Humiliation and Dignity in the Mideast and Elsewhere


Humiliation: a key point of escalation during conflict.


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If you have been following the war in the Mideast that involves in some way Israel, Hamas, the United States, proxies, and others connected, once it began in earnest, it has been escalating with counter responses on each side. Last night (US time), Israel apparently responded to Iran directly, despite Iran’s threat of an increased counter response. At the risk of responding prematurely, here is my psychiatric reaction so far. I apologize in advance if there are inaccuracies or what seems like inaccurate responses. My ultimate goal is peace, prosperity, and personal and compassionate self-actualization everywhere.

I believe that humiliation has been—and will be—a key for the potential of escalation and deescalation. I covered humiliation in detail in a blog for Psychiatric Times about a decade ago, July 30, 2014.1 There, I talked about its importance in some detail in my personal development, in patients, and internationally. Colleagues who have been advocates for its opposite, increased dignity in the world, suggested at that time that humiliation may be the nuclear bomb of emotions.2

Humiliation is so powerful because it is a public threat to valued identity. Some individuals and countries are more vulnerable to it than others. When humiliated, depending in part on the intensity, the response is often one of some degree of narcissistic rage.3

Here is a simplistic identification of likely humiliation in the Mideast war:

-Israel’s vaunted military defenses being overrun in the invasion by Hamas last October 7, and declaring war on Hamas right afterwards.

-Iran perhaps embarrassed by the Israeli attack on its Embassy in Syria and death of some if its military leaders on April 1, called April Fool’s Day in the United States.

-Iran responded to that by an unprecedented bombing toward the land of Israel last weekend.

After last night, the US administration has conveyed that whatever the details of the attack within Iran is clarified to be, “saving face” may be possible. We will see if this is true and holds. Media should be careful not to fan the flames of humiliation that can be publicly broadcast widely as it occurs. If so, I hope that will ripple widely into our world of conflicted relationships, including into collegial relationships. I have noted and written about the breakdown of some interfaith coalitions among psychiatrists, accompanied by humiliating comments on occasion. Good collegial relationships are the ethical way according to the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association ethical principles.

As we go forward, the psychiatric goal must be increased dignity and the maintenance of adequate and accurate self-esteem anywhere and everywhere.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.


1. Moffic HS. Humiliation and its impact on our patients and on us. Psychiatric Times. July 30, 2014.

2. Hartling LM, Lindner E, Spalthoff U, Britton M. Humiliation: a nuclear bomb of emotions? Psicologia Politica. 2013;46:55-76.

3. Elson M, ed. The Kohut Seminars: On Self Psychology and Psychotherapy with Adolescents and Young Adults. WW Norton; 1987.

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