Sunday, December 1, 2013

Shame and Humiliation

"Everyone needs a sense of shame, but no one needs to feel ashamed." - Nietzsche

“There is no absurdity so palpable but that it may be firmly planted in the human head if you only begin to inculcate it before the age of five, by constantly repeating it with an air of great solemnity.” — Arthur Schopenhauer

Some years ago I was standing in an office when I noticed a picture of two teenage girls who looked like sisters, perhaps even twins. I was mystified because I recognized them but could not figure out why.

When the secretary returned I asked who the girls were. She told me they were her daughters, who had been raped and murdered. I felt about an inch tall. It was the most embarrassed I have been in my life, although curiously I did not blush. It wasn't quite shame, but I felt like a complete idiot and a complete fool. Let's just say I felt like I had diminished myself.

I told her, "I'm sorry...I didn't know." I suppose I was disgusted with myself for being so ignorant.

I think a fair amount about shame and humiliation, because they cause so many problems. Horrendous problems, actually.

Shame is generally considered something you impose on yourself (like I did), and it is necessary to feel it. That is, if it is a healthy amount it can be a positive thing. I've heard shame referred to "I have a standard and did not meet it," and it's actually just a more intense form of embarrassment.

Humiliation is what others impose on you, and I don't see anything good about that at all, because it often leads to all kinds of revenge, not only including murder but mutilation.

There is, however, what I've heard called "toxic shame," and that is when you impose a crushing burden of shame on yourself.

One saying that has struck me is, "Disgust introjected from the other can be seen as the root categorical emotion of the compound emotion of shame." "Introjection" means the other person is a mirror, you see the disgust and contempt in their comments and behavior, and then it gets inside you and becomes part of your character.

What's bizarre about all of this is that you can feel guilt and shame at the same time. If you just feel some shame you can make some attempt at repair (like my apology to the mother), but if you feel guilt and shame at the same time, it will compound the shame. How exactly do you handle something like that?

All of it is basically a witches' brew - shame, depression, fear of abandonment, desire for revenge, self-abasement, excruciating self-consciousness to the point you almost can't even speak to someone.

And that brings me to the concept of the daimonic. The Greeks saw the daimonic as when a normal function becomes so intense it takes over the person. When a person is obsessed with feeling shame or guilt or humiliation, it takes over their personality. Then it becomes "daimonic," which made it into English as "demon."

The feelings of shame and guilt are the easiest ways to influence and indeed damage people, which is why you see them written about so much.

I believe the biggest attempt these days to impose shame and guilt is on men and young boys - in the media, in schools, just in general. In their case it seem to be more out of envy than anything else, and in envy there is always an attempt to bring the envied down, even if the envious destroy themselves in the process.

That's why I hear such nonsense as "white privilege" and "patriarchy." These things don't even exist. They very rich are certainly privileged, but to assume all men are is know as the Apex Fallacy - that which is true of the most fortunate is true of everyone.

The best way to bring someone down is to make themselves destroy themselves. When they introject shame and guilt, because they have been taught they are the cause of all kinds of problems - even if they aren't.

This projection of shame and guilt onto others - and the attempt to degrade and humiliate them - has traditionally been known as scapegoating. The late psychiatrist M. Scott Peck called scapegoating "the genesis of human evil," and John Bradshaw also understood it was the problem of evil. "As I've delved deeper into the destructive power of toxic shame," he writes, "I've come to see that it directly touches the age-old theological and metaphysical discussion generally referred to as the problem of evil."

This scapegoating allows the scapegoater to feel self-righteous, which allows them to rationalize their attempt to degrade and dehumanize those on whom they project all problems. For one thing, their own shame and guilt and envy.

When someone understands what is being done to them, when they are aware of the attempts to make them feel guilty and ashamed, when they understand the envy and how their persecutors are projecting evil onto them...then then the enviers lose their power over their intended victims.

Shame is an emotion second to none in the extent of its influence upon social behaviour. - William McDougall

"Bullying is always scapegoating. Abuse is always scapegoating." - Lynne Namka

"Scapegoating is a hostile social - psychological discrediting routine by which people move blame and responsibility away from themselves and towards a target person or group. It is also a practice by which angry feelings and feelings of hostility may be projected, via inappropriate accusation, towards others. The target feels wrongly persecuted and receives misplaced vilification, blame and criticism; he is likely to suffer rejection from those who the perpetrator seeks to influence. Scapegoating has a wide range of focus: from 'approved' enemies of very large groups of people down to the scapegoating of individuals by other individuals. Distortion is always a feature…

"In scapegoating, feelings of guilt, aggression, blame and suffering are transferred away from a person or group so as to fulfill an unconscious drive to resolve or avoid such bad feelings. This is done by the displacement of responsibility and blame to another who serves as a target for blame both for the scapegoater and his supporters." - The Scapegoat Society

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