Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Humiliation

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving weekend, a time for family, relaxation, good food and low stress, maybe. Crystal, fifty-eight, worked hard putting an elaborate meal together, to which her husband, whom she loves, but is frustrated with, said to his brother “Crystal does not  even know the difference between the various kinds of mushrooms she used in the stuffing.” It was an off-hand comment, which Crystal could have ignored, but it hit her hard. “Where was the gratitude?” she asked me. “I just felt so humiliated,” she continued. “I confronted my husband, in private, and he apologized, but I still felt knocked over,” Crystal says with a tone of resignation and hopelessness. “The next day he was sweet to me, but I still felt injured,” Crystal confided. “I can see that if you were hoping for appreciation, but instead heard criticism, that you would be offended.” I say, pointing out that her feelings seemed linear. “People tend to humiliate others when they themselves feel small.” I say, pointing out that the use of humiliation is often revealing of character issues. “Yea, but that does not help me. I know my husband has self-esteem issues, but I wish he would keep them to himself,” Crystal says, understanding my point, but reminding me that it does not help her feel better in the moment. “It is a little thing and a big thing at the same time. It represents how my husband is clueless about how to make me feel good.” Crystal says with despair. “I can see that,” I say. “Maybe you have to remind him of that.” I say with a strong directive. “Now that helps me feel better. I can do something about that,” Crystal says with a sense of empowerment.

4 Responses to “Humiliation”

  1. Jon said

    Helping others helps us. Here we have a chain of possible help, from you, Shirah, to Crystal, to Crystal’s unnamed husband. The insight “that the use of humiliation is often revealing of character issues,” in this case “self-esteem issues” can help Crystal. She can now better deal with her husband as to how to allow her to feel good about herself. Perhaps he too will feel better about himself. In this, I could understand that a therapist would also feel the joy of accomplishment.

    It is good that there are situations that are not zero-sum games, but can be positive sum games. This seems to be one of them.

  2. Thanks, Jon. You bring up an issue which is frequently discussed in my “Psychoanalytic Technique” class in which we discuss how therapists sometimes feel that they help a family system, not just their patient, and as such, there can be deep connections to people one never meets face to face. For example, therapists can feel like they are co-parenting a child, as issues of parenting come up in psychotherapy. This feeling lends itself to great satisfaction, as you say, but also to a very deep sense of responsibility and concern. Thanks Again.

  3. Shelly said

    Perhaps Crystal’s husband is using this offhand remark in a passive-aggressive manner, and it isn’t as offhand as it seems. It may seem as if it stems from a sense of insecurity on the part of Crystal’s husband, or it may really be that he had a bone to pick with Crystal that he could not voice in a more direct way. Is it not true that the passive-aggressive person does not like outright conflicts and therefore chooses to express him or herself in a way that is more subtle? In this case, I assume that Crystal’s brother-in-law was raving about the fine dinner that Crystal had cooked for them, and Crystal’s husband felt left out. He, to get even, made the comment about the mushrooms, to Crystal’s embarrassment and chagrin. He might have felt superior for the moment, but perhaps he and Crystal had had some disagreement before his brother had arrived for dinner that had been left unfinished. I’m not sure it meant that Crystal’s husband had self-esteem issues (or maybe it did since it wasn’t he who was being complimented on the meal).

    • As usual, Shelly you bring up interesting issues which were not made clear by this post. I agree that there was a passive aggressive component to Crystal’s husband’s remarks. I will name him Trey. As Trey is not my patient, I work with the material that Crystal presents. She was hurt by this comment. From there, we try to understand what this comment triggered in her, as well as to put it in a larger context, which means speculating about Trey’s motivation for saying it. As this is a ‘play space’, we are playing with ideas to see what fits.

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