7 Ways To Respond When Someone Shames You

Respond When Someone Shames You

Research has shown that sexual abusers and harassers, for instance, often feel unattractive and/or powerless, though not necessarily consciously, so they “prove” their power over vulnerable others by harassing and abusing them.

And then?

5. Know that you are not alone.

DePaulo writes, “I doubt that anyone gets through life without ever feeling utterly humiliated.” She encourages readers to find and talk to others who have experienced the same thing, and to use their support network to get over the feelings. Further, as we are seeing with the Harvey Weinstein situation and other highly visible cases of sexual abuse, if a person does something to you, he or she has very likely done it to others as well.

Yet in far too many less-prominent cases it is hard to find out that others are or have been in the same situation. But part of not taking it personally is knowing that you are the victim, not the cause of the problem.

6. Be careful about retaliating.

Humiliation, according to research, is a mixture of anger and shame, so retaliation or revenge can feel like a good way to get your self-esteem back. But again, the danger is that someone who humiliates others in order to make themselves feel powerful is very likely to turn even nastier and strike back. Not retaliating, however, does not have to mean that you are being weak.

Strength can sometimes come from standing up for others in a similar situation when it’s possible, but it’s important not to criticize yourself if you are not ready to take that kind of open stand against something that has hurt or damaged you.

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7. Find a way to move forward.

You might not strike back directly, but you might find that not letting the person have a continued effect on you is its own form of revenge. You are not who they want you to be, or who they see you as. You have strengths and the capacity to live a full life without them, whether that means leaving a relationship or a job, changing supervisors, or simply not having anything to do with the person anymore.

Arthur was lucky. The professor who humiliated him was a good guy who, when he saw Arthur’s reaction, immediately apologized in front of the class. But that’s not what always happens. Because the person who did the humiliating often has power over the person they humiliate, you might not be able to get any real sense of closure with that person.

As You Move Forward In Life
7 Ways To Respond When Someone Shames You

Theresa’s head nurse was known for taking out her anger on everyone who worked for her. Theresa had to get her closure through the support of colleagues. “Everybody knows there’s no standing up to her. You take her nastiness and you put your head down and keep going,” Theresa said. “It’s a really good job, so we just put up with her. And we support each other and give each other lots of positive feedback. It’s the best we can do.”

The real work in such a case is to not allow the person to damage your self-esteem. Support from others, like colleagues, friends, teachers, and mentors, is crucial. It also doesn’t hurt to keep a log of what has happened. Don’t do it if it makes you feel worse to revisit the experience, of course; but sometimes writing down what happened can help to get it out of your head. And as we’re seeing with the Weinstein case, one day your notes could be helpful; you might yet get a chance to be heard.

Also read How to Network Like a Pro: Even If You’re Shy, Introverted, or Just Hate Doing It

*Names and identifying info changed to protect privacy


I love to know what you think about what I’ve written, so please leave your comments below, and if you have questions about the content or the ideas in this or any other post, put them in your comments!


Klein, D. (1991). The humiliation dynamic: An overview. Journal of Primary Prevention, 12, 93–121. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF02015214

Written by: F. Diane Barth, L.C.S.W
Originally appeared on: Psychology Today
Republished with permission
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7 Ways To Respond When Someone Shames You
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7 Ways To Respond When Someone Shames You
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F. Diane Barth

F. Diane Barth, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City. She has a master’s degree from Columbia University School of Social Work and analytic certification from the Psychoanalytic Institute of the Postgraduate Center. She has been on the faculty and supervisory staff and a training analyst at Postgraduate, NIP, and ICP in NYC. Currently, she teaches private study groups and often runs workshops around the country. Ms. Barth’s articles have been published in the Clinical Social Work Journal, Psychoanalytic Dialogues, Psychoanalytic Psychology, and other professional journals, and as chapters in a number of books. Her new book about women's friendships, I Know How You Feel: The Joy and Heartbreak of Friendship in Women's Lives ​was released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in February 2018.View Author posts