The point of recounting these sad tales lies in reviewing the psychological toll public humiliation can take, not in any way justifying the alleged illegal and immoral actions of these particular CEO’s. However, experiencing shame in public can and often does create tremendous depression and anxiety. Those targeted often feel isolated, alone, panicked, and hopeless. They imagine that their lives and relationships have been irrevocably damaged. One’s very own self-identity can be clouded and in peril in the wake of this kind of experience. One no longer feels grounded in who they knew themselves to be or how other people see them. This experience can literally create an emotional breakdown. This severe emotional distress can lead to a downward spiral that can include loss of focus, work, relationships and self worth. The mind can be so wracked with pain that it becomes psychologically sick. Without professional and familial support and intervention, the worst can occur.
The impact of society witnessing someone’s public humiliation also seems quite relevant. Of course the friends and family of those shamed are devastated. They see “both sides” of the disgraced individual and are flattened by the emotional toll of their loved ones being publicly torn down. And what about the impact to society as a whole? Sadly, society is somewhat used to witnessing people get criticized, judged, or even trashed publicly. There is a sort of collective numbness around this kind of event from some pockets of society. People may feel emotionally disconnected from other people’s suffering. Even worse, individuals may feel somehow “invited” to also publicly shame people in their own lives…in their workplaces, at their school playgrounds, college campuses. This is also knows as bullying.
A good long look at how we use words is warranted here. This type of rhetoric does cause damage and can have unwanted ripple effects on the psychological mind of this country.
Hopefully, the case of Sandra Fluke does not garner this kind of psychological damage. The support that she is mobilizing from various outlets and individuals in the wake of these events will likely bolster and strengthen her psychological skin so she can ride this particular scenario out.
I know that at its core the case of Sandra Fluke is a case of public policy. But, in my view, it’s also a case of personal policy. Let’s watch how we speak to each other. Words do hurt. Especially in the current cyber and media focused environment in which we dwell. Stick to the policy points. Stay away from the personal ones. It does matter.
Dr. Hillary Goldsher, Psy.D, MBA is a licensed clinical psychologist who has a private practice in Beverly Hills, CA.