Embracing Humility


Melissa Killeen

[This is another in a series of posts about my interactions with recovery coaching clients. I want to share what happens during a recovery coaching engagement, the discussions that take place, what usually comes up for the client and how, as a recovery coach, I respond.]

In my previous post I spoke about healing a relationship. I had asked my client to write with a focus on four topics in order to begin healing his relationship with his live-in girlfriend. Those topics were:

  1. You are my love
  2. This is my action plan
  3. I can embrace humility
  4. Spirituality

In reality, this assignment did not take one week; it took nearly four.

Topics 1 and 2 were completed within the first week. It was the topic of “embracing humility” that proved difficult for him.

In discussing his feelings about “humility,” he stumbled twice on the word, using instead the word “humiliate.” Obviously, this caught my attention. I have shared that when I first came into the program I found the concept of being humble confusing. So confusing, that I had to look up the two words (humiliate and humble) in the dictionary. This is what I found, as did my client:

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “humiliate” as “to reduce to a lower position in one’s own eyes or another’s eyes.”

And “humble” is defined as: “not thinking of yourself as better than other people, given or said in a way that shows you do not think you are better than other people, showing that you do not think of yourself as better than other people”

Humiliating experiences are, for the most part, imposed upon us without our consent. In the rooms, we sometimes hear the term “one-up or one-over.” I tend to associate humiliating experiences with memories that conjure up an image of someone more powerful standing over me, usually shaking a finger. On the other hand, experiences which I perceive as humbling often seem to have a beneficent, didactic quality to them. The two terms are so close, so similar, and yet just so different in how I react to them.

Today, I can experience both humbling and humiliating circumstances while gently laughing at myself. My reaction to negative or corrective feedback may take the form of “gosh, I should have checked my figures in that chart twice, before handing it over to my manager!” rather than “gosh, I am such a stupid person!” I tend to use language like “I am human . . .” rather than “I will never be good at this . . . .” And instead of responding by beating myself up, I can laugh, shake my head, reach out to my Higher Power and say, “Okay, take this feeling from me. Show me a better way.”

My client agreed that humility and humiliate, were for him, the same word. He joked and called it a learning difficulty! So we created two columns. The heading for one was Humiliate and the other was Humility. Using a baseball analogy, he listed some scenarios.

Humiliate   Humility
In baseball, we intentionally inflict cruelty on each other and set out to do harm. A common goal is to humiliate the opponent. When someone comes up to the plate to hit, we tell him he swings like a girl, and many other more blasphemous things. Because I am now working with 10-year-old boys, I am aware of their self-esteem, since my self-esteem was so fragile at that age. Whether they are on my team or the opponent’s, I resist saying things to knock down the kids, but rather use language that raises them up. So when a kid strikes out, I might say “nice try, next time you’ll hit it over the fence.” Or as Babe Ruth said: “Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.”

I asked him how this felt, to instill this hope in his young baseball players. He smiled. He felt it. He felt humility. He felt the experience of joy and safety there, the challenge and comfort. His experience defied words.

In longing, in thirsting to live a life in recovery, there is an absolute guarantee that we will, at times, be complete fuck-ups, and the equal certainty that this does not in any way diminish our infinite worth. Humility is embracing the idea of kicking your ego to the curb, while remaining unflinching in the knowledge that you are possessed of infinite beauty, value, and worth.


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One Response to Embracing Humility

  1. amy cooper says:

    Thank you for this…I have learned over the past 4 years that being humble is a one of the major keys in my sobriety. Humility, Gratitude, and Faith are definitely at the top of my “to do” list daily! ~Amy C.

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