Being humiliated is an experience that every one of us have to go through sometime in life. For most of us, it is an emotionally intense and challenging situation. A default response for humiliation is retaliation. Retaliation is destructive and potentially counter-productive. We can take the case of Drupada. He humiliated Drona who in turn humiliated him. He retaliated by performing a fire sacrifice to get a son who can kill Drona. But Drupada himself met his end at the hands of Drona. Drupada’s son though successful in killing Drona was killed by Drona’s son. These acts of retaliation destroyed everyone involved. Let us take the help of Gita-wisdom and explore relatively constructive ways of dealing with being humiliated.
We can feel humiliated in two types of situations: the situation itself makes us feel humiliated or someone deliberately humiliates us or a combination of both. In general, it is always a combination of both. Let us take these two aspects one-by-one and see how they can be addressed constructively.
When can a situation make us feel humiliated? We will feel humiliated when we perceive that our social identity gets tarnished in a particular situation. Social identity can have several definitions – “I am most righteous”, “I am most successful”, “I am most perfect” etc. BG 18.14 states the result of a particular action is influenced by five factors – circumstance, doer, instruments, efforts and destiny. Of this doer or actor is only one of the five factors. Thus, there is no situation where outcome can be fully in our control. It is quite possible — we can commit mistakes at times; we can be wrong at times; we may underperform at times; someone can perform better than us; Perfectionist and result-oriented expectations are sure shot recipes for frustration in the course of time.
Then how do we define ourselves? Role-based identity definitions are healthier and holistic than result-based identity definitions. These roles are not imaginary or self-imposed. Rather they are realistic in tandem with others’ interests and expectations. Our roles as a performer, contributor, team-player etc. We can always strive for improving our contribution. BG 2.47 recommends this attitude to define ourselves based on our roles and duties than based on results and achievements. This understanding helps us to create alternative and healthier definitions of social identity within. This brings down the intensity of our feeling humiliated. Thereby it slows down our urge to retaliate. It also impels us to retrospect, revisit and reform our definitions of social identity from time-to-time.
Now coming to the second aspect: even though we adopt a healthier and realistic definition of social identity and related expectations, it is still possible that we may be humiliated. We may be deliberately humiliated owing to envy, malice. We may be also humiliated owing to mistake, error. For eg – an irritated traffic police may unexpectedly vent his anger upon us, security may bar us entry owing to mistake etc. We can as far as possible try to keep ourselves in a company of like-minded people where we are rightly understood and accepted for what we are. Nonetheless it is still not possible to avoid being humiliated. Our social identity is subject to change owing to several factors – we may lose opportunity to contribute because of invalidity, social dynamics like financial instability, changing social trends etc. What can be the solution?
We need not base our self-worth only on our social identity – what we are in society or what society thinks us to be. We have a spiritual identity as spirit soul (BG 2.13) and our dormant nature is to be united in a loving relationship with all-attractive divine lord Krishna. Krishna never misunderstands us and is ever-loving. This spiritual identity and nature is not subject to change by time or other external factors. Basing our self-worth on this spiritual identity and framing our social identity from this perspective will immune us from humiliation. Vibhishana tried to offer wise counsel to Ravana. But he was misunderstood and humiliated by Ravana and his associates. Since Vibhishana based his self-worth on his devotion to Rama, he could respond to the humiliation constructively and moved closer to Lord Rama.