Here’s How to Understand the Difference Between Humility and Humiliation

Issue 25. June 2, 2023 ✨ Higher Power Coaching & Consulting

photo credit: Kamran Abdullayev

People often confuse humility with humiliation. It makes sense because they sound quite similar. But they’re not!

I’ll start with humiliation because I’m not going to spend a lot of time on that in this essay. Humiliation is when you feel really ashamed, embarrassed or mortified, especially publicly. For me personally, I think it’s the worst feeling in the world.

Humility is knowing that you’re no better and no worse than anyone else. When we have humility, we know that we’re neither above nor below the rest of the human race, we are part of it. We’re not at the center, nor are we at the fringes.

This means we acknowledge our shortcomings and are willing to ask for help. Some people equate feeling “less than others” with humility. It’s not. Genuine humility brings an end to feelings of inadequacy, self-absorption and status-seeking. We’re neither above nor below others.

Before I got into recovery, I thought of humility as something that people who were arrogant (like me) need to learn to practice. And that’s true, but it’s also true that people who think they’re the worst pieces of shit that ever walked the planet also need to practice humility.

If you think you’re better than everyone, or if you think you’re worse than everyone that means you are extremely self-centered. That is not humility.

Think about it:

If you’re always looking for evidence about how you’re better than others (smarter, have better ideas, etc.) it means you’re extremely self-centered. That is, you are at the center of your thinking.
The opposite is also true. If you’re always thinking “nobody has it as bad as me” or “I don’t deserve to take up space” or “Everybody’s looking at me” that’s also extremely self-centered. You’re at the center of your thinking.

One saying I learned in recovery that really helped me in regard to humility was “stop comparing your insides to other people’s outsides.”

When we do that, we completely gloss over any inner turmoil others may be having. We’re looking at their highlight reels, so to speak. How many times has some famous person that everyone envies committed suicide?! Meanwhile, so many of us have been comparing our lives to theirs and yet they were so miserable they ended it.

One term I heard for the first time in recovery was “terminally unique.” The person was saying that when they came into recovery, she thought she was terminally unique. She also said she thought she was uniquely flawed.

What she meant was that she thought nobody had it as bad as her or could possibly understand how awful her life was, or what a piece of shit she was. By attending meetings and listening to others’ stories, she came to understand that we’re all just “bozos on the bus.”

In other words nobody’s better and nobody’s worse than anybody. That’s humility. You’re no better and no worse than anyone.

If you’re struggling with humility, I urge you to stop comparing yourself to others. If you find you must compare, then try comparing yourself to former you rather than others. If there’s someone you envy, try using them as inspiration instead of just envying them. That is, assume that if they can do it (whatever “it” is) that you also can do it. You may be wrong, you won’t know for sure unless you actually try to achieve it. You’re not even going to try to achieve it if you don’t believe you can have what they have. Be humble. Go for it! They’re no better or worse than you.

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