The Grey Chronicles


The Filipino ‘Hiya

Grey DayAs Filipinos, we often heard of our ‘hiya’. Hiya is loosely translated into English as shame, a state of dishonor, disgrace or humiliation (Morales & Gilner, 2009).

Chris Poulson (2000), supporting the seminal works of Thomas Scheff (1990), argues that shame may well qualify as the “master emotion”. Shame is also a behaviour-shaping tool to stretch the interpersonal bond. Poulson describes:

“Shame is a powerful, social emotion. … it may have powerful psychological and social functions. … It is learned as we learn the expectations and standards imposed upon us by others, and amplified as we develop expectations of ourselves. It is strongly rooted in culture and language.”

Britt-Marie Schiller, Ph.D., (2005) of Saint Louis Psychoanalytic Institute, clarifies,

“Shame is the emotion experienced when we feel exposed as inadequate, weak, and powerless. Shame arises from passivity and helplessness, from a feeling of failure, a feeling that one amounts to less than one aspires to be, that one falls short of an ego ideal. … Acknowledging shame involves exposing oneself as weak and powerless, even defective, which may cause more shame. … but the shame that eats away at one’s sense of self can also be transformed into a sense of being worthwhile, respected, and in charge of one’s own life.”

Shame, Lewis (1992) describes, can arise from many sources and the key elements are: a violation of some role or standard; a failure to meet expectations; or a defect of the self that cannot easily be repaired .

Steve and Connirae Andreas (2002) writes: “Shame is often called “the secret emotion,” because most people who are ashamed are also ashamed of feeling ashamed, so they seldom talk about it, or bring it up as a problem to be solved.” Similarly, Robert Kolodny’s presentation (2006) states:

“Shame is such an unpleasant emotion that we go to great lengths to avoid it. … Much of our inter-active life is orchestrated to avoid shame (prompted by so-called shame anxiety or the “dread” of shame). Indeed the anger and impulse to retaliate and strike back that is so closely associated with humiliation can be seen as a defense against experiencing (or continuing to experience) this devastating emotion. At the same time, in many cultures it is shameful to feel shame, so it is one of the least acknowledged emotions. Because we don’t speak about it, we often don’t even recognize it as the emotion we are experiencing, and we have no established discourse that would help us to see how much influence it is having in our domestic, workplace and civic lives. … From a Gestalt perspective, guilt is about something I do. Shame is a statement about fundamentally who I am. … Shame is closely related to power and the greatest potential for shaming is at a place of power difference or across a hierarchical boundary.” [Emphasis added.]

But, Filipino ‘hiya’, although accurately translated, is not really equivalent to English word shame. Doing so, hiya is reduced to a feeling, an emotion, or a behavioral response to various social situations. Several authors used the latter meaning of hiya as shame and treated it as a value by Lynch (1968), as a surface value by Enriquez (1994), and correctly as a behavior by Mercado (1979) where he also relates it with guilt.

Emil V. Tabbada (2005) proposes that dangal or honor is the proper grounding for hiya. The root word hiya reveals that it is not used commonly in its pure form. He argues:

“Within the ordinary usage of hiya, it has been noted that the word itself cannot be understood as meaningful if it functions as a noun. An elaboration on the use of affixation is necessary to arrive at various meanings that fit into specific contexts. … [a] basic understanding of hiya as “being-ashamed-of-and-for-something,” which is constitutive of its objective and subjective aspects. This “something” is the source of ambivalence: what is it that one ought to be ashamed of? This ambivalence is rooted in the word’s seeming groundlessness, which means that in order to be considered as an imperative the proper grounding for hiya must be understood.”

Tabbada explains: “The affixation system distinguishes the Philippine languages from English. And it is precisely in its affixed form that values are understood, not by its seemingly lifeless root word. The affixation puts the word into action, or contextualizes the word for actual usage, so that the meaning of the word is usually understood in its affixed form.” He then concludes:

Dangal as value demands more than just being protected as in cases of revolutionary struggles for independence. It also demands that each and every person respect the nobility, purity, and gloriousness of the other. … Hiya is considered merely as a manifestation of dangal in the sense that it is only one mode of responding to the attempted, or even successful destruction of dangal. … Dangal, therefore, can also be understood as a moral imperative.”

Dr. Narry F. Santos (2007) states “Hiya regulates our behaviour in society, making us act in such a way that people’s feelings are respected and relationships maintained.”

“The potential of [Filipino] hiya as a positive concept is very powerful. … Hiya, as a positive value, is reflected in the expression mahiya ka, which is an appeal to one’s sense of social propriety or decorum. However, if hiya is abused or misused as a positive value, it is violated either through labis sa hiya ( ‘excessive in shame,’ or to a fault ) or through kulang sa hiya ( ‘lacking in shame’ ). Regarding labis sa hiya, it can be shown in a person’s being balat-sibuyas ( literally, ‘onion-skinned’, or over-sensitive ), or being sobrang mahiyain, timid or self-critically inferior. … Regarding kulang sa hiya, it can manifest itself in at least four ways of expression. These four expressions are as follows: (1) makapal ang mukha ( literally, ‘thick faced,’ insensitive ); (2) nagbubuhat ng sariling bangko ( literally, ‘lifting one’s own bench,’ mayabang or ‘boastful’ ); (3) walang delicadeza ( literally, ‘no sense of appropriateness’ or proper behavior ); and (4) walang hiya ( literally, ‘no shame,’ shameless ).” [Emphasis added.]

As human beings, public exposure of our faults and weaknesses happens to all of us. We have all been laughed at. We have all had fingers pointed at us or known others were talking about us behind our backs. To be ashamed makes us humans, but to remain shameless is not. Tabbada (2005) asks: “But why should one ought to be ashamed or even want to be ashamed? The question reveals that the notion of hiya as value should be reconsidered because of its vagueness. It would be too presumptuous, for instance, to say that Filipinos, because they value shame, strive to be constantly ashamed or even want to be ashamed.”

Dr. Narry F. Santos (2007: 17) goes on further:

“In our cultural system, both labis sa hiya and kulang sa hiya do not represent the tamang pamantayan (right standard). … In light of our sensitivity to others’ feelings, we frown at those who are makapal ang mukha. In light of our high regard for modesty, we cringe to hear those who are nagbubuhat ng sariling bangko. In light of our respect for people and society’s standards, we thumb down acts that are walang hiya. In light of our sense of inner strength and resiliency, we do not patronize those who are balat-sibuyas. … It is the labis or kulang sa hiya kind of use that we must be wary about, not hiya itself.”

Moreover, if dangal is the moral value, and hiya is only its manifestation, the tamang pamantayan (right standards) for resolving hiya translated into shame; following Steve and Connirae Andreas (2002: 27-28) suggestion would still suffice, such as:

“If your standard is the same as, or similar to, the other person’s standard, you might want to consider an apology, or some kind of amends, a specific commitment to meet that standard in the future, etc.”

“If your standard is different, you might want to consider not associating with that person, explaining that your standards are different, “going through the motions” of meeting their standards, even though you think they’re silly, joking about your differences, leave the country, etc. Keep in mind that no two people have exactly the same standards.”

Thus, why should we be ashamed of our Filipino hiya, when we should value dangal more?


Andreas, Steve & Andreas, Connirae (2002). Resolving Shame. Lakewood, CO: NLP Anchor Point, March 2002. pp. 17, 27-28. back to text: 1 | 2.

Enriquez, Virgilio [ed.] (1994). From colonial to liberation psychology: The Philippine experience. Manila: De La Salle University Press, p. 99. As cited by Tabbada, (2005). back to text.

Kolodny, Robert (2006). Gestalt Perspective on Humiliation and Shame, Summary of Presentation at 2006 Workshop on Humiliation and Violent Conflict. New York: Humiliation Studies, December, 2006. back to text.

Lewis, H (1992). Shame: The exposed self, New York: The Free Press, 1992. as cited by Poulson (2000), p. 7. back to text.

Lynch, Frank [ed.] (1968). Social acceptance, Four readings on Philippine values. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, as cited by Tabbada, (2005). back to text.

Mercado, Leonardo (1979). Elements of Filipino ethics. Tacloban: Tacloban: Divine Word University, as cited by Tabbada, (2005). back to text.

Morales, Franc and Leah Gilner (2001-2009). TheSage’s English Dictionary and Thesaurus. Princeton University. back to text

Poulson, Chris (2000). Shame: The Master of Emotion?. Working Paper Series No. 20-03. Hobart, Tasmania: University of Tasmania, School of Management, April 2000. p. 4. back to text.

Santos, Dr. Narry F. (2007). Gospel & Culture. ISACC Bible Study Series Volume 3. Quezon City: Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture [ISSAC], 2007. pp. 7, 16-17. back to text: 1.

Scheff, Thomas (1990). Microsociology: Discourse, Emotion, and Social Structure, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. As cited by Poulson (2000), p. 2. back to text.

Schiller, Britt-Marie (2005). Dynamics of Shame. St. Louis, MO: Saint Louis Psychoanalytic Institute, September 2005. p. X. back to text.

Tabbada, Emil V. (2009). A Phenomenology of the Tagalog Notions of Hiya and Dangal, Filipino Cultural Traits: Claro R. Ceniza Lectures Series IIID, Vol. 4. Edited by Rolando M. Gripaldo. Washington, D.C.: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2005. back to text: 1 | 2.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] ~ counters the notion that “hiya” translates to “shame,” therefore implying that Filipino culture was ever simply shame-based; and, […]

    Pingback by Alay dangal, “to offer dignity” as an alternative to shame | Dreams from the Tide Pool — 2013.March.20 @ 09:51 | Reply

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