounds may find themselves participating, even if only from the sidelines, in this kind of humiliation. They are then expected to make sense of behavior that even their parents and teachers are bewildered by. In order to gain an understanding of how this could happen, we must take a closer look at the common theme that runs through all childhood humiliation.

When we examine the behaviors of children who purposefully try to humiliate others we find that each one of them, from the hulking bully to the high school mean girl, is reacting to the exact same stimulus. They are all deeply concerned about one thing. Fear of being seen as weak.

Fear Of Weakness

The uncomfortable reality seems to be that unless we are specifically taught to accept differences and to value vulnerability, we will probably experience discomfort around those who appear weak. This discomfort can arise when others are mentally or physically weak or simply because they are different from the rest of the group. And for some this can trigger feelings of condescension, disgust and superiority.

Although we can only guess at how human beings came by this trait, we can certainly understand the effect that witnessing humiliation of others as a common event can have on how a child sees the world. Whether you were the bully, the victim, the person standing up for the victim or the person egging the bully on, when you saw your peers getting enjoyment out of humiliating someone who was helpless to defend themselves, you would have had to come to some fairly harsh conclusions.

Finding out that your peers are more than capable of turning on you in an instant for the kind of vulnerability that every one of us carries around can instill a low-level fear of humiliation that can last a lifetime.

Rage As A Defense

As a child, having an experience where dignity is taken away by an enemy, or metaphorically speaking, someone outside of our tribe can be devastating. However, we can usually find a way to make enough sense of our enemies wanting us to suffer to eventually recover from the experience.

But when we try to understand why our own tribe, those we depend on for support, those we trust and may even love, would attack us and take enjoyment from our suffering over nothing more than a social misstep, we find ourselves unable to make sense out of these events.

As we enter adulthood, most of us do find a way to make enough sense out of this dark side of human nature to trust others. However, some individuals who are either naturally highly sensitive to humiliation, have parents or caretakers who have humiliated them for weakness, or who were raised in families that believed that weakness is something to be ashamed of may not recover from these childhood fears.

They may instead try to make others feel as humiliated as they once did. The most effective way to instill humiliation seems to be by pointing out a weakness, then demonstrating hatred through intonation, choice of words, body language or physical domination in an attempt to make that person believe that everyone else will hate them as well.

This process is carried out through use of a defense mechanism. The defense mechanism is simply a way in which a person can lie to themselves to facilitate feeling better. But in order to lie to themselves, they must go what could be described as a process of splitting their awareness in two parts.

The part of our mind that feels the need to protect us from humiliation will try to get the other part to seek out a weaker person to humiliate. But the protective inner mind has two challenges. The first challenge is getting the outer mind to believe an innocent person deserves to be humiliated.

The second challenge to the inner mind will be overcoming the fact that humiliating others is generally not socially acceptable behavior for adults. Therefore the inner mind cannot choose just any victim. The inner mind usually does its dirty work behind closed doors. The most common environment for this defense mechanism is in the domestic arena. The usual victims are either a spouse or a child.

Let’s now take a look at a list of behaviors that are often present during defense mechanisms triggered by humiliation.

Contorted facial expressions.
Destruction of objects or throwing objects.
Banging of fists on surfaces.
Expressions of contempt.
Reddening of face.
Yelling.
Exaggerated pointing.
Extreme facial tension while speaking or speaking through clenched teeth.
Insults.
Insinuations.
Accusations.
Condescension and mimicking.
Swearing.
Derogatory language.

Whether or not adults engage in this defense mechanism depends on several things. But before we discuss what circumstances drive people to use these defenses, let’s take a look at the circumstances that ensure they don’t. There are several circumstances that may keep people from using defense mechanisms triggered by humiliation:

1. People who have always had a naturally strong sense of right and wrong may be capable of overriding these impulses when they sense they go against their moral grain.

2. Those who have always had a very low emotionality, including those on the autistic spectrum, may not care as much about what others think and might experience confusion over why people would ever want to engage in this type of behavior.

3. People who have been raised in a community or by parents that put special emphasis on not being afraid of differences and standing up for those who are too weak to protect themselves may be able to override the wish to harm weaker people.

4. People who have been raised in a very safe emotional home environment which allowed them to internalize a strong sense of trust in their fellow human beings may never experience this tendency at all.

Now that you know what kind of circumstances keep us from engaging in this behavior, let’s turn to what kind of circumstances do make people susceptible to engaging in defense mechanisms triggered by humiliation.

1. People who were brought up in a community or family that taught them that weakness is shameful may give in to the urge to humiliate others.

It is only recently that people are becoming aware that emotional vulnerability is a good quality that promotes healthy human connection and is protective of relationships. Because this is a new awareness, the instinctual belief that those who are weak are inferior and not worthy of human dignity or rights still often goes unchallenged. Additionally, people who believe that weakness is shameful may choose to align with the strong so they themselves don’t get victimized.

2. Those who were born with extra sensitivity to social rejection or those who have naturally high emotionality may choose to protect themselves by humiliation.

Character traits of high social sensitivity and high emotionality often go hand in hand. These traits cause people to focus so strongly on how others perceive them that they can become lightly paranoid that others may find them lacking in some way. Imagining those they trust turning against them can trigger defenses that make them want to be the ones who do the humiliating first so they don’t end up being the victim.

3. Those who have been raised in an environment where family members have been humiliating their children for generations to relieve their own childhood humiliation may find themselves using the same defenses.

When abuse within a home environment is passed down from generation to generation, children may internalize the belief that human beings are not to be trusted. They may come to believe the people they love will betray them leaving them with no one to care of or protect them.

They often believe that those who talk about trust are only paying lip service to make themselves look good. They may secretly believe no one is capable of being trustworthy. They use this defense to protect themselves from what they perceive to be a cruel world.

4. Those who have been personally humiliated by someone in their adult life that they deeply trusted and who was supposed to protect them may use this defense.

Some people can develop what we might describe as a light case of post traumatic stress disorder when they are betrayed in a way that is traumatizing to them. If they don’t resolve their feelings of humiliation, these people may use this defense when they feel similarly vulnerable in order to try to gain power back from a time when they felt helpless.

defense mechanisms

When Abuse Is Not A Defense

Many people have a difficult time deciding whether they have a right to blame an abusive loved one for their behavior. They might feel that if the person is engaging in a defense mechanism which is blinding them to the fact that they are hurting others, they shouldn’t have to take as much responsibility.

In one sense we might say that most abusive behavior is in some way based on defense mechanisms. When people try to punish innocent people for perceived weaknesses, we can be fairly certain that somewhere along the line they have internalized humiliation and are trying to displace the emotions by humiliating someone else.

However, there are exceptions to this generalization. If someone is using the defense mechanism triggered by humiliation over a period of time with the same person, they may begin to become conscious of the great benefits of convincing another person that they are inferior or undeserving of their human rights.

We are all instinctually self-centered. Yet each of us agrees to let go of our wish to get more than others when we enter a family contract with another person. It can actually be very difficult for us to put family first before our own needs. When people who regularly use this defense mechanism find that they can get out of their obligation to put family needs first, they may learn to pretend to be rageful in order to get what they want.

In a sense we could call this more conscious use of rage on a family member abusive behavior that does not stem from defense mechanisms. Unfortunately, it is difficult if not impossible to tell the difference between someone who is reacting to a defense mechanism from someone who is purposefully manipulating a family member through a dramatic performance.

Tracking the Defense Mechanism Driven By Humiliation

Although the surges of rage that accompany this defense mechanism seem to come from nowhere and the actual interaction between the inner and outer mind are hard to track, there is one clue we can use to show us that the inner mind is busy at work during attempts to humiliate.

We know that people who try to punish those they are supposed to protect will usually have what we might call a script playing in their head. This script provides them with justification to punish others. These mental scripts can be compared to cue cards or a teleprompter that allow the inner mind to provide justification to the outer mind to punish a loved one. They serve as both fuel for rage episodes and also allow the defensive person to feel less guilty when the episode is over.

Most people who engage in this defense mechanism believe that these mental scripts are true. But if they were to question the reasons they are punishing their loved one they would discover many flaws. However, even those who do at some point question their own reasoning may find themselves unable to resist the urge to rage once they have become habituated to the relief that humiliating another person provides.

Here are some common examples of scripts that the inner mind may feed to the outer mind to convince the outer mind to humiliate an innocent person. These scripts portray defense mechanisms used in romantic relationships. But similar scripts are often used with children, ex partners, elderly parents, adult children or even by caretakers in any environment where hidden abuse can take place.

“He’s just like all the other men. They are liars and cheaters, every one of them. Look at him with that smug smile on his face. He thinks he can play me and get away with it. You want to see a game? I’ll show you a game.”

“I knew she was using me from the start. Look at her acting all innocent. She thinks she can come in here and just walk all over me. If she thinks I’m going to stand for this she has another thing coming.”

Other scripts may suggest that a loved one isn’t giving the proper respect and that they need to be taught their lesson the hard way. The inner mind may also feed in thoughts that convince the abuser that their loved ones are inferior and need to be taught their place in life.

Let’s now take a look at how the recipient of a defense mechanism triggered by humilation feels.

The Cycle Of Abuse

Behaviors driven by defense mechanisms triggered by humiliation are often categorized as abuse. One reason it fits this category is that people who use this mechanism often seem to enjoy watching their loved one suffer. When innocent people on the receiving end of this defense mechanism observe that a loved one humiliating them is enjoying seeing them suffer, real psychological damage can take place, particularly if they are someone who is supposed to love and trust them such as a parent or a romantic partner.

But one of the most damaging affects of the defense mechanism triggered by humiliation is the tendency for those who are humiliated to pass it on to an innocent person who then internalizes it and passes it on to someone else. Let’s now take a look at how the defense mechanism caused by humiliation can turn into what we will be calling the cycle of abuse.

The cycle of abuse is a phenomenon that can happen generationally when a parent offloads their humiliation onto a child to get temporary relief. That child, unable to resolve the trauma of receiving rage from someone who is supposed love and protect them internalizes the pain.

Then as an adult they pass their humiliation to their own children who later pass it on to theirs. Cyclical abuse can also happen in the same generation where a person might be humiliated by the rage of another and then tries to offload that humilation onto their next romantic partner.

Defense mechanisms driven by humiliation are very confusing and extraordinarily painful. But there are ways to stop this behavior both on the spot and over time to stop it permanently. Because defense mechanisms triggered by humiliation produce behavior are often categorized as emotional abuse, you are now going to be referred to a Nicola Method blog post that teaches easy and effective ways to stop defense mechanisms triggered by humiliation when they are being turned on you.

This blog post will take you through some of the more advanced techniques to stop emotional abuse from the Nicola Method, a series of techniques that allows you to lower conflict in any relationship. But before you learn the techniques that will allow you to disarm this defense mechanism, please take a moment to examine your personal situation carefully.

As you probably know, some people whose defenses are triggered by humiliation may engage in physical violence. If you think someone in your life may be using defense mechanisms that involve rage against you and you believe there may be a threat of physical violence, it is important that you seek professional help. The methods taught in this blog series are nonconfrontational, but they are not designed to be used in relationships where there is a possibility of physical violence present.

To find out how to disarm defense mechanisms triggered by humiliation, click on this link for the blog post How To Stop Defensive Behavior.

Related Posts:

Techniques That Stop Emotional Abuse

How To Stop Emotional Abuse – Advanced Techniques From The Nicola Method

How To Stop Emotional Abuse Through Learning The Games Abusers Play

What The Emotional Abuser Knows That We Don’t And How It Can Hurt Us

If you would like to learn the Nicola Method so you can put an end to the high conflict situations you may be experiencing, click on this link to the welcome page of this website where you will find the resources you need.

If you want to try out some of the basic techniques of this method for free to see if this method is right for your situation, you can learn them from an intro guide flip-book here or a PDF version of the intro guide here.

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