Toward a Psychology of Humiliation in Asymmetric Conflict

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Abstract

Humiliation is often cited in attempts to understand the origins of asymmetric conflicts, especially conflicts involving terrorism. This article reviews common usage, expert opinion, and experiences in interpersonal and intergroup conflicts to suggest a construct definition of humiliation as a combination of anger and shame. Following appraisal theory, this definition distinguishes between the situational appraisals associated with humiliation (insult and injury; failure to retaliate) and the emotional experience of humiliation (in which the combination of anger and shame may be more synergism than summation). Research on humiliation has barely begun and focuses on interpersonal relations; a crucial issue is whether interpersonal humiliation is the same experience as the intergroup humiliation salient in accounts of terrorism and terrorists. Also important is the prediction that the targets of terrorist attack will experience humiliation if the terrorists are unknown or unreachable; thus failure to retaliate may humiliate the strong as well as the weak in asymmetric conflict. Better understanding of humiliation may be useful for understanding both terrorist violence and government reactions to this violence.

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