Monday, March 16, 2009

Fear and Humiliation

I recently was able to hear a talk by Robert Brooks. He is a researcher and psychologist specializing in the resilience of children. He has a book called “Raising Resilient Children.” The book is excellent. In the talk I heard him give, he said something I found interesting. (Actually, he said a number of interesting things, but I’ll focus.) He said that people fear humiliation more than failure. Since he focuses on children, his point was that to help a child be resilient we need to overcome his or her fear of humiliation.

To me, one thing this means is that parents and other caregivers need to help children have experiences where failure is an option but humiliation is not. Success and failure can teach one how to grow. Humiliation teaches a person he’s defective.

How might this apply to adults and romantic relationships? In all our books and materials for couples, my colleagues and I stress the power of emotional safety. It’s what people seem to want most and it’s something relationships cannot do (well) without. It’s also not easy to hang onto it when times are tough. Most everyone can do a bit better—or a lot better—than they often do in order to make it safe for loved ones to connect. If more families were humiliation free zones, a lot of things would go a lot better in life.