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Got Humiliation? What to Do When Your Face Is in the Dirt

photo: Arwen Abendstern on flickr

If I could pick one situation that has the most potential for humiliation, it would have to be junior high. Or high school. Take your pick. High school is the taller, slightly-more-sophisticated option. But either one holds a myriad of possible mortifications – snubbing, name-calling, wedgies, swirlies.

You name it, high school and junior high have got it.

In spades.

photo: Michael 1952 on flickr

Mind you, one doesn’t need to be a student to experience these things.

I’ve always said that my idea of hell would be substitute teaching in junior high. I can still remember the torture we inflicted on our poor, unsuspecting subs in seventh grade. Why did we think it was so frickin funny to refuse to give them our real names?

All I know is that when it came to subs, we had no mercy. It was like Lord of the Flies in a rural-Ohio classroom.

photo: Jonny Hughes on flickr

A bunch of years ago, I was a counselor at an alternative high school. I’d just gotten out of grad school with a degree in Psychology and was fulfilling my first internship requirement.

In spite of what I just said about high school and junior high, I love teenagers. Just not in classroom form. I like them one-on-one or in small groups. Where the mob mentality doesn’t have a chance to catch hold.

Luckily, my stint at the school did not require me to interact with the kids in mob form. I was content to meet with them in individual sessions and a few small groups.

Can you smell trouble coming?

In my case, trouble came in the form of a class called Weird P.E. This was an alternative school, after all. Everything came in a bright, hip wrapper. Even though some things, like P.E., remain essentially the same, no matter what you call them.

photo: Mike Baird on flickr

After I’d been at the school for a few months, one of the teachers asked me to help him out with the Weird P.E. class. The teacher’s name was Daniel and he was super cool. He was one of these guys that didn’t just walk into a room. He glided. The kids loved him, and so did I.

So when he asked me to help him with the class, I said “Sure thing.”

All I had to do was show up and float in the wake of his coolness. It was easy.


After a few months of working together, Daniel informed me he wasn’t going to be able to teach the next quarter of Weird P.E. He needed me to do it.

“Sure,” I said.

The minute I opened my mouth, part of me started to flip out. What are you, loco? This is the last thing in the world you want to do. You know you can’t control a classroom. Those kids are going to eat you alive. They’re going to sense your fear and tear you to shreds. Take it back! Take it back!

But I couldn’t. I’d promised Daniel I’d do it. I couldn’t let him down.

Unfortunately, a ton of kids signed up for Weird P.E. the next quarter. I’d become a popular counselor at that point, and I guess the kids thought I’d be a great teacher as well.

The sheer number of sign-ups for the class had my stomach performing advanced gymnastic moves.

photo: Roland Tanglao on flickr

I had no idea how I was going to pull this off. What was I going to do when it came time to actually teach the class?

Much to my surprise, the first few sessions were fine. I did my best impersonation of Daniel, including leading the class in the same games and activities we’d done the quarter before. I began to breathe a little easier. My stomach downgraded to cartwheels and somersaults.

photo: Steven Depolo on flickr

And then it came. The Day of Shame and Infamy.

It was raining that day, and we needed to move indoors. Daniel had the class inside a few times, so I had the kids do the same game that he had – a dodge-ball-esque production with foam balls instead of big rubber red ones.

There was only one difference between the previous experience and this one: Daniel was a super cool teacher with an innate ability to keep the class in control. I was not.

After a very brief period of time, I lost control of the class. The kids started throwing balls everywhere, with no regard to the instructions of the game. They were yelling and hollering and whooping like crazy.

It was a madhouse.

photo: Ted Van Pelt on flickr

I had been told by one of the teachers at the school that the best way to regain control of the class was to throw a student out of the classroom. It didn’t even matter if it was the right student, just as long as you threw someone out.

But I couldn’t do it. I was frozen.

One of my favorite students was in the class that day. I can still remember him looking at me, probably thinking something like: Aren’t you going to do anything? Aren’t you going to stop them?

I tried to play it off. I tried to pretend like I didn’t care that the kids were bouncing off the walls. I tried to pretend like I was fine with it.

It was the only version of “control” I could muster.

I went home that day, totally humiliated. My worst fantasies had come true.

I can hear you now: But Z, don’t you know you attracted this to yourself? You created the experience with your fears!

I know, I know. And I knew it then. But it still didn’t help the fact that I was totally mortified by what had happened.

photo: Ravenelle on flickr

I was scared to death to set foot in the classroom again.

What if it happened all over again? What if every class from now on was a frantic free-for-all? What was I going to do?

In this case, I did the only thing I knew how to do.

I didn’t know how to maintain control of the class. I didn’t know how to regain my self-respect.

But I did know how to put one foot in front of the other. That was my main skill, at that point.

photo: Wayne Wilkinson on flickr

So that’s what I did.

I marched back into the classroom and pretended like nothing had happened. I pretended like I knew what I was doing. The sky was graced with sun that day, and I led the kids to a neighboring field and instructed them in a game of frisbee.

It was fabulous. And it went off without a hitch.

photo: Ben Hanbury on flickr

Looking back on it now, I am grateful for my willingness to try again. Even though I was mortified. Even though I felt like a failure.

My willingness to try again signified that, even though I felt like a failure, I wasn’t willing to stay in that feeling. And the way out of the feeling was to keep moving forward.

Sometimes that’s all we can do.

photo: Sheila Tostes on flickr

When have you experienced humiliation? And how did you move past it?

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13 Responses to Got Humiliation? What to Do When Your Face Is in the Dirt

  1. Kathleen May 22, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

    Love this one! Sometimes just showing up is HARD!

    I had a friend who worked with at risk teens and faced this out-of-control-ness all the time. One of the things they did in training was imagine the absolute worst thing a kid could do to them. For my friend, it was having a kid spit in his face. I can’t remember whether the trainer actually spit in my friend’s face (some things are worth forgetting) but they rehearsed it because it was probably going to happen at some point.

    I get how hard it was to go back to class the next day, Z. There are times in ministry (thankfully few and far between) that feel just like that.

    Love to you (and hug M. for me, please)

    • Z Egloff May 23, 2012 at 11:13 am #

      Hi Kathleen,

      Great to hear from you again!

      I like this idea of imagining the worst thing – I think it helps put things in perspective. And I’m glad that I didn’t have to endure any face-spitting perspective.

      My experience with ministry so far is that it sometimes involves doing the thing I think I can’t do. And then I do it. Perhaps that’s why I was prompted to write this post.

      Melissa and I send love and hugs back to you!


  2. Jill Shinn May 26, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    Z, you are a hero for even working with highschool kids in the first place. Like my kids say, “teenegers are big and scary—and they wear all that black makeup…!,” which pretty much says it all.

    My moments of greatest humiliation came from—you guessed it—highschool! I handled it by graduating a semester early and going to college. Sadly, humiliation followed me there, too. But eventually I started having moments of spiritual awakening, and things got better and better.

    I guess we’re here to do exactly what you suggested: keep showing up and putting one foot in front of the other. Well said.

    • Z Egloff May 26, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

      Hi Jill,

      Things can get better, can’t they? That’s probably the best thing for me to remember when everything is looking bleak: This too shall pass. That’s the only thing that never changes.

      I’m so glad that I’m out of my high school years, and I’m glad that I realized that being a high school teacher is not my life calling. I’m also glad that the black-makeuped munchkins behaved themselves when I stepped back into the classroom. Miracles are everywhere.


      • michael frank May 29, 2012 at 11:22 am #

        Not long ago..about 4 years, I was a client in a local mental health dual diagnosis program. My personal services coordinator, formerally known as a counselor, caught my “fool” attention. At age 62, she talked about taking baby steps so I enrolled in a beginning computer class. Pretty soon, she brought in 4 balls of yarn. I got to pick my own color which was purple. This was to be my first lesson, knot in knitting, but in setting a boundary so while taking baby steps and growing I could protect myself. Now look at me, one foot in front of the other heading towards my AA in Human Services at age 66. My friend Andy says I am about 17 now and starting to mature.Life is great. Humiliation is a part of my daily spiritual practice and I love it.

        • Z Egloff May 30, 2012 at 9:57 am #

          Hi Michael,

          Nice to see you here again!

          Congratulations on your progress and on working towards your AA degree. It’s amazing how far baby steps can take us, isn’t it?

          I love that you make humiliation a part of your daily spiritual practice. Indeed, that should be rule #1 in any spiritual practice: Make friends with humiliation, and nothing can stop you!!


  3. Wayne July 23, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

    Hi, Z! First off, I wanted to thank you for using my image, “one foot in front of the other” in your blog post. You integrated all of the pictures seamlessly into the narrative, and I imagine that it took you some extra production time to pull everything together. Well done. I love your line about, “Lord of the Flies in rural Ohio”…priceless, that.

    Recently, I watched the film version of Dan Millman’s novel, ‘Way of the Peaceful Warrior’ ; a movie I highly recommend. It brought tears to my eyes. One of the lines that struck me the most was delivered by Nick Nolte. His character says, “being a warrior isn’t about vulnerability, it’s about total vulnerability…” Allowing ourselves the freedom to do that, as you have in this blog installment, lets us hold our heads up even when we have our faces in the dirt.

    In all things be well,


    • Z Egloff July 24, 2012 at 10:03 am #

      Hi Wayne,

      Great to hear from you. I loved your image and I thank you again for your permission to use it in this post.

      Yes, I’ve seen ‘Way of the Peaceful Warrior.’ I read the book years ago, and watched the movie recently. I first read the book in my early 20s and it had a huge impact on me. I appreciate the reminder about vulnerability. This is something I can’t be reminded enough.

      Thanks again for stopping by. Come back again any time!


  4. andleebakhlaqkhan February 3, 2014 at 1:03 pm #

    I really like your idea and the way u have expressed this …. and i really like the pic of lil girl with rolling teras and i also use this in my blog , thanks for such a nice share
    I also blog about different things
    if you can have a look , it will be a pleasure

    • Z Egloff February 4, 2014 at 12:55 pm #


      Thank you for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. I checked out your post on peace and I enjoyed this as well.

      Stop by again any time! :)


      • andleebakhlaqkhan February 5, 2014 at 5:43 am #

        sure i will be waiting for your next upload

  5. keshav May 1, 2014 at 1:39 am #

    Hi there z
    Actually I have read your posts and do really like ’em a lot…well when talking about humiliation …I am going through it recently and really m not able to find out a solution to this problem…and that’s why I wanted your help….well actually I am at 12the standad …and m being humiliated by a gang of stupid boys ..who are from all the important aspects like studies and all way behind me….and there’s one I mean the one who’s leading them who started this a few days back of a sudden without any reason … They call me names and make sounds and all while they themselves are great examples of what they call me they are all such great freaks and way below me when it comes to IQ looks personality and even then they are the ones who humiliate me and that too without any reason …..I can certainly give ’em back a taste of what they started and that’s what I did I mean I am doing but I don’t think it will help …you know they are the sort of people who actually fit in the phrase “true freaks” I call ’em back with names too but they show as if they are not going to get humiliated by me no matter what I say even though they do…and then like they win this game because the are more in number and I am alone …so I mean they are not at all people of any importance to me and I really don’t care of what they keep sprouting about me I definitely can ignore but still when we are having combined classes or assemblies and prayers it feels uncomfortable no matter what right? So I need somebody’s help and I don’t have that many friends and the one’s I do too dont cone to be of much help so I am alone in this fight….and I can’t even mess with them they are too many for me to be able to beat them to the ground alone so what do you suggest …I will be really greatful if you could help me out

    • Z Egloff May 7, 2014 at 11:11 am #

      Hello Keshav,

      I heard a story recently that reminds me of your situation. When Ghandi was a kid, he was bullied at school. His housemaid told him that, when it happened again, the best thing to do was to stand firm and repeat the word “Ram” in his head. “Ram” is another word for God, or the Divine. Ghandi used this mantra throughout his life to keep himself centered in Something Bigger than him. Just a thought. :)


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