Humiliation play eroticizes the powerful emotions of being humiliated and demeaned, or of humiliating another.

Most humiliations can be broadly classified as verbal or physical. verbal humiliation, such as name-calling, ridicule, or denunciation, confronts the submissive with an undignified or more seriously negative self-image. physical humiliations require the submissive to participate actively in becoming ridiculous; examples may include prohibitions on or obstacles to height, sightlines, movement, clothing, sexual expression, and speech (although the latter should be considered an extension of verbal humiliation), as well as the assignment of demeaning or impossible tasks.

A third category, public humiliation, brings the private experience of humiliation into the world through the presence of additional participants or witnesses.

Any demonstration of the dominant's power and the submissive's powerlessness can be humiliating, but triggers for shame and humiliation are highly individualized. Demonstrations of my foolishness or hair loss might humiliate me, but if my sense of my own worth depends on features such as strength and beauty as opposed to intelligence, and if I have always believed that bald heads are sexy, then I might experience this attempt at humiliation as a harmless joke.

(On the other hand, there can be a subtle humiliation in receiving a generic insult, or an insult intended for some other person: in either case, the dominant has failed to distinguish the submissive from a person or group whose values the submissive does not share. This is the humiliation of being misrecognized.)

The paradox of eroticizing humiliation is that it usually comes with a large helping of pride. For one thing, the submissive's worthlessness is not taken for granted but has to be demonstrated again and again. For another thing, the dominant is making an effort to perform the demonstration, which implies care, at least, and possibly hope for improvement.

For this reason, being ignored may be the most intense and difficult form of humiliation. The dominant withdraws attention from the submissive, who is not worth it. See Abandonment.

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