Shame – notes and article

I was given to read this really great article on shame for school, and it made a strong impression on me so I’m posting here. You can read the entire article by clicking the link or if for an abreviated version, simply read my notes below.
Shame Article in The Atlantic (Karen, 1992)

Shame is an emotional experience that has been neglected until the early 90s, when it started becoming the subject of much attention and debate, seen as a “master emotion” – the unseen regulator of our entire affective life.

Current research identifies shame as an important element in aggression, addictions, obsessions, narcissism, depression and more.

Many psychologists believe that it is actually shame (and not guilt), that is the preeminent cause of emotional distress in our time – a by-product of social changes and child-rearing practices that have made us unusually insecure about who we are.

What is shame? Where does it come from? When does it first show up? How should it be treated? Why does it exist at all?

In the past the capacity to experience shame was valued – it meant to be modest, to have character, nobility, honor, discretion and to be respectful of social standards, the boundaries of others and one’s own limitations.

One does not have to be in a state of shame in order for shame to be at work within. It seems that anything can evoke a feeling of shame – it can be our likes, our dislikes, our assists, our deficits, genius or creativity – because of what we think such things imply about our character or the way they seem to divide us from others.

Normal shame is necessary, so that personalities and civilization coexist. What is pathogen is unacknowledged shame.

Much of the shame that therapists treat is repressed, defended against, unfelt.

Pathogenic shame belief seems to block creative avenues. It is crippling because it contains the implication that one is at core a deformed being, fundamentally unlovable and unworthy of membership in the human community. It can be understood as a wound in the self, frequently instilled at a delicate age, usually by parents, but sometimes also outside the home. Nothing defends against the internal ravages of shame more than the security gained from parental love, and nothing seems to make shame cut more deeply than the lack of that love.

Where treatment is concerned, certain broad approaches seem to be favored: a greater sensitivity to shame, increased care on the part of the therapist not to aggravate shame by using it as a tool to promote change, an effort to help the patient see the connection between shame and its ramifications – such as rage, obsessiveness, or overeating – and a more empathic, accepting posture towards the patient, especially when needed in order to make up for what parents failed to provide. It is extremely important for therapy to be a safe heaven where the patient is able to speak the terrible truths he harbors about himself. Putting shame into words appears to be a critical first step in freeing oneself of its damning logic.

A major target for shame is Narcissistic personally disorder, whose emotional fragility seems based on shame. Likewise, many forms of depression seem to have a greater component of shame than understood before – feelings of failure, inadequacy, not being loved enough are shame issues that generate depression. Eating disorders are also largely disorders of shame. Sexual and physical abuse are guaranteed by their nature to produce shame beyond the capacity of the individual to tolerate. Addiction is also at least partly rooted in shame.

Except for the thoughts that are associated with them, shame and guilt are similar – perhaps even identical – and easily confused.

If guilt is about behavior that has harmed others, shame is about not being good enough. Shame is often triggered by something you have done, but it is about the way that behavior reflects on you that is what counts.

Guilt is about transgression, while shame is about the Self. We say “I am ashamed of myself”, but I am “guilty for something”. For guilt, one can find a solution – making amends. But the only thing that suits shame is to be non-existent (feeling of wanting to crawl into a hole).

There is a difference between normal shame – the everyday embarrassment and humiliations that we feel – and pathological shame which is an irrational sense of defectiveness, a feeling not of having crossed to the wrong side of a boundary but of having been born there.

A therapist kind regard might gradually enable the client to be a kinder parent to themselves, looking at their pain the way they might look at a hurting child rather than at a loathsome adult.

Treating painful, hidden feelings of defect is an intuitive aspect of the therapist’s job.

The recovery movement has been very popular because facilitates the dissolution of secondary shame – that is the shame of being an addict rather than the core feeling of shame that may have caused one to become an addict in the first place.

Narcissistic shame – that sense of personal defect – is more than a bad memory. It never fully goes away. To “have shame” in this sense means to be burdened with a festering negative self-portrait against which one is repeatedly trying to defend.

The cost of keeping shame closeted can be exorbitant. It often propels us into a busy, running life in which the last person on earth we wish to know is ourselves. As painful as shame is, it does seem to be the guardian of many of the secret, unexplored aspects of our beings. Repressed shame must be experienced if we are to come to terms with the good, the bad and the unique of what we are.