So Encouraged.

Wow guys!  You all started speaking, and at the same time!  I can’t tell you how big the smile on my face is tonight as I attempt to respond to the comments (most of which have triggered yet another post on the horizon, so please, keep your experiences and understandings coming).  I experienced a rough situation tonight that, for a myriad of reasons, I can’t elaborate on at this moment… but reading through the responses to the “Why We Don’t Punish & What is Discipline” is healing. I want to share a bit about our day, however, in hopes of sharing my smile with you.

My younger brother is getting married tomorrow; my daughter is his flower girl.  My daughter has been 4 since mid October. I still slip once in a while and refer to her as three, and I hear about it from her when I do.  “Mama.”, says my little coherent.  “I am 4. Do you not remember my birthday? It went on for a month Mom.  We are still celebrating! I want to celebrate everything, always. So please remember to stop forgetting that I am not three now. And soon…!!!  I will marry Papa too (wedding theme abounds of late). So, but you have to be 4 at LEEEAST, or maybe 7, to marry somebody.  But I think 22 is really old. It’s big. Are you that old??”  I hear this same line of thought about three times a week and it never ceases to make me smile.

Yesterday we traveled the 5+ hour drive from our home to my brother’s.  Today, she awoke way earlier than I thought she would (have mercy – I should have gone to bed earlier last night) and kept her Grandma (staying with my parents) going for the better part of the morning.  But, by 11am or so, she started whimpering and just being sort of whiny.  At first I assumed she was hungry (we are going through the “hunger satiated after bite two – until 20 minutes from now” development segment), and so when she turned down an offer of food, I didn’t think much of it, until we got in the car to head to the wedding venue.  She was exhausted.  That didn’t make sense.  I asked if she was hungry.  Nope.  Just thirsty.  Ok… but then suddenly I knew I needed to observe her for a moment longer (you know, the parallel sensation somewhere in your core that if you pay any attention to it at all, you realize just how much you can perceive and understand about the world and people around you).  Sure enough.  I took her hand in mine and waited a moment, touched her neck just under her chin, and could feel her body temperature rising. She was succumbing to a pretty significant attempt by the “yucky germs” and when asked how she felt, she replied (that) “The white blood cells in my bloodstream, and the big, tough antibody guys are gettin’em Mama.. But they’re really having to work hard and it’s making me so tired.  But I can heal.  My brain has told my body to get hot on the inside to fry those germs away.  But my head hurts and I don’t like how I feel and so I think I don’t like these germs.”  Followed by, “Where’d they come from anyway!” – My kid has a current thing for anatomy and instead of ending a fever with Tylenol, we hop into a hot bath and help the body do its job to restore health.

Fantastic, I’m thinking.  It’s dress rehearsal for my bro’s wedding, there’s supposed to be a dinner after that, we’re in a hotel in the middle of the mountains in Colorado (though, mind you, it’s warmer here than we’re accustomed to at home), and we have nothing but travel and more travel, oh, and a wedding tomorrow… Eyes watering, flushed, pale and gray.. and I somehow expect this little thing to play grownup tomorrow, at the grownup’s party, and like it to boot.  Yeesh… Ok.  Time to step back and re-prioritize.  Time to ask the kiddo what she thinks about everything.

Upon inquisition, she offered that she was pretty sure her body was strong enough for her to practice for her uncle’s wedding.  Besides, she really wanted to throw flower petals around so she could go collect them and plant new flowers.  🙂    So, I let her participate as much as she decided she wanted to.  She did pretty much exactly what everyone asked and wanted, and then some.  She was brilliant and excellently cooperative, attentive, and even showed a ton of compassion and patience to another little one that was there (1 year old).  Then, the eyes started watering again, the fever began to climb, and my little Bug asked for arms.

She slept through dinner.

Then, instead of going to bed, we took a hot bath.  She reported it being very helpful, and after tolerating me putting her fragile locks into rags for the purpose of hair preparation for the festive event, she and Papa snuggled up and went to sleep.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Eventually I’ll post about the part of today’s experience that I can’t discuss yet.. But to give you some insight into the positive side of it, basically it’s as simple as this, even though my daughter was miserable, sick, exhausted, and generally really miserable, she chose to be involved tonight and she did so not because either her dad or I told her she had to, or kept pushing and prodding her to cooperate, she chose to (and I know this because she communicated her preferences directly to me) be involved because she thought her uncle and future aunt would value her being there.  She asked if they wanted her there, and if so, she’d be there, says the brave little Bug.  And while there, she did her thing, we played, we rehearsed, we ate hot chocolate and marshmallows (and so did half the group, as she went on a mission of marshmallow sharing madness).  Her willingness to learn what the adults wanted her to do, follow instruction, and just generally totally be “there” in spite of how she felt (or what her curiosity suggested she check out), all came from her.  She had no fear or even remote concern of me or her Papa punishing or scolding her for not performing or conducting herself in some way we (or the other adults) expected.  I don’t think she even comprehends this sort of scenario because every time she sees it with another kid/parent, she flips, asks a ton of questions, and demonstrates sorrow at the other child’s discomfort.

I don’t have to threaten.  I choose to explain.
I don’t have to give ultimatums.  I choose to allow her autonomy.
I don’t have to punish. I choose to allow her choices to result as they will, and to stand by her as she experiences those results and learns what to do with them.

I ask for her involvement in our shared life, I explain the details, I educate her as much as possible about the whys/whats/whens, and I have no fear telling her that the only reason something is expected a certain way is because Mama is being intolerant at that moment/about that subject, or some other adult is focusing on themselves and forgetting to see the world through her eyes too.

Does she know when compliance is mandatory?  Yes.  She understood this at about 13  months.
Does she know that if compliance is mandatory and she chooses to refuse, that her mom or dad will step in one way or another?  Yes.  She knows we will do what is necessary to keep her safe and to keep us sane in dangerous or extremely stressful situations.
Does she know that we trust her with the choices and information she currently has?  Yes.
Does she know she has the right to refuse our requests, just as we have the right to refuse hers, and that compromise and flexibility are highly valuable skills and traits to develop? Yes.  But she also knows my love, my grace, my compassion and empathy, my understanding that the world is massive for her right now (like it’s really any smaller for me).

Why does she work with us when we ask?  Because she knows deep within her that we honor her and accept her entirely just because she exists.  AND because we work with her when she asks..it’s a two way street.  She feels good and secure inside when she knows that our family is sharing our lives together in harmony.

Needing to

Tonight, I am compelled to write.

I don’t know what yet…

It’s been a long while that I’ve had the precious few moments I have now to write and share with you.  As such, I am exhausted now and so won’t edit this right away; please grant me grace. Much has happened in the past months, as my little one has grown extensively and on so many different levels and layers.  I am learning daily.

I have come across three (maybe 4) excellent resources for parents in the past season.  Some of these have simply been reassuring, while others seem to be uncanny in their timing of critical information as it relates to my present experiences, often brilliantly the very day it is most beneficial to receive the external perspective.  I’d like to share them with you and will do so at the end of this post. In the mean time, however, I’d like to share what our family is doing now, and some of the challenges and triumphs we’ve had of late.

My daughter awoke the morning of her 4th birthday to discover sand beneath her feet and a very large ocean 50 or so steps away.  We took her to Northern California for her birthday and first official family vacation.  We managed to land the RV on the coast after dark the night before her birthday, timing it wonderfully for her special day. She squealed with delight (as did her big “sister” who was with us) and ran on the beach for an hour non-stop.

What is it about seeing your child run free on the beach, playing in the sand and kelp, jumping over waves and off rocks, and stopping every two inches to explore and discover the many creatures and debris washed up on shore with each new movement of the ocean that just sets the spirit free?!  It’s surreal.  And much to the dismay of a few in my family, I am thoroughly convinced we belong on the coast (as in our residence) and I intend to make it so.

The joy and pure, simple delight I observed my daughter bask in while on the beach, and then wonder and curiosity (and courage) as she relished the giant Redwoods, moved me beyond words or even clear thought for a few days.  It was all I could do to just watch and admire as she grew and developed right in front of me.  Honoring her right where she was, as she was, and how came as naturally as breathing.  I will hold on to that sensation and experience and recall it when reality returns and she and I engage in the daily grind that sometimes generates some rather intense conflicts and challenges for us to overcome.

My daughter, all of 4 and a few weeks, is a formidable opponent.  I am thankful for this.  She speaks her mind, states her intentions, makes known her desires, and stands her ground.  She also has the compassion and empathy of a wise old woman, weathered and tendered from a lifetime of choosing to find the beauty and bestow the love that can be found and given.

I am starting to see another trait in her that, while it is not at all surprising, it is quite intriguing to me.  My little one has a sense of justice that rivals my own, and is very insistent on her need for it to be recognized and respected. It is a very effective method of me having to be genuine and fair consistently. And though at times this aspect of her being is aggravating from the adult perspective, when I stop and see through her eyes, our world takes a shape that allows me to re-evaluate my actions/thoughts and create a sense of peace and justice for her that I’d not otherwise have bothered to generate.

Lately, my daughter has been exhibiting some significant feelings.  In short, she’s demonstrating anger.  I assume it is related to the many transitions, and the seemingly endless list of tasks her father and I must accomplish while still making sure we are available to play (and inviting her to play as well).  She also wants a sibling, which is an interesting point of debate she and I have gone rounds over.

Her feelings are big, her actions are intense, and her ability to communicate clearly grows daily.  She senses things more than even I had realized, and she is in a stage of mimicry that is as precise as it is intelligent.  As a result, her father and I are reviewing our own behaviors and actions almost constantly now and working where work is required.

I hope to begin chronicling our daily experiences that might be useful to you all again soon.  I understand that the dialog and interplay relayed in story form seems to be the most appreciated and useful, so I will endeavor to allocate an appropriate amount of time to write.

And as I’ve said before, it is valuable to have your feedback as it encourages me to share, as well as provide invaluable perspective to me and to each other.  Thanks for taking the time to see the world through your little one’s eyes tonight.  May your day tomorrow be intentional, and may your child(ren) know you (the internal you) in a way that comforts them and renews their security and self-esteem.  Wholly respected and loved without condition… imagine what can happen in a single generation.

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Peace for Parents

Aha! Parenting

Peaceful Parenting

Respecting Children: Gently Parenting a Wholly Loved & Honored Generation
Please feel free to join in the discussion

Listen to My Heart

Yesterday I talked about the concept of how our society uses the term “Listen” with our kids.  In our home, we use ‘listen’ differently than what I have observed in the majority of families with whom I’ve come into contact.  In our home, when one of us says ‘listen’, what is actually being said is, “Please stop a moment, I want to share my heart, the thoughts that are really big in my mind right now.  Please, look at me, hear me with your ears, and hear me with your heart.  I want to connect.  I want your acknowledgement.  I am needing your validation of my feelings and thoughts at this moment/on this topic.  And once I finish sharing my thoughts, I want to receive your response and share a conversation about this…”.

So, you won’t hear us say “Listen to me” unless it’s important and we expect to have an in depth conversation (kid to adult, kid to kid, adult to adult). Further, the “listen to me” aspect will be with a “please” because it is a request.  Always.

In limited instances however, you will hear one of us say, “Please do/don’t  _____________; I expect you to comply/expect your compliance.”  Then, immediately following (or as soon as possible), we will provide a concise explanation for the expectation if it is beneficial or requested.

When a communication is delivered in our home without the “expectation of compliance” as a part of the entire message, everyone knows that a request is being communicated.  Everyone also knows they have the right to deny any request, or grant any request.  This is universal; there is no double standard where the parent can deny a request but the child can’t, for instance.

Do we always interact with this concept being the underlying and motivating factor?  Are we explicitly consistent?  No.  We (big people and little people) screw it up sometimes.  Humans ability to use manipulation is uncanny… And we are not perfect, nor do we intend to be.  However, each person (and dog) in our home knows deep within them the value we hold for one another, as well as the value of consistency and forthrightness.  We each know that it does not feel good to be on the receiving end of manipulation, and it is our responsibility to make the conscious choice to not allow ourselves to be in the position of delivering an attempt at manipulation.

Sometimes we fail.  When that happens, acknowledgement is what makes the difference.. That acknowledgement begins as an internal acceptance of something that requires adjustment, followed by that same awareness being communicated outwardly to all involved.

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When compliance is expected, the communication is never delivered as a request, it is always delivered as a command, and phrased in the format the child is accustomed to.

The command is always communicated with the expectation of compliance as a part of the entire communicationThe “comply” aspect is not one that is resorted to (or tacked on) in the event the child doesn’t give the adult what is expected/wanted.  This is crucial.

Our communication doesn’t look like this –
Kid, I want you to do/not do something.
Kid hesitates.. doesn’t choose to do as the communication indicates.
Ok Kid, since you didn’t decide to give me what I want, I’m going to now say, “comply”.

This sort of approach is unfair and does not uphold the child.  Why?  Because the adult is retaining an upper hand that they perceive they have due to their size/age/status/etc. By phrasing as a request what is actually a command for which compliance is expected, they are being manipulative.

When the child, who interprets the communication as a request (because it wasn’t clearly delivered as a requirement initially), and chooses to deny it (for whatever their reason), is then forced to accept that the autonomy (self-governing) and right to choose he believed was his was actually never there, he can experience everything from confusion, to betrayal, to a much decreased sense of self. When the adult uses manipulation and then resorts to dominance to force compliance, they are stripping their child of his autonomy.  It’s insulting and demeaning, and undermines the child’s internal reasoning and sense of self.

That said, there are instances when the adult cannot fully articulate the entire phrase, including something along the lines of “compliance is expected”.  These sort of instances might be when walking in the city and or parking lot and the child is suddenly in some sort of danger.  In times like this, the adult often cannot sputter out much more than a “STOP” (or other imperative) in time to prevent harm, and the child’s safety depends on his compliance. I’ll discuss this situation in a separate post. ~>

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In the mean time, what scenarios can you recall when you and your child successfully interacted on an almost innate/intuitive level – where they sensed your dire need for their compliance, and they granted it (whether threat of physical or emotional harm – which is equally valuable). Please share your experiences.

Natural Consequence, Example One

Unedited – my kiddo woke up before I could… I will later tonight if I can.

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Sometimes a natural consequence is one that occurs beyond our control, due to physics.

Sometimes, in my opinion, a natural consequence is one that I effect for my child, but that is wholly associated with the cause of the resulting effect.

In a previous post, I discussed a child’s actions that were concerning his father -> Read Here
These two particular incidents, and my suggestion of a parental response, fit into the Parent Derived Natural Consequence category.

Here’s an example of physics at play:  Joseph, if you carelessly put the dishes away, you may discover what will happen.  Joseph continues to haphazardly put the dishes away and he drops a plate.  Lucky for him, the floor is only wood instead of tile, but the unfortunate thing is that on its way to the floor (physics-gravity), it somehow twists just enough that instead of landing in a manner that just ends in a thud, it triggers a release of energy known as a bang, that results in the splitting in two (or four) of the material that once was a single piece, otherwise referred to as a plate.

Sucks to be Joseph… jeez, he probably could have thrown the plate on the grown and it would have landed just fine, but nooooo, it accidentally “mishandled” it just so that instead, there is now a huge mess and no longer useful plate to put away.

ENTER MOM

Scenario one:  Mom is irritated, starts telling Joseph that if he’d listened to her in the first place, which he already knows, that this wouldn’t have happened.  So, now he feels dumb for letting it happen, knows he’s going to be further demeaned by some sort of punishment for not being more careful in the first place, and he’s gained his mother’s disapproval yet again.

Some children will cry because they are grieved at both the loss of the approval, but also the failure they perceive is theirs.

Some children will laugh and defy as a response to the disapproval and impressed failure to “do as told” to “prevent problems”.

Some children will be compelled to make reparations.  This is guilt.  The concern here is how far the parent decides to let the guilt be used – in other words, they see a way to manipulate, er… that’s more politically correctly termed “teach a lesson”.

Scenario two: Mom hears the crash.  Waits.  Child either begins to clean up or starts calling for mom.  This depends on how the same situation has been handled before, and on the child’s personality.

Mom enters the kitchen a moment or two after the crash (a younger child will need you sooner to prevent injury).  But she comes quietly, not in judgement or disapproval, but understanding.  She knows what the law of gravity is. She knows that we, as a human race on planet earth, are stuck with this reality.

If child is already attempting to clean up, mom must ascertain the safety of this.  If it’s not safe, mom must intervene.  If child is capable of cleaning up the mess, mom just allows it and makes a note to come after the child is finished and make sure no shards of glass are left anywhere.  – This, by the way, is either the child who is terrified of the parent’s response, or, hopefully, the child who is wholly valued and respected, and is therefore confident enough to reason that he wasn’t quite attentive enough, which resulted in gravity winning, and well, now there is a mess and so to prevent anyone from getting hurt, it needs to be tended to.  No guilt, though there might be some grief, especially if the broken item was of special meaning to someone and the child is aware of it.  No disapproval imposed… by outside forces.  And hopefully, the child is whole and confident, so while they may tell themselves to be more careful next time, they don’t take a hit to their “value”, nor do they hit it themselves.  No humiliation.  No failure.  Just physics.

Now, if the child is, for whatever reason, not attempting to clean up the mess himself, the mother can initiate the process as follows:

“Hum… Looks like we better get to work cleaning this up before someone gets hurt.  I will pick up the pieces if you will go get the broom.”  The glass might hurt the child, so the parent is preventing injury, but the child is still actively involved in assisting.

Child returns with broom, mom encourages “Joseph” to start sweeping in an area that is safe, as she continues to work on removing potential harm.  Child is contributing, and building his confidence in his ability to resolve the concern he allowed gravity to cause.

Once everything is cleaned up – Mom tells child, “Great! Looks like it’s all clean.”  AND THEN LEAVES the area and says nothing more about the incident. Period. Like as in doesn’t ever mention, unless the child brings it up in the future.  If there are still more dishes to be put away, the mother also doesn’t mention this to the child.  She waits.. gives the child the credit that he is intelligent enough to see that there are more dishes to finish.   – Now let’s say he goes ahead on his own and finishes the task.  Great.  Nothing more is said, except if the mother knows he needs reinforcement.  If so, she still waits and unless he initiates, the most she says is something like, “Thanks for taking care of the dishes.  I appreciate you.”

However, if the child is shaken, or perhaps not entirely driven to be responsible without encouragement (like how I said that??), then the mother is put into the position of refocusing.  Again, she waits.  She observes.  Wait = Observe.

Child abandons task and goes to play.  Mother notices.  An hour later, mother reminds child, “Joseph, I noticed there are still dishes in the dishwasher waiting for your attention.”

Joseph’s reply will range all across the board.  Mother simply affirms his response with, “ok”.

That looks like this –

Joseph:  “I know, but I don’t want to do them anymore.”
Mother: “Ok.” – Now wait, don’t walk away, just stay silent.  Give Joseph a chance to explain himself.  Pretend you are having this conversation with another adult.  If he doesn’t begin explaining, prod, a little, but with respect. “Joseph, you don’t want to do any more?”  Keep the look on your face neutral but inquisitive. Don’t lace your words with a tone and motive.  He knows.

Joseph: “Yeah, I don’t want to.”
Mother: “Can you help me understand why you don’t want to?”
Joseph: “I’m worried I will drop more.”  (This is what a confident child will say.  A child who knows he is respected and treated as a valuable member of the family.  A child who doesn’t know he holds his mother’s respect will be defiant and simply state that he has better stuff to do, or insist it’s just a preference.)

If the child is concerned over a repeat failure, the mother can offer her approval and encouragement by stating that if it happens again, we’ll just clean it up again.  If appropriate and beneficial for the CHILD, the mother might also offer a little advice in the form of a trick… NEVER stating that if the child were just “more careful” (or whatever other version of that concept) that it won’t happen again.  Why never state this?  Because no matter how careful you, as an adult, are, eventually gravity will get the better of even you!  Don’t pretend it won’t, and don’t expect your kid to agree to be bound by that double standard either.

Advice in the form of a trick:  “You know Joseph, when I put the dishes away, I’m worried I might drop them too.  So, I give each one a name as I pick them up.  Then, I keep my eye on it from the moment my finger first touches the plate until it’s safely where it belongs.  Then, when I’m all done, I try to remember the names so that next time I see that same plate, I won’t have to wonder what I named it.”

Result

Child is upheld, child is respected, child is approved of
Dishes get done, even if it takes the rest of the day
Child has a new game, and it keeps him focused on his task, which hopefully decreases the chance of gravity winning

Now, there is only one additional note to make here.  In the event that you have a kiddo that hasn’t had the luxury of the high level of your respect and admiration, and doesn’t thrive in his autonomy and self worth…. OR you have a kiddo that is just not into the task for his own purposes (that being it’s boring, he has other stuff that he enjoys more, etc), you’re going to need to use a bit of parental control to make sure the task is completed and the child respects the value of his contribution.

Here’s my suggestion… and it requires patience, tolerance, foresight, and effort on the part of the parent.
Let’s say the child just outright opposes and does not finish the task of emptying the dishwasher.
Ok, this isn’t a problem.  Yes, it annoys you (mom/dad) because it means you will have to do it and the child won’t gain the good from completing it.  But that’s not all that’s going on…

Mother:  “Joseph, I noticed there are some dishes still waiting for you in the dishwasher.”
Joseph: “I don’t want to do anymore.”  – Go through the reasoning and get to just that – kid doesn’t want to comply.
Mother: “Ok Joseph, I’ll take care of them now then.”  Say nothing more, walk away and go do the dishes right then.  It will take you 2 minutes.  Just do it.  Be quiet.  Wait. Observe.  Don’t pass judgement and don’t resent or become annoyed at your kid.

If Joseph shows up to finish before you complete the task, simply thank him for his willingness to take care of the task (don’t go into helping you out, chipping in, whatever else, just focus on the task, as if it is itself worth valuing), walk away and let him.

If Joseph shows up too late and you’ve already finished, simply tell him as much.  “Joseph, I have completed it.”  Say nothing more.  He gets the point.  Trust me.  He’s not stupid.  You don’t need to add insult. He needs your respect.  He gets the point.  (Keep reading – don’t tell me that well yeah, he gets the point, that being that if he doesn’t want to do something he can just refuse and mom will do it for him.)

If Joseph doesn’t show at all, fine.  Complete the task yourself.  Say nothing to him.  Don’t resent, don’t reject, and don’t allow him to feel your disapproval at any point.

Make plans for that night’s dinner to be something Joseph really, really likes.  Include courses in the meal that go together, but omit one of them.  For instance, make macaroni and cheese with ham and apples on the side.  Omit the cheese (use butter so it’s palatable, but don’t make it as “good” as normal).

DINNER TIME

Everyone sits down, your partner knows what’s going on, but other children do not.  Everyone, including Joseph begins eating.  Someone states that the macaroni tastes different, like it doesn’t have enough cheese.

Mother:  “Well, it doesn’t actually have enough cheese because I didn’t have enough time left after taking care of emptying the dishwasher today to give to cutting up enough cheese for our dinner tonight.”  Older kid, “Oh come on, it only takes three minutes to empty the dishwasher!”  Mother, “Well, yes I know, and Joseph started it and so today it only took me two minutes.  It also only takes two minutes to cut up the appropriate amount of cheese, but I allocated those two minutes to the dishwasher instead.”  (NOT I had to allocate, I ‘did’ – chose to – simple fact.. NO DIGS at the kid that caused all this – don’t point fingers, ever. And don’t omit so that the opportunity for someone else to opens up. No passive retaliation here.)

Say nothing more about it.  If the kids complain about the taste, agree with them.  Don’t apologize, don’t lay blame, just agree.

Takes a lot of work… I know. But by doing that work, you’ll grow a whole, confident, capable, and responsible child into an adult that will hopefully continue the work in is own life.

 

Either the consequences of the act will be enough, or they won’t be- and then a parent’s job becomes to modify the environment or provide supervision until the fascination with the forbidden thing ends.

Humiliation – Far Reaching Effects on Children, Adults, Society

Humiliation

– Sarah Rosenberg, July 2003

Simple Definition
A leading researcher on humiliation, Dr. Evelin Lindner, defines humiliation as “the enforced lowering of a person or group, a process of subjugation that damages or strips away their pride, honor or dignity.”[2] Further, humiliation means to be placed, against ones will, in a situation where one is made to feel inferior. “One of the defining characteristics of humiliation as a process is that the victim is forced into passivity, acted upon, made helpless.”[3] Johan Galtung, a leading practitioner, agrees with Lindner that the infliction of humiliation is a profoundly violent psychological act that leaves the victim with a deep wound to the psyche.[4]
Humiliation and Social Order
Historically, maintaining hierarchical societies meant that elites scrupulously guarded their honor against attempts to soil or humiliate it, while some form of more or less institutionalized humiliation was part of the reality for the lower echelons of a community. As long as such a reality is accepted as the norm, and it is believed that this structure helps to achieve and maintain common societal goals, the system is considered acceptable. Though some people in lower ranks may wish to be on a higher level, they do not view the system itself as flawed. By contrast, in societies such as Somalia, with its non-hierarchical egalitarian clan structures, Lindner’s research shows that attempts to humiliate people are fervently resented, at least by the males of the major clan families. The more egalitarian a society, be it pre-hierarchical or post hierarchical, Lindner asserts, the less use there is for institutionalized humiliation, particularly as a way to maintain order, and the less acceptable it is.
Humiliation and Human Rights
Lindner’s research on humiliation and the effect of humiliation on groups is related to her segmentation of human history into three phases of development and her categorization of the ideal types of human societies that can be found in these stages. Most relevant here is the connection between humiliation, conflict, and the human rights revolution.[5] When subordinate groups become aware of human rights values and adopt them into their value system, they reframe their formerly accepted subordination as humiliating circumstances that can no longer be deemed to be acceptable. In other words, when people redefine their situation and interpret formerly “normal” subjugation as structural violence, they begin to clash with the system. This clash can translate into violence. This can occur gradually, or a sudden change in power can lead to immediate devastating violence.
Why Paying Attention to Humiliation is Important
It is widely recognized that one of the main reasons for Hitler’s rise to power and the onset of World War II was the humiliation of the German people in the aftermath of World War I. Though perhaps less obvious, humiliation seems to be part of much suffering world-wide, and makes millions of peoples’ lives despondent. If violence between and within groups and nations is to be reduced, understanding the role of humiliation as a cause is critically important.
Humiliation, Trauma, and Victimhood
What is the difference between humiliation, trauma, and victimhood? The answer is both simple and complex. One may be traumatized without being humiliated. For example, one’s home may be destroyed by an earthquake, in which the victim may be devastated and traumatized but not humiliated. This differs from the situation in which soldiers kick someone out of their home in the middle of the night and bulldoze it or set the home on fire. This latter case exemplifies the use of humiliation as a weapon by some people upon other people. More still, one may even be a victim of violence without feeling humiliated. The difference between feeling humiliated or not in these cases may depend on the subjective framing of the situation by each person involved when violence is perceived as accidental and non-intentional, similar to natural disaster, it may not be felt as humiliation. Importantly, the more a victim is aware of human rights values, the more likely they are to feel humiliated. When one is acted upon in a way that undermines one’s sense of equal dignity, as it is enshrined in human rights, the psychological damage of humiliation is being inflicted. It is this damage that is particularly hard to recover and heal from. Lindner believes that humiliation is the necessary concept for defining victimhood as “victimhood” and as such has to be considered as the key ingredient that makes conflict comprehensible and thus preventable and manageable. According to Lindner, “victimhood at the hands of fellow human beings must entail the notion of humiliation, otherwise it would not be seen as victimhood but as pro-social event or natural disaster.”[6]
Responses to Humiliation — Hitler vs. Mandela
It is still somewhat of a mystery why responses to humiliation can differ so much. Lindner cites Hitler and Mandela as examples. Hitler chose to respond with war and atrocious acts of violence as a means of restoring national honor. His goal was to impose a new hierarchical world system with Germany on top. Mandela, on the other hand, opted for the enlightened path of peace and human rights for all of his countrymen. Mandela chose a healing track using dialogue, forgiveness, and reconciliation while still dealing with issues of justice as well. More research needs to be done to help explain why some choose a violent response to deal with feelings of humiliation and others choose peaceful struggle. But it is important to keep in mind that the “humiliation” factor in any conflict may well be the most difficult obstacle to overcome, and strong leaders are needed to prevent escalation of conflict through violence and bloodshed.
There are three possible outcomes to the effects of humiliation:
  • Acquiescence, or depression and apathy, nothing changes.
  • Antagonism, anger, rage, and the violent pursuit of change, often hierarchy is not abolished but merely reversed.
  • Antagonism, anger, rage, and the non-violent pursuit of change, including forgiveness and reconciliation, and the dismantling of hierarchy towards a human rights based system of equal dignity for every citizen.
Rage at the situation may overflow and a violent conflict may erupt as people try to change a system of humiliation. Human rights ideals indicate that humiliation and victimization of other have to eliminated, not simply the social hierarchy reversed. Mandela strove to abolish humiliation altogether in his society through wise social change, while Hitler used it as a core component of his campaign. Unfortunately, it seems easier to strike back and far more people in the world may feel the urge to resort to violence (though maybe not to the extent Hitler did) than there are those who would endure twenty seven years in prison, forgive their captors, and work with them to forge a united future. Better to avoid humiliation in the first place, lest we create more Hitlers, or, short of that thousands of suicide bombers.
[1] This essay is based on the work of Evelin Lindler, who sent us many of her papers, and corresponded via e-mail with me about the draft of this essay.  Our thanks to Evelin for helping with this topic.
[2] Lindner, Evelin G. Humiliation or Dignity: Regional Conflicts in the Global Village. Journal of Mental Health, Psychosocial work and Counseling in areas of Armed conflict, forthcoming (2002), p.2.
[3] Lindner, Evelin G. Humiliation or Dignity: Regional Conflicts in the Global Village. Journal of Mental Health, Psychosocial work and Counseling in areas of Armed conflict, forthcoming (2002).
[4] Paraphrasing of quotes taken from Johan Galtung as recorded in Lindner, E G Humiliation – Trauma that has Been Overlooked. Traumatology, Vol. 7, (March 2001).
[5] For more on Pride, Honor, and Dignity societies, see Lindner, E “What every Negotiator Should Know: Understanding Humiliation,” (2000), http://www.globalsolidarity.org/articles/what.pdf Lindner says that knowledge of human rights intensifies feelings of humiliation and that the humiliation factor is the hard core of any conflict. Another characteristic of humiliation is that when victims admire their humiliators they react more intensely when power changes hands. (Psychology of H.)
[6] Lindner. E-mail with the author, (2003).

Rosenberg, Sarah. “Humiliation [1].” Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: July 2003 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/Humiliation/>.
http://www.fsu.edu/~trauma/v7/Humiliation.pdf
http://www.humiliationstudies.org/documents/ShapiroNovNYConference.pdf
http://www.humiliationstudies.org/documents/evelin/Negotiator.pdf