The feeling when someone has deliberately done something to put you down or make you look bad in the eyes of others. You feel you have no power over the situation.

You feel humiliated when someone deliberately does something that makes you feel inferior or look bad in the eyes of others. For example, when someone physically bullies you, when someone publicly makes a belittling remark about you, or when someone spreads bad rumors behind your back. In each of these cases, there is an act that makes you feel inferior, stupid, or unworthy, and someone who deliberately caused this. The word ‘deliberately’ means that someone who humiliates another person is aware that they are making this person feel bad. In general, there are two possible reasons why the person is doing this. First of all, it can just be their intention to make the other person feel bad, for instance, because they plainly dislike the other person or because they want to retaliate for an earlier wrongdoing. However, the other person’s feelings may also just be the by-product of another goal. For example, someone may make a joke at another person’s expense to look good in front of others. Clearly, they don’t care that this makes the other person feel bad, but it was not the goal either. Similarly, a woman may feel deeply humiliated when it is revealed that her husband cheated on her. Likewise, her husband may not have intended her to feel bad, but the awareness that this would probably happen also did not deter him from the act.

‘Being put down’ is usually relative to one’s (perceived) current status. For example, a writer who believes she enjoys a certain level of fame and respect, feels humiliated by a devastating review in an important paper. Additionally, someone can be put down relative to the person who caused the humiliation. In this case, the act is a display of power between the ‘humiliator’ and the humiliated person. The humiliator shows that they have a superior status to the humiliated person by putting them down without repercussions. This also explains why this type of humiliation typically needs an audience – if there are no other people to witness the power play, it would not have its effect.

In the comic, Murphy is the victim of an office prank: his colleagues have secretly unscrewed his thermos flask, which causes him to spill its contents all over his desk and notes.

Movie clips


Typical expressions

“Why are you doing this to me?”

“What did I do to deserve this?”

Murphy's bad day

Comparisons with other emotions

Humiliation & Rejection

Humiliation, the feeling when another person puts you down, and rejection, the feeling when a liked person doesn’t like you, can occur at the same time in some situations, and the experience can be similar. In both, you feel bad because of the action of another person. There are a few important differences: you only feel rejection with a person that you like or love, whereas that is not relevant in humiliation. Secondly, in humiliation the other person deliberately makes you feel bad, whereas a person that makes you feel rejected may do this unintentionally. In fact, in the latter case the other person may not even be aware of you – which is exactly the cause of your feelings of rejection.

Humiliation & Shame

Humiliation and shame both make a person feel bad about himself. The differences are that humiliation is always provoked by another person, while shame can also be caused through chance events or one’s own doing. Secondly, in shame a person mostly focuses on oneself (and how others perceive him), while humiliation is also about the hurt that the other person is deliberately causing him. Note that English speakers sometimes use the word ‘humiliated’ to mean deeply ashamed, as in the sentence ‘Alex felt humiliated when people found out he couldn’t swim’. This use of the word humiliation is not adopted here.

Humiliation & Anger

The experience and response of humiliation and anger are quite distinct: humiliation causes a person to retreat or submit, whereas anger makes a person antagonistic. However, the conditions that cause both emotion can be similar: a person intentionally wrongs you or puts you down. The main determinant that causes someone to feel (primarily) anger or humiliation is the amount of power or control they feel they have over the other person or the situation. To give a simplified example: Adam publicly makes a demeaning comment about Bill. If Bill feels he is higher in status than Adam, he is more likely to get angry and retaliate. If, however, he feels lower in status than Adam, he is more likely to feel humiliated and swallows his objections.

Sources and further reading