Last Updated on Sunday, 27 October 2013 20:37
Written by James M. Shultz
Analyst James Shultz explores shame from a Jungian perspective and argues that, by recognizing and acknowledging shame, we can stop defending ourselves against it and open a window on the shadow.
By James M. Shultz, M.D., Jungian analyst (IRSJA--Austin, Texas)
Shame. It needs no introduction. All of us know it, or have known and forgotten it. Mostly we have forgotten it.
But, after being publicly ignored for several decades, shame has come storming back into our collective consciousness. Increasingly over the last 20 years shame has come out in the psychological literature, in journal articles and books. Shame has surfaced in schools, in court, and in politics at all levels, where once again it is being promoted as a disciplinary tool to be used against various sorts of public offenders. In a recent article in the "Atlantic Monthly" magazine, shame is said to have become a buzzword of the twelve-step recovery movement. This spring shame made the cover of "Newsweek" magazine. Shame has rather suddenly become popular. A year ago, when I decided to make a project out of looking into shame, it wasn't so much in the open. And, now it has found its way into psychotherapeutic and analytic consulting rooms, where it most certainly has always been, only until just recently we weren't talking about it. Why weren't we talking about it? I'll give you some ideas about that later on.
Probably everyone who has ever been in front of a group to talk, with the expectation of having something of substance to say, has experienced some degree of stage fright, or performance anxiety. The same holds for any kind of performance-- the audience is listening, and watching. Performance anxiety is practically a universal fear. You know it. What is it we're afraid of? Failure to be sure, but what's that? It's one thing to fail and quite another to screw up somehow and embarrass--no, humiliate--ourselves in front of other people. We're scared of that. We'll look foolish or stupid or be boring, and be ashamed. People will avoid us, shun us and even ridicule us behind our back where we are defenseless, and leave us alone to imagine the worst. Fear of shame, you'll hear it called shame-anxiety, is every bit as potent as the fear of panic. And the wish to avoid the experience of shame is so powerful that just the threat of it evokes enormous effort to prevent its emergence.
In spite of this power, it isn't obvious, a lot of the time, that we're dealing with shame. The word itself comes from a word that means "to cover," that is, to hide. And shame truly is the hidden affect. The parts of ourselves we wish to hide are the shameful parts, and we also wish to hide the fact that we are ashamed. If we can't prevent it, we hide it. In common language when we talk about embarrassment, humiliation, or mortification we are talking about shame. Loss of face, disgrace, and dishonor are close relatives in the family of shame.
The first time Mr. M. remembered feeling shame was when he was four years old. He picked up a footstool made of empty juice cans covered with cloth, raised it over his head, hurled it at his one year old brother who was innocently standing in front of him, and knocked him down. Mother, hearing the racket from the kitchen close by, was there at once. She scooped little brother up and turned on Mr. M.: "What did you do? Did you hit him with the stool? Don't you know you could have hurt him, badly?"
"I was just playing and having fun," said Mr. M., reflecting on his memory of the event, "and all of a sudden it wasn't fun anymore." He knew he was guilty of hitting his brother, all right. And he confessed, reluctantly. But he was ashamed. He knew the thing he could not confess and had to hide, that when he lifted up that stool, all grinning and full of mightiness, he really did want to hurt his brother, and when he let go of that stool he didn't care. For the moment Mr. M. had forgotten who he was and who the other was, his little brother, and that he did care. Four years old he was, and feeling bad about himself and hiding the worst of it -- this was a dilemma he couldn't deal with. He forgot it. Over 30 years later when Mr. M. recalled that event during his analysis, what had stuck in his mind was not that he was guilty of hitting his brother. Besides, he didn't really hurt him. What struck Mr. M. was the sudden and inescapable knowing of the badness inside himself, and the shame of it. We might say he saw the shadow. He didn't just do something bad. He was bad. And his badness was confirmed, if not established, by the looks of alarm and then disgust he had seen on his mother's face. Mother, whose last question caught him--"don't you know?"-- even if she didn't see how bad he really was. The shame of that shook Mr. M. and stayed on.
I want to make a distinction here between shame and guilt. They may appear together, but they are not quite the same. Guilt comes from violating a rule or standard, committing an offense, a trespass. To feel guilty requires a conscience or superego. Guilt is about what we do; it motivates confession, it deserves punishment, and it is relieved by restitution and forgiveness. Shame is something deeper. It is about who we are; it motivates concealment, it deserves dismemberment, there is no restitution, and it is relieved only by acceptance. One can be guilty and feel guilty without being ashamed, and one can feel shame without feeling guilty or having done anything to feel guilty about. One can do things that bring on shame, but it is what the action means to the actor or about the actor that brings on the affect, rather than the act itself. For Mr. M., it was the sudden knowledge that he could have harmed his brother and that for an instant he even wanted to, combined with the loss of connection with his mother, her necessary approval and love, that shamed him.
Having referred to shame as affect, it will probably help the conversation at this point if I tell you what I mean by "affect." The definition we learned in medical school was that affect was a person's moment-to-moment feeling tone. It was to be distinguished from one's mood, which is the prevailing pitch of the emotions. Mood ranges from the depths of depression at the bottom to the heights of elation at the top. Affect could be flat, blunted, or labile, and furthermore it could be appropriate or inappropriate to the content of one's thinking and speaking. Thus, if someone was laughing while describing a tragic event, the affect would be inappropriate. This clinical definition serves well as a diagnostic tool, it is observable and reliable. But, it doesn't really tell us what an affect is. A momentary feeling tone -- what is that? Now we think of affect as more fundamental than feeling. Affect is a physiological event occurring involuntarily in the body as a response to stimulus. It results from activity in the limbic system of the brain and not the cerebral cortex, and it is mediated by the autonomic nervous system, not the voluntary motor pathways. That is to say, in psychological language, that the origin of affect is in the unconscious. It comes to us uninvited, and may be present whether we know it or not. Feeling, on the other hand, requires some self consciousness and some reflection. "I feel ____," or "I have a feeling." Affect is automatic. To further complicate matters, the feeling function, in Jungian parlance, is an operation of the ego which forms differentiated feeling into judgement, manifest as approach/avoidance or as one's positive or negative attitude.
Shame is one of the primary affects. I'll tell you what the others are in a little bit. The mechanism for the experience of shame is carried in the genes, and built into the biological organism. It is universal, at least among humans. It is a part of our makeup. Like the other primary affects shame has its characteristic physical expression. The chest sags, the body tends to crumple and sink and is momentarily awkward and discoordinated, the head drops, the gaze is averted, most often downward, blood vessels dilate in the face, and there is a temporary mental disorganization so that one cannot think logically or clearly. Blushing, which results from the dilation of blood vessels in the face, is the hallmark of embarrassment. There is a spectrum of shame. As shame goes, embarrassment is on the mild side, and has been called "skin shame." When we are alone or in an introverted mode, or with another person whose acceptance makes us safe, we may open to a "deep shame" which turns to anguish and sobbing.
Shame is an outer experience. Shame in the presence of other people, gives us the impulse to run away and hide. We don't belong, we don't deserve to be here, we are no good. We are exposed, to be condemned and expelled from the others, be they individuals, groups, or the whole human race. We are cast out, alone, and cut off, and the cause of our dismemberment is our own deficiency or deformity or constitutional inadequacy, perhaps our exhibitionism. This is humiliation--when the shame is most severe and when it has to do with others. There's nothing we can do. When the affect comes suddenly, acutely, as it most often does, it may seem as if the ground has opened up beneath our feet and we have sunk into a hole, if only we could disappear in it. Is this a kind of death? The rape of Persephone comes to mind here. Do you know the story? This young girl was picking flowers in a meadow when Hades, the devil, came up behind her. The ground opened up beneath her feet and she was carried down to hell.
Shame is an inner experience. It can come when no one else is around. There's a physical sinking sensation that's something like falling into a pool of our own water, like we are dissolving. It comes with the sudden realization that we are not the person we thought we were. We might even be enjoying some good fortune when seemingly out of nowhere comes the knowledge of our unworthiness, this heretofore unthought inner reality. We don't deserve to be here-- who do I think I am? Who did I think I was? There's no one to hide from, nothing to hide from, nowhere to go, and certainly no going back. That person is mortified, dead. Whatever comes next, if anything does, will have to be new.
Shame isn't always acute. The best description of chronic shame that I have run across is this poem by Vern Rutsala:
This is the shame of the woman whose hand hides
her smile because her teeth are so bad, not the grand
self-hate that leads some to razors or pills
or swan dives off beautiful bridges however
tragic that is. This is the shame of seeing yourself,
of being ashamed of where you live and what
your father's paycheck lets you eat and wear.
This is the shame of the fat and the bald,
the unbearable blush of acne, the shame of having
no lunch money and pretending you're not hungry.
This is the shame of concealed sickness--diseases
too expensive to afford that offer only their cold
one-way ticket out. This is the shame of being ashamed,
the self-disgust of the cheap wine drunk, the lassitude
that makes junk accumulate, the shame that tells
you there is another way to live but you are
too dumb to find it. This is the real shame, the damned
shame, the crying shame, the shame that's criminal,
the shame of knowing words like "glory" are not
in your vocabulary though they litter the Bibles
you're still paying for. This is the shame of not
knowing how to read and pretending you do.
This is the shame that makes you afraid to leave your house,
the shame of food stamps at the supermarket when
the clerk shows impatience as you fumble with the change.
This is the shame of dirty underwear, the shame
of pretending your father works in an office
as God intended all men to do. This is the shame
of asking friends to let you off in front of the one
nice house in the neighborhood and waiting
in the shadows until they drive away before walking
to the gloom of your house. This is the shame
at the end of the mania for owning things, the shame
of no heat in winter, the shame of eating cat food,
the unholy shame of dreaming of a new house and car
and the shame of knowing how cheap such dreams are.
Such pain. It makes us want to turn away, to stop listening, to leave, to change the subject. We are even ashamed of those who are ashamed and we don't want them around us. It can be a contagious affect. We'll do just about anything to avoid it; like drugs, for example, or replacing shame with rage or turning it into envy. It has been said that for adults, the most common stimulus to rage is humiliation. And when envy focuses on the powerful, intolerable other, possessor of the goods, our attention is drawn away from our weak, inferior selves, holding only shame.
Is it surprising that there are many defenses against shame? Donald Nathanson, the psychiatrist who has written most comprehensively about shame, has grouped the defenses against it into four areas. These areas are withdrawal, avoidance (which can take many different forms), attacking others, and attacking the self. There isn't time to go into these here, but let me just say that if you read his descriptions of defenses against shame you can see in slightly different language, practically all of what psychoanalysts have called the ego defense mechanisms. They are the ways we protect the integrity of our individual point of view and conscious functioning. It makes sense that our psychological defenses against overwhelming anxiety and threats of castration or disintegration would also protect us from overwhelming shame and threats of dismemberment or dissolution. Here's a thought: if you're about to be castrated you are afraid, but if you're already castrated you're ashamed.
Back to basics here. We have called shame a "primary affect," and said it is built into the system, our system, and if that is the case then shame surely has some biological utility. That is Nathanson's view. He follows up the pioneering work of Silvan Tomkins on affect, which was first published in the early 1960's. Tomkins observed infants and recorded their facial expressions and body movements. From watching their display, he identified nine primary affects. Two of them are positive (interest-excitement and enjoyment-joy), one neutral (surprise-startle), and six negative (fear-terror, distress-anguish, anger-rage, dissmell, disgust, and shame-humiliation). Others have added sadness-despair and understimulation-boredom to the list, to make a total of eleven primary affects, each with its own characteristic facial and body expression.
Nathanson says that the primary function of each affect is to amplify the stimulus which triggers it. In that way, the affects determine what attracts our attention. The movement of a flock of birds flying across our visual field stimulates the primary affect of interest. Interest amplifies the peripheral visual stimulus, causing us to focus our gaze on the birds, perhaps to wonder about them, and so on. The affects determine what motivates us. Unlike chickens, Nathanson says, when we cross the road it's not just to get to the other side. The "reason why" we cross the road is invariably affect. "Affect is the engine that drives us."
Feeling good reflects an inner flow of positive affect, interest-excitement or enjoyment-joy. Various things interfere with the pleasure that the flow of positive affects provides. Here is a sentence you can chew on: Whenever an impediment to the flow of positive affect occurs, while at the same time the stimulus for the interest or enjoyment continues, the affect program for shame-humiliation is triggered. Shame affect is a highly painful mechanism that operates to pull the organism away from whatever might interest it or make it content. It turns us away from pleasure when the desire for and conditions for pleasure are still present. Triggered by an impediment to positive affect, shame amplifies that impediment to any further positive affect. In my earlier example, Mr. M. was having fun. He was exhilarated by his own grandiosity; we Jungians would say he was inflated. Knocking his brother down and getting his mother's reaction impeded his enjoyment. And the shame affectively put an end to his pleasure altogether.
Another example is provided by Michael Basch in his book, Understanding Psychotherapy, which I can recommend for therapists and non-therapists alike. I quote: "Take, for example, a baby whose creative play has generally met with approval and who, instead of napping, has busied herself with tearing up a book accidentally left in her crib and scattering small pieces of paper all around her. When the child's father comes into the room, instead of responding to his daughter's excited, proud smile with facial and vocal expressions of admiration and praise for the girl's innovative productions, he scowls angrily and in exasperated tones complains of the mess that now has to be picked up. The little girl has lost contact with her father, has failed to elicit affect attunement: that is, the father gives every evidence that they are not on the same wavelength, and that he has no intention of participating in his daughter's excitement and pride. Unable to sustain eye contact with her parent, the child averts her gaze and hangs her head, displaying the basic shame reaction. Though the baby cannot conceptualize her experience as adults would, physiologically she is subject to the same inner turmoil an adult would suffer under similar circumstances. The child is victim to the unpleasant tension of an anticipation and excitement that now, with nowhere to go, results in rushes of heat throughout the body, especially the face. But how much worse it would be for the child if, heedless of the angry parent's message, she just continued to babble excitedly, continuing to expect her father to be pleased. The child would, in all probability, be subjected to more of father's anger, the subsequent increased internal disorganization that attends continued disappointment, and ever higher levels of distress. Shame, by putting an end to the child's unrealistic expectation that this particular performance will meet with happiness and appreciation on the parent's part, has protected her."
So, what is the benefit of shame? Quoting Nathanson, shame "is a biological system by which the organism controls its affective output so that it will not remain interested or content when it may not be safe to do so.... It protects an organism from its growing avidity for positive affect." Too much of a good thing. Consider that shame evolved under conditions where survival depended on humans banding together and functioning in groups, the better to deal with bad weather and wild animals and so forth. (Such is still the case, though not so obviously). If you were bad for the group, the group would banish you and leave you out to die. Shame, as a powerful mechanism for social control, protects the group from dangerous deviants and protects individuals in the group from the tendency to deviate.
We should say here that a little shame is good for you--"signal shame" they call it. A whiff of shame alerts us to the danger ahead, allowing us to make the change in attitude or action that will avoid the full affect. It keeps us ethical.
So the biological mechanism for shame is built into the organism. Impediments to pleasure trigger the shame system and then become attached to it in our memory. We then have images attached to shame, which we can call "affect images." A Jungian view would be that the potential for universally common impediments to pleasure, like loss of parent's approval, are already present in the psyche, built in, as archetypes. And the affect images are the conscious manifestations of the archetypal forms. That is to say, when impediments to pleasure trigger shame and an affect image is created, some innate potential of the psyche is being brought to life. The psyche is not just the victim of experience here. Enough of that.
It's easier to understand "impediments to pleasure," I think, if we think of pleasure as being simply the maintenance of a positive feeling in ourself or about ourself, so that an impediment is anything that interrupts the feeling. Over time, in Nathanson's view, the accumulation or repetition of affect images gives conscious cognitive meaning to our affective experience. Let's say you're less than two years old and you like your body and you stroll buck naked into the middle of the living room where your parents are having a party. Oops! Shame on you. Where are your pants? You're not feeling so good anymore. The idea of exposing your genitals in public and the affect of shame are thereby joined, if they weren't already. According to Nathanson, the experience of affect doesn't depend on cognitive appraisal; the cognitive appraisal is the interpretation of the experience. We think it and know what it is after we experience it, if at all. Nathanson says, for instance, that when our desires consistently overreach our ability to fulfill them, "shame produces a sense of an incompetent self." Thus, the affect precedes the sense of self.
Now I want to shift from psychobiology to psychology and psychoanalysis. And psychoanalysis, of course begins with Sigmund Freud. Freud said surprisingly little about shame. A hundred years ago, in 1895, he proposed that shame, along with morality and disgust, caused repression. That is to say that it was responsible for the falling into unconsciousness of the contents of the mind, for forgetting. Shame was a result of exposure of one's nudity or defectiveness and was related to being feminine and passive. Freud also suggested that shame was a derivative of self-reproach and the fear of other people knowing about the early sexual experiences that caused the self-reproach. (As we know, sexual fantasies replaced early sexual experiences in his theory.) Later on Freud wrote about shame as a defense against exhibitionism and voyeurism, which he considered to be sexual drives. So it seemed that Freud considered shame to be both affect and defense against affect. When he first elaborated the concept of the "ego ideal" in his 1914 paper "On Narcissism," Freud said, "For the ego the formation of an ideal would be the conditioning factor of repression." Now if shame causes repression and the ego ideal is the conditioning factor for repression, there is an obvious connection between shame and the ego ideal. But Freud did not mention it. A psychoanalyst and self-psychologist named Andrew Morrison picks up on that, and we'll mention his theory later on. Morrison says: "Freud's view of shame was neither consistent not clearly defined. He did not focus on shame as a principal concern. Instead, he developed the structural theory, with guilt and the Oedipus complex at its center." Morrison thinks that Freud's "relative lack of interest" might have to do with the similarity of "the key concepts of narcissism" to Alfred Adler's work. (The key concepts are inferiority, self regard, and self-criticism.) Or it might have been that "shame was an affect that struck too close to Freud's own personal vulnerabilities." That is to say that Freud didn't study shame because of his own shame-- shame, being an affect that leads to its own concealment. So, following our forefathers, we weren't talking about shame in our consulting rooms because we were focused on anxiety and guilt, and also because shame hides itself.
From the perspective of psychosexual development, shame as a feeling, that is, the awareness of shame, is said to develop during the second year of life. This is the time when struggle for mastery of one's own body is at its apex. There is enough muscular control to stand erect and there's pride in that, but then you can see how short you are relative to the ones with the goods. This is the time of onset of "objective self-awareness," literally self consciousness. And when there arises both the opportunity and social pressure for sphincter control, for putting it only in the potty, there is the ambivalent choice of letting go versus holding on. Can I surrender what's inside me to the object of my love (to the mothering one), or do I keep it inside to feed my narcissism autoerotically? I'll bet you didn't know two-year-olds thought in such terms. The approval or disapproval of the body and its productions by the powerful parental figures at this crucial time of life, sets the outer social stage for the later internalization of a sense of competence and self esteem on the one hand, or a sense of inadequacy and self devaluation on the other. Erik Erikson called it the stage of "autonomy versus shame and doubt." Too much shame and we not only don't like ourselves, we don't experience ourselves as autonomous beings.
A little shame helps keep me out of trouble. Too much shame and I'm a bad person, if I'm a person at all. If my body works and mommy and daddy think I'm OK, I can feel pretty good most of the time, and I must be OK .
The parental influence can hardly be overemphasized here. Family therapists Fossom and Mason, in discussing what they call "shame-bound" family systems, hold that shame originates in "the violation and diminution of personhood." The parent violates and diminishes the personhood of the child, and this gets passed on from generation to generation. It can be subtle. Parents may overvalue individualism and deny the child's needs for dependency and relationship, or they may promote dependency and deny the child's need for differentiation and separateness. In either case, by ignoring one side of the child's developmental need or the other, they have diminished her personhood and shamed her.
As a five year old girl, Ms. B., went to play with a friend, and during the visit had her picture taken by the friend's mother, who was a professional photographer. Ms. B. rushed home, all excited, to tell her mother the good news. Instead of the approval and shared excitement she expected, she got a scowl and admonishment, "How could you let her take your picture, your dress is wrinkled, your face is dirty, and look at your hair, it's a mess." Ms. B. was humiliated, and many years later she still hasn't forgotten the incident or forgiven her mother. Such is the lasting impact of shame. Do you see how all the examples of shame I have presented fit the same pattern?
There's another story of the development of shame. It's an old story. In the book of Genesis, Chapter 2, verse 25, God had completed creation and Adam and Eve were ensconced in the Garden of Eden. "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed." You all know what happened next. They ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge, and they knew they were naked. They covered themselves and God found them out and cast them out of the Garden forever. They became conscious, they were ashamed, and they were forever separated from the paradise of their innocence. Is this an allegory of inner psychic truth? Yes, it is.
Jung essentially ignored shame altogether in his writing and, as with Freud, we have to marvel at this glaring omission. The rejected part of the self that is closest to the ego, he named the shadow. He wrote about how this dark part needed to be integrated by the ego as part of individuation or in analysis, but as far as I can tell, he never mentioned that the shadow was the shameful part. He was a thinking type who didn't say a lot about any of the affects, but we can wonder why and question whether, like with Freud, "the affect of shame struck too close to his personal vulnerabilities." It shouldn't come as a surprise to us Jungians that Jung had a shadow too. I imagine too that Jung, like Freud. and most of the rest of us, would have been ashamed to be ashamed.
However, in a seminar in 1936 on "Zarathustra," Jung did speak about "original shame," and fortunately for us, somebody took notes. Neitzsche had made reference to man as the "animal with red cheeks." Jung said: "As long as man is in a merely instinctive animal condition, there is absolutely no ground for shame, no possibility of shame even, but with the coming of the ego consciousness, he feels apart from the animal kingdom and the original paradise of unconsciousness, and then naturally he is inclined to have feelings of inferiority. The beginning of consciousness is characterized by feelings of inferiority, and also by megalomania....the ego consciousness is only a little spark of light in an immense darkness. Yet it is the light..." (he continues).
"When you have built up your consciousness to a decent degree, you become so separated from nature that you feel it to be a disadvantage; you feel that you have fallen from grace. This is of course the expulsion from paradise..."(end quote). What is being suggested here is that consciousness is the original, universal impediment to our continuing pleasure, and it is ultimately consciousness that triggers the affect system for shame. It is self consciousness for sure, but consciousness all the same.
The original animal condition, that is our body, in which each of us lives as an animal. According to Jung, every advance of consciousness is another step away from our original animal nature and presents us with a tragic dilemma. We are indeed the animal with red cheeks. The problem begins with consciousness bringing awareness: of our nakedness, our defectiveness, our constitutional inadequacy, our loss of innocence, in sum our inferiority, and the shame of it. And, to top it all off, the more we know the more we know we don't know.
Shame. In the title of his 1989 book, Morrison calls it, The Underside of Narcissism . "Shame," he says, "is the principal ubiquitous affect that accompanies and defines" the condition of narcissistic vulnerability. In other words, the more shame you have the more shakey is your sense of self. Shame is about the self. It is "a response to failure in attaining the shape of the ideal self," Morrison says. Such failure might express itself in words like, "My mother didn't admire me. I am not the sort of person I could admire." So, if we are narcissistically vulnerable and if we fail to live up to the image of who we think we ought to be, we experience a sense of inferiority, defeat, flaw or weakness, and then we have the feeling of shame. Put another way, if sustaining the flow of positive affect requires an image of a basically good self (let's say a good enough self), then whatever interferes with that self image will trigger shame. Even healthy people, Morrison says, can experience shame from "microfailures in meeting the aspirations of the relatively cohesive and differentiated ideal self."
So where are we with shame so far? Shame is the primary painful affect of unpleasure that destroys whatever good feeling we may have about ourselves. It can be useful, at least in small amounts. In its full blown forms of humiliation or mortification, it so disrupts our function that the ego is temporarily dissolved and dead. Shame comes with consciousness, particularly self consciousness--self consciousness that is the awareness of our constitutional inadequacy, our essential inferiority, worthlessness and evil. It is the affect of knowing the shadow. It comes with dismemberment, in the sense of being cut off from an essential source of survival, be it mother, clan, community, self, God, or other, and it comes with dismemberment also in the sense of splitting off or repressing the shameful part. Thy right hand hath offended thee, and thou hast cut it off.
Too much shame wrecks havoc with personal ego boundaries and with interpersonal boundaries as well. We don't know where our limits are or where we stop and the other starts. A patient summed it up best, I think, when he said, "I want to be liked so much I don't know who I am." (This next section of the talk is directed primarily at my fellow psychotherapists, but I have included it thinking that it will be of interest to those not in the field as well.) If a therapist doesn't have strong, stable, and flexible ego and interpersonal boundaries, maintaining appropriate therapeutic boundaries is next to impossible with patients who themselves have narcissistic or borderline psychopathology, the so-called disorders of the self. Today that includes a great many of us and most of our clients. The problem is that people sometimes get to be therapists without ever being able to face and deal with their own shame, their own shadow. It's hidden, you know, and may not come out in training or even in personal psychotherapy. It's covered over by the pleasant persona, the competence of the false self, the pathological narcissism that is constructed to compensate for the shame. The propensity of a therapist to violate the personal boundaries of a patient or the professional boundaries of the treatment setting arises from the therapist's inability to maintain his own ego boundaries in the presence of shame.
The most obvious thing that happens is that such a therapist doesn't recognize or deal with the patient's shame. It's humiliating to have to go to a therapist asking for help because you can't handle your own problems, and then having to expose your worst parts. Anyone who has had to go into psychotherapy without some good excuse like a court order or "to help with my training" knows the shame of it. Anyone who has gone to the doctor and had to undress knows the shame of it. A lot of the so-called negative therapeutic reactions and negative outcomes of psychotherapy are the result of lack of attention to the patient's shame.
When the psyche of the therapist has split, the shameful part is separated from the ego consciousness. The therapist doesn't see his shadow. Enter the patient with the shameful part showing, and especially if the shameful parts of the two match up somehow, the therapist sees the patient's wound and "knows" it, because it is his own. An unholy bond has been formed between them based on projective identification. The archetype of the wounded healer is split, with the wound on one side and the healer on the other. The therapist feels new energy and excitement with his "healing power" while the patient is becoming weaker and more dependent. The shame is kept out. The patient's shame is ignored, the therapist's denied. In the worst case, shamelessness is in. The therapist doesn't see how the patient has served to relieve his inner tension by "accepting" the shameful parts for both of them, or how their special bond may be inappropriate to the stated task of therapy or analysis. He feels high regard for the other and treats the patient with warmth and pseudo-empathy. "Believe me, I know just how you feel," he says, and thinks, "we're just alike." He insists the patient see him as a real person and as an equal. Of course he is a real person but the patient may need to see him otherwise for a while in order to work out an inner problem. And while they most certainly are equal "in the eyes of God" they are not "just alike." Their roles in the therapeutic relationship are complementary. Well, by this time our therapist doesn't know who the patient is. The boundary between them is obscured. For those of you who know the current language of psychology, the patient has become self-object for the therapist. The ground is laid for enactment of the fusion of the two unconscious psyches in any of the well known shameful ways. There's pressure from the psyche for its missing parts to come to light, for the shame to find expression, for wholeness. And if the affect can't be brought to consciousness and recognized, it can come out in the form of shameful acts, in destruction of the therapeutic frame, in betrayal of the patient's sacred trust, or in the worsening of the patient's wounds. Finally the shame might be brought to light by exposure of the ugly truth, the deficiency, ineptitude and helplessness of the therapist, the hidden shadow.
In practice there are many ways for us therapists to violate our patients' boundaries, and not all of them are bad. Interpretations and other interventions, for example, are accepted ways to open the patient's deep wounds with the goal of helping them to heal. We need to remember, though, that when we tell someone what his unconscious is saying, we are exposing him. We are showing him something he didn't know about himself, and we are triggering shame.
Here's an example of a common minor trespass. The traffic was piled up on the way to work, and we begin our first session five minutes late. We listen for our patient's reaction, and when none is forthcoming we ask about it. At the end of the hour we quietly extend the session five minutes in order not to cheat the patient out of the time for which he is paying, and in order not to see ourselves as a cheater, a recognition of the shadow that would trigger shame. We feel OK about extending the session and don't see that what we have cheated the patient out of is the opportunity to be mad at us, and that our need to be a "good person," that is, to satisfy the demands of the ideal self, has taken possession of our work and interfered with doing good psychotherapy. Being a good person has gotten confused with being a good psychotherapist, but we don't know that. We should write a note, the answering machine is blinking with waiting messages, and we only have five minutes before the next appointment is to begin. Boundary violation number one for the day.
As a child in Arkansas I learned that the Baptists, who couldn't even dance or play cards, believed that they were the only ones who got to go to heaven when they died. We were Methodists and we believed that anyone who believed in Jesus got to go, even Baptists. It still gripes me today when one group or another acts like they have a corner on the truth or Gods' grace and everyone else including me is treated as just slightly inferior.
In medicine, psychiatry is the neglected and unwanted stepchild, carrier of the irrational, incurable dark side, often treated as irrelevant but never going away. In psychiatry, currently infatuated with money, medicines, and managed care, psychoanalysis has been shoved into a similar role. In psychoanalysis, there are any number of stepchildren whose voices go unheard. If you were a professional psychologist you couldn't even get in the door until recently. If you're a Sullivanian, an Adlerian, or a Kleinian, your views are likely to be dismissed without much discussion by the "establishment" of traditional psychoanalysis, and if you're a Jungian, you are likely to be dismissed without much discussion. To be fair, I will confess that the same narrowness of mind can be found in the Jungian camp. Some Jungians have never studied psychoanalysis and don't see why they should. Some Jungians think that other Jungians are not "real Jungians."
What is going on here? Is this science or religion? Shame again? We psychologists know a little about the psyche, but truthfully not very much. When we don't listen to each other and learn from each other we go around inventing the same theories over and over and acting like we've discovered something new every time. And we don't have very much power out there in the world, and we don't make all that much money (our patients might disagree with that), and a lot of the time we don't know if what we're doing is helping. Now I hope this doesn't unduly upset those of you who might be patients. But even if what we are doing is helping, it's hard to say it really matters especially when the people we help the most often times don't even know we're helping them. If we have an ideal self how can we be living up to it in light of all our real doubts and insecurities, weaknesses, moral failures, boundary problems, and other constitutional inadequacies. It sounds a lot like shame. It would be such a relief to be certain that we were right; so much easier to adopt a rule, make it a law, and then defend it against conflicting information and alternative points of view.
I have noticed that people who are just learning psychotherapy or psychoanalysis are more prone to be strong advocates of a single theory than those who are more experienced and initiated. It's awfully hard to know nothing when everybody around you seems to know something, and so you scramble hard to get some structure for your thinking, to learn something that will overcome your ignorance and the shame of it. In this case adopting and defending a single theory is probably a necessary early phase in the learning process. But getting stuck in this phase can be dangerous and ultimately self-defeating.
Consider for a moment the origins of psychoanalysis. Freud was a great thinker and writer, and he was most ambitious and authoritarian. He wanted to establish a place for psychoanalysis in the scientific world which would ensure its legitimacy, and so he kept insisting that his theories were based on objective clinical observations and not on intuition. Science, not religion. The objectivity of his observations was unquestioned within the circle of psychoanalysts. Those who challenged Freud's authority, though, were excommunicated from the group of faithful followers whose loyalty to his ideas remained in place. Science, not religion? It was a classic case of the ruling theory. Whenever we have a single theory about the way things really are, it seems to be our nature to begin to pay attention only to information that supports our theory and to disregard all other facts. The theory then rules our perception of reality. That's the danger.
Like religious fundamentalism, psychoanalytic fundamentalism is a defense against shame. It is my opinion that the historical tendency of schools of psychoanalysis to protect their theoretical beliefs with fundamentalist attitudes reflects the inferiority and megalomania, the shame and grandiosity, of beginning consciousness. It was an early phase in the evolution of our collective learning about ourselves which may now give way to more openness, humility. and broadness of mind.
Just to complete the picture, let me say that Jung's authority, never recognized by psychoanalysis proper, is being challenged lately with the charge that his ideas, especially about the collective unconscious, weren't based on the observations that he reported. That is to say his theory isn't scientific. I don't know what the historical truth will turn out to be when all the evidence is known and sorted through, but the psychological truth is, as in the case of Freud, that it doesn't really matter all that much. Neither man claimed to have the final word on the secrets of the psyche. Their ideas have their own power and can stand or fall on their own merits regardless of whether they came into consciousness through sensation or the intuitive function, or whether their author was as beset with human frailty as the rest of us are.
In conclusion, I want to say something about accepting shame, and the shameful part of oneself. Recognizing that shame is universally human and that the experience of it does not in fact separate us or make us different from the rest of the people may make it unnecessary to be ashamed of being ashamed. That's a start. When we can recognize and acknowledge that we feel shame we can stop defending against it so hard, and then we have a chance to encounter the shameful part that is the shadow. "Fat chance," some would say. Jung says in "Aion" and I quote: "The shadow is a moral problem that challenges the whole ego-personality, for no one can become conscious of the shadow without considerable moral effort. To become conscious of it involves recognizing the dark aspects of the personality as present and real. This act is the essential condition for any kind of self-knowledge..." It is not an easy task.
The psychotherapist drank too much coffee. There are still 20 minutes to go in the session and the slight pressure in his lower abdomen has turned to pain. The patient is talking, and the therapist is trying to listen and at the same time ward off the urge. He knows a decent therapist would be able to sit with his patient for 50 minutes without interrupting the hour for want of bladder control. When the pressure finally becomes unbearable he, feeling ashamed of his indecency, excuses himself and goes for relief. He returns still embarrassed, no longer feeling so good about himself as a therapist. But there's another difference. He can now concentrate, really listen, and be present. Perhaps he can still be a good-enough therapist.
That's my Jungian slant on shame. Thank you for your attention.
Copyright 1996 James M. Shultz. All rights reserved.
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Copyright James M. Shultz. All rights reserved.