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The Difference Between Humility and Humiliation

Here's why people confuse these two concepts.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

My clients who deal with addiction, trauma, or family of origin issues often struggle with their self-concept. They tell me they are trying to have a “humble” mindset but the words I hear are those of humiliation. Despite having the same Latin root of humilis, which means “lowly,” people often associate humility with having to feel lowly. In other words, they may use self-loathing language to shame themselves into thinking and believing they are despicable, wretched, and worthless.

However, true humility isn’t about humiliating or castigating oneself as being the scum of the earth. Instead, it’s about seeing yourself as no better or no worse than your fellow man. Humility is to keep one grounded and free from arrogance, pride, and haughtiness. From a spiritual perspective, it’s seeing yourself as “low” in comparison to God.

Author C.S. Lewis says, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less." To add to this, humility also means acknowledging what makes you special and unique — your gifts, skills, talents, and accolades.

The biggest struggle for those who confuse humility with humiliation is the inability to give grace to themselves. They are challenged to see themselves as no worse than the next person but instead feel they must be the “lowest” person on earth to feel “humble.” Part of this is learned from one’s childhood, culture, society, or a religion that promotes shame. It's made worse when clients are dealing with shame-driven issues such as addiction, sexual problems, or relationships that trigger feelings of inferiority.

The antidote is finding relationships where they can be accepted, loved, and acknowledged for who they are — warts and all. In the end, people who can forgive themselves stand the best chance of untangling themselves from the clutches of humiliation and growing in true humility.

More from Sam Louie MA, LMHC, CSAT
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