posted on Feb, 22 2016 @ 11:42 PM
Shame is one of those emotions that nobody ever likes to talk about, acknowledge or even notice. The most amazing thing to me as a psychologist
who studies human evolution and the development of the human mind is how unaware humans have historically been vis-a-vis this emotion. Sure, the
ancients had a word for shame, but there was really no significant study into it. Somehow, the etiological relationship between one affect and
another was never explored, perhaps because the world was too "full" of positive meaning, or too in need of a negative meaning, to recognize the
messy complexity of emotions which act most strongly on our personality development, which create needs, sensations, thoughts and ideals. Shame, in
its true importance, only makes sense in psychodynamic terms, and so perhaps humans had to await the "mechanization" of the mind, in Darwin, Freud,
Cognitive Science, and latter day theorizing in various areas of the social sciences.
Perhaps the most astonishing hypothesis of all, in terms of how it changes our thinking about ourselves, is that we aren't "individuals" at all,
but expressions of a group phenomena which finds its "homeostasis" in the coordinated functioning of relating minds. When the individual is seen in
this respect, at various levels, we can make out the "logic" of organism-environment coregulation. There is "one" thing happening, but it is split
up between individual organisms. My mind is built to "care" about your facial responses, vocal tones and body language. I want, in a very general
way, positive feedback from my environment.
Of course, one could also argue that all animals are "fitted" to their environments; indeed, they are. But it is purely physical. The mind of one
animal does not "sense into" the mind of the other the way our minds manage to attend in very specific ways to complicated mental assumptions
implicit in our every moment of thought and perception. We think, in short, as "humans". The "human", it seems, or is often thought, is simply me.
But this is wrong. Much research in developmental psychology has shown that the human mind does not become "human" in the absence of the presence of
another face. Somehow, the brain wont grow without the 'spark' of moving faces, gesticulating body's and effervescent voices. When that happens,
the eyes follow, the mind is 'activated' and brought into being - a being that will become so habitual as to almost seem "my own", and not social,
communal, and relational at its very core. Consciousness - or human consciousness - exists as it does because of the other. The "other", is simply
what is not you, but what is always present. It may be interpreted generally as "everything" one can think or sense i.e. as an object. But this
wouldn't be entirely correct, as the "other" in human beings is most essentially the other person, the other face, whose activity we probe and
whose expressions communicate meanings that far transcend the processes of ordinary matter.
In any case, why would shame hurt? Or rather, why is it the most painful emotion, feeling, or affect, known to the human heart? Some psychologists
have defined shame as "interrupting interest", which is to say, it brings to an end any will or thought in the mind of the individual currently
experiencing it. This is an important point to always keep in the front of your mind: shames power is its ability to literally "shut off" your self.
So, if the self is important and meaningful - as of course we know it is - naturally, we will be most phobic and fearful of those emotional states
which bring us to a state of weakness and infirmity. But what makes shame so special is that it touches at our very highest level of concern: our
interests as social beings, to be liked, to be enjoyed by others, and to have fun. Shame turns that off. It momentarily says to "nope, sorry, you're
out. Get the # out of here!" and there you go, find something else, like objects, to pass your time. The pleasures of engagement - at least right now
- is not going to happen!
Horrible. No? It is, and this is why evolution, as it does, needed to adapt. And it did. We evolved psychodynamic techniques to 'get away' from the
perception of shame in ourselves. Yes - this is an interesting irony in the history of thought. The perception of emotion - shame - is reacting the
same way as an antelope responds to a lion: with fear. But this is all in our head! How interesting it is, metaphysically speaking, that the mind has
become the new environment in human beings! In any case, the perception of shame induced dissociative processes that inclined the mind to focus upon
meanings amenable to the needs of the self in the present moment. Every interaction, every cue and every context, has a preexisting network of
connections in the brain that it acts upon, so that our way of responding really are whats called "limited cycle attractors" in dynamic systems
theory. These are 'basins of attraction' that the meaning-hungry mind is activated when it senses the cues from the world around it. And shame is
it's main foe: it knows it. Your brain too knows it. And you, like me and most everyone else (sparing only those who've spent the time to know
themselves more deeply) use things like this:
All of these techniques are dissociative in nature in that they defocus you from the unwanted perception.
Laughter. Laughter is great, its awesome, but its also recognized as an effective dissociative mechanism to get the self from feeling shame in a
personal and internal way, onto an external and objectified take on the action-itself which has prompted the laughter. The psychologist Michael Lewis
says this about laughter:
"laughter, especially laughter around ones transgression as it occurs in a social context, provides the opportunity for the transgressing person
to join others in viewing the self. In this way, the self metaphorically moves from the site of the shame to the site of observing the shame with the
There is also anger. Anger is a response of the self to its own experience of shame, but at the same time directed towards the cause of the shame
response, that is, another person. Anger is way of moving from the "frozen mobility"of a shame state into the "firery assertiveness" of an anger
state. It's simply an unconsciously made effort of the brain-mind to bring the self-affect complex to a state of coherency and stability (i.e.
familiarity), however unstable it really is.
People also just flat out deny the presence of shame in them. They refuse to acknowledge what they themselves habitually experience, again, and again,
simply because they wont give a perception "license" in their epistemological universe. If they admit the perception, and say to themselves, "yes,
I notice that", such as for instance, saying "yes, I notice those bodily feelings; in the gut, dropping heart, a desire to want to hide, my face in
particular", they open themselves up, as it were, to the "lion" who wants to eat the antelope. People maintain denial because the thing feared
possesses a known ontological propensity; the antelope fears the lion because lion, its form, movements and action, have long indicated "threat" to
the cells which make up the body of the antelope. Similarly, the feeling of shame has long held the relevant neurons in the amygdala to notice
its destabilizing capacity to the self-system, and so become especially 'charged' in matters