This has always been a fascinating subject for me. Humiliation, for many, is a large – perhaps even important – part of their D/s dynamic. For these people, there can be a very strong desire to be humiliated. But what is humiliation? We’ve all experienced embarrassment from time to time and have a fairly good idea of what that is. How does embarrassment differ from humiliation?
It’s embarrassing when our bodies make an inappropriate noise at an inopportune moment. I find it embarrassing when I use “complementary” when I mean “complimentary”. And yes, if Goddess orders me to bark like a dog, or do any number of things, in front of other people, it’s embarrassing. But because something is embarrassing, does that make it humiliating?
Let’s be technical for a moment. Embarrassment is the state of being made to feel uncomfortable or self-conscious. Humiliation occurs when an act causes a lowering of pride or dignity. Based on these definitions (American Heritage Dictionary), it’s certainly possible for an act to be both embarrassing and humiliating. Of course, what embarrasses (or humiliates) one person may not have the same effect on others.
Simple embarrassment comes with a physiologic response that some of us find pleasurable. There is a blushing response in the skin, heart rate and blood pressure may increase, there may be an instinctive urge to hide or flee. In the same way, a roller coaster may thrill some and terrify others, embarrassment can be craved (under the right circumstances) or eschewed.
But what about humiliation? Clearly, humiliation is a significant part of the BDSM lifestyle. Not everyone likes or craves it, but many do. I suppose some might argue that if one enjoys being humiliated – derives pleasure from it – that it must not actually be humiliation. I’ve heard that argument made, but it seems to me that is like saying because the masochist enjoys it, it really isn’t pain. I don’t quite buy the argument. (What do you think?)
What I do think is that people have a great deal of control over what does and does not humiliate them – or whether they allow a given act to be humiliating. We do have some control over our emotions after all. Take anger: you can’t make me angry, only I can allow myself to become angry with you. Considering all the things that have an element of humiliation to them: objectification, forced feminization/sissification, slapping, spitting, pee/toilet “play”, taunting/verbal humiliation, boot licking, ass kissing and a myriad other activities, it seems there’d be a lot of people experiencing a lot of humiliation. Even the relatively common acts of bondage or an over-the-knee spanking, indeed the very concept of power exchange itself must have some aspect of humiliation (as defined above). With all these things, there is an unspoken undertone of “Look what I can do to you, and you have no say in the matter.”
But we don’t walk around in a constant state of humiliation. At least I don’t, and I suspect that most don’t. I came to a conclusion fairly early in my relationship with my Dominant, and it’s been confirmed time and time again. I remember, when I was pretty new to all this – especially the public aspects, being so nervous that the things I’d be asked to do would be too hard. I worried that I’d be so humiliated by the very prospect of it that I’d be unable to do what was asked – I’d embarrass her and myself, and surely she’d hate me, the roof would cave in and the world would probably end (let’s face it – we tend to exaggerate our fears). That never happened. All it took was seeing her enjoying herself. If Goddess was having fun or being pleased, how can that possibly be a bad thing? How could I find that humiliating? Instead, I also felt good because I was contributing to her pleasure. This, as far as I was concerned, was just another service to be provided. I take pride in the service I provide to Goddess, be it in the form of a clean bathroom, or facilitating some of her favorite sadistic activities, or enduring whatever embarrassing predicament she designs. Perhaps the previously-mentioned argument (about it not being a humiliation if you enjoy it) should be modified to say “it’s not actually humiliation if the Dominant enjoys it.” (Opinions, please.)
That, in no way, is meant to suggest I’ve never experienced humiliation. Quite the contrary. Indeed, while writing this article, I had the occasion of a private play session with Goddess. I’ll spare you all the minute details, but there were several things that I either endured poorly or outright failed at. Now that I find humiliating – knowing I could and should have done something better than I did. Humiliation with a touch of shame – not in the least bit fun, but still serving a purpose. It knocked me down a peg or two and sharply reminded me of my place in this grand scheme (and don’t we all need a little reminder from time to time?). A small dose of humility was just what I needed at the time (it’s possible that lately, I’ve been just a wee bit full of myself), and I thanked her for it afterward.
To sum up, and this is just my opinion based on my own observations, I’ve come to think of embarrassment as more the physiologic response – the part that we have little to no control of. Humiliation is the emotional response that is more contextually driven, but for which there is more personal control. Many, many things are embarrassing, but not necessarily humiliating. As always, I’m interested to hear how your experiences are similar to or different from mine.
fuzzyP a relative newcomer to active participation in the D/s lifestyle, and has been in service since January 2010. Like most things he does, he’s really thrown myself into it, including a great deal of reading and research that predates his entry into the lifestyle. fuzzyP doesn’t claim to be an expert on anything, and it is his goal to stimulate some thought, discussion or debate. You can contact fuzzyP through the Submissive Guide Community or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org