Shame: The “Birth” Or Beginning Of Shame
Guilt says “I did something wrong.” Shame says “I am something wrong.” The experience of shame is a directly negative evaluation of the self. In guilt, the self is focused on negative behaviors, but the self is not the focus.
John Bradshaw once called shame “the master emotion because as it is internalized all other emotions are bound to it. It is as common to humans as water is to fish, yet it’s the last emotion to be studied by psychiatry and psychology, especially in the contemporary era with its focus on cognitive therapies and brain scans.
So, what is this emotion, and why does it seem to be so neglected in the clinical and popular literature? Probably because most people are ashamed to talk about shame! It is, relatively speaking, considered to be “negative,” in the sense that dealing with it, especially any of the many effects of having suffered shame, are often painful—toxic memory recall, depression, addictions, poor self-esteem. These are but a few of the arenas in which residual shame manifests.
Why “residual?” Because the original injury is rarely, if ever, remembered. It almost always initially occurs when one is young, and is buried deeply in the recesses of memory. But the effects of being made to feel small or used against one’s will or ridiculed are all the result of having one’s most private and delicate emotional places dishonored; one’s trust is broken forever, leaving a sticky residue of unworthiness that contaminates the individual from that point forward. This toxic orientation then is then adopted as “natural,” and creates the twisted expectation that such behavior patterns must be obeyed in order to “belong.”
Does this mean that recovery from such an injury is irreparable? By no means. It is made more difficult by the toxic environment in which the drama of one’s life plays out. The primary defense against shame injury is denial, thenotion that what happened does not exist. Another isminimalizing (“it’s not that bad!”).
The psychic weight of the injury does not disappear—no matter how much one wants to “forget” or pretend “it was all in the past,” one must develop away to mediate the world without integrated. It is most usually accomplished through developing a persona (or mask) through which to literally present a different face to the world, one which hides the hurt and shame.
When one’s true self is perceived as damaged, one needs a false self that is not. One then, in effect, becomes that false self. It effects every area of one’s life. To protect one’s woundedness, one must cease being authentic.
Initially each of us feels what we feel, we think what we think, we see what we see. Shame skews one’s standards and spawns the entire spectrum of addictions and “mental illness” as adaptations to the internalized negative emotions.
The media (as a tool of social control) has been extensively used to coerce the population to believe in the necessity of permanent war, rampant consumerism, addictions, and ever-advancing, avaricious capitalism—driven by what may be the most pernicious and least recognized addiction of all—greed. (I will discuss this further in my post on Advertising).
Want to learn more about Shame?
Dr. Stefan J. Malecek
Author – Veteran – Psychologist