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The Deep Fear of Shame

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posted on May, 23 2016 @ 01:29 AM
There is no word more causative in the human language than shame. We build words around it - essentially referring to it - such as "dignity", "honor" and "respect"; what were talking about with these words is not immediately apparent, because it refers to an abstract state. This state is an "ideal". It is good to feel dignity, to feel honored and to feel respected. But what do these terms mean without their converse - or that which they implicitly refer to?

Shame is so utterly pervasive, so utterly "in" us and "in between" us. Because we reflexively self-organize, or experience the world in a certain way whenever we act or are acted upon, we don't notice it. We don't notice what we don't pay attention to. Ideas and perceptions sort of fly in and out of our minds, yet we know. We know in whats called a "non-conceptual" way that shame-like emotions rule our way of responding. And its quite simple, actually. It is quite obvious that the evolution of social organisms uses phenomenal (experiential) states like pride and shame to indicate the status of the organism vis-a-vis his or her group.

Imagine a situation where Kor, a paleolithic man 280,000 years ago, began to notice and ruminate upon the size of his body - a manly 6'4 inches - in relation to others, and couldn't help experiencing his size as an advantage; a thing to be desired and wanted. Although the manners of relating within his group are generally nurturing and mutually reciprocal, Kor still feels deep in his bones the metaphorical relation between size and strength, abilities, prowess, women and power. So, one day, Kor attacks Tuk, a much smaller man at 5'9, because Tuk had been speaking to a girl Kor liked. Long story short, following the attack, all the members of the group gang up and start berating Kor about being only for himself. Within the group, an ethic and manner of relating has emerged and self-stabilized as each member caring for the other. It has proven the most stable evolutionary method of promoting survival: one member becoming dynamically connected in his phenomenology with the states of his fellows. Happy and pleasurable states are sought; traumatic experiences are understood through ritual enactments that "control" the feelings within; and bullying and free-loading is dealt with through ostracism and censure, in behavioral terms. But in phenomenological - or the flow of our consciousness - terms, the experience of shame marks the dynamical inter-connectedness with the Other i.e. the presence of other group members. Your being and your brain only works in the context of mutually caring relationships where one self recognizes and approves the expressivity of another self, who then reciprocates it. The self we each have is truly a quilt of innumerable iterations of self-recognizing-self experience in the evolution of our genus, which, it must be noted, is a continuation of the more basic flow of biological evolution. A self is truly there, implicit in its wanting to be, to cohere, to persist, to reproduce, but most of all, to find its way into the deeper regions of its purpose: to rediscover the inner core of its truest nature.

The self is at the core of evolution, and at the core of human experience. This is why trauma, which breaks down the social and interpersonal self - the narrative self - but still leaves the experiencing self alone, can be so revelatory. The experiencing can become a window into its self, until the wayward worries of a mind built to know the other becomes overwhelmed by evil thoughts, which twist and turn him on the inside. There is no defense against the demons of our traumas without a coherent narrative: Our brains SEEK it. The interpersonal knowings that prompt feelings of joy and pleasure, and so the social self in it's absolute fullness (what we live for!) lacks that coherent story, that coherent template of a self-that-feels competent quality. Without that, the Self becomes self; and the poor creature knowing such suffering on the inside will suffer and wither towards its original nothingness; or, it'll be fortunate enough to discover an incredible power in that very knowing of nothing. Somehow, love exists there, right next to fear and terror.

We hate the word Shame

We hate this word. We don't like hearing it because it actually irritates us. Shame tends to be avoided in normal discourse. We can say "embarrassed" or "awkward" or even "humiliate", but we avoid this word as much as possible. Only in our most intimate moments - and only the therapeutically inclined - will reveal to themselves that they felt this emotion.

Why is shame so real? As mentioned above, it serves an evolutionary purpose; the group, originally, used it to maintain coherency between members, which is to say, an equality, a relationship based on actions and not physical characteristics (primarily). So when it was felt, the magic of being depressed the functioning of one in favor of the Others i.e. care and love.

However, saying this is not the end of it. Shame occurs non-stop in YOUR experience, except you've been trained by past discoursing with the world to notice its presence. Its implicit in the adaptational structure of reflexive social language scripts. "Like" whatever, such valley girl talk, and the copious other examples on pop radio, provide simple examples that your brain takes from, records (in terms of the affect it generates) and then stereotypes as a Go-To-Way-Of-Being, sure fire way to attain the pleasure of pride. Were pleasure seekers, its said, but we fail to recognize that were also shame-avoiders. Your brain doesn't just note the good it interfaces with, but also the bad. The Do-Not-Be-Like-That states, the loner who eats by himself, the woman who talks funny, the people in the streets; were given plenty of examples from day to day, from T.V to school to work, that shapes how we idealize and how we fear; what we wish for and what we wish against.

We think these thought just fall into the ether, but they don't. They're the logic of your internal stream-of-perception. The way you know is highly biased by these past experiences, but they do not rule our present-moment relation to the world if we simply bring our knowledge of it and so change how we relate to it and also the world. So much happens within the mind from moment to moment that keeps up the fictions we tell ourselves about a fixed nature. "I'm lazy", "I've always been aggressive", "I've always been anxious" etc. These fictions simply derive from minds and brains that are trained by social discourses to imagine how the world is. We really are in a sense are own genies, simply producing what it is we expect; and what we expect we pursue.

Shame is that which prevents change; its that wall of inaction, of being "frozen" within yourself, unable to think or act. The action itself tends to occur because our brains incline towards immediate action, a function of an evolutionary propensity to favor speed in getting away from predators. Problem is, the predator has become our own perception; and our immediate response, like a prey, is to run away, to think something else, do something else, so long as that #ing feeling isn't known, isn't interfaced with. The body has its reasons, of course, for disliking shame (it is metabolically depressing), yet as we can see it is creating horrific problems in the world.
edit on 23-5-2016 by Astrocyte because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 23 2016 @ 03:38 AM

originally posted by: Astrocyte

There is no word more causative in the human language than shame.

Yes ..... and no, .... humiliation and embarrassment are powerful self hate triggers, and all of them are human emotions and feelings so therefore they are part of our learning mechanisms.

The more painful and intense the feeling the more thoroughly we learn the lesson. We have to try and keep the lesson but let go of the pain and self hate such feelings engender.

posted on May, 23 2016 @ 04:55 AM
Need to go up (at least) a gear to process such a thought provoking OP. I will return later when I can give it more of the consideration it deserves.

posted on May, 23 2016 @ 05:18 AM
a reply to: Astrocyte

I really liked your post but it is a little above my pay grade in the intelligence department or too deep and I may not be quite getting it? Maybe I just need to read it five more times and think about it more? I still felt a desire to respond because shame within my own self is something I have interfaced with, recognize and acknowledge and in some specific aspects, have faced head-on. In some cases, shame is not what immobilizes or "freezes" us but when embraced can be a catalyst or motivator for action or change, don't you think?

Shame can be used intentionally as a tool for manipulation, coercion and control and is tied to guilt. Society uses it. Culture uses it. Religion uses it. Peers and groups use it and some parents instill it in their children. Mine did it as a way of controlling behaviors and ideations that weren't "normal" in the conventional sense that were, however, intrinsic to my nature, sense of self and personality which somehow managed to persevere. Although some of these shames may have been overcome, they weren't necessarily resultant in go-to stereotypes (just the opposite, in fact) or a way of obtaining the "pleasure of pride". Maybe negated is a better word than overcome as it has taken a lifetime to achieve an in-between balance point of neither shame nor pride about certain things in my own experience.

What I don't quite understand, as you've pointed out, if shame has been a "stable evolutionary method of promoting survival", why in your last sentence do you say it has also been creating horrific problems in the world? Can you explain this or give some examples? The two statements seem to be contradictory? I'm not sure I can keep up with this discussion but I do find it interesting and do appreciate the thought provoking nature of your post.

posted on May, 23 2016 @ 05:39 AM

"If shame had a face I think it would kind of look like mine,
If it had a home would it be my eyes."

Sick Cycle Carousel by Lifehouse.

Not a huge fan of the band, but your thread made me think of the beginning lines to that song.

Interesting opening post, thanks for sharing.

edit on 23/5/2016 by Dark Ghost because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 24 2016 @ 04:29 AM

originally posted by: Astrocyte
Shame is that which prevents change; its that wall of inaction, of being "frozen" within yourself, unable to think or act. The action itself tends to occur because our brains incline towards immediate action, a function of an evolutionary propensity to favor speed in getting away from predators. Problem is, the predator has become our own perception; and our immediate response, like a prey, is to run away, to think something else, do something else, so long as that #ing feeling isn't known, isn't interfaced with. The body has its reasons, of course, for disliking shame (it is metabolically depressing), yet as we can see it is creating horrific problems in the world.

I'm really struggling with this one, shame, Astrocyte. I can see what you are trying to express and, in some ways, I agree, but in terms of subtlety, is it not fear of judgement that precipitates shame? Rather than shame being the causative, it is the acting in the knowledge that what you are doing is "wrong" that makes you shameful. That you willfully sought to hurt or do damage to a perceived rival, is what makes you ashamed, which is followed by a fear of being judged and possibly punished? It is the willfullness, in a fair society, that is shameful, not necessarily the act. Therefore in a fair society the unwilling, or accidently shameful act, is forgiven. Hence the emotional unburdening of confession.

In an unjust and unequal society, such as the majority of us with access to the internet live in, where morality has been relativised, and justice is only available to the privileged few who can afford to buy what is "right" and "wrong", I can see that shame is used as a controlling mechanism. One that is frequently based upon "do as I say, not as I do", morality, and shame, is far more imposed upon us, and not based on "natural" societal bonds and instincts. We see others getting away with things we have been told are "wrong", as children we often soon discover hypocrisy from adults doing the very thing that we have been forbidden from. Western society is entirely morally ambiguous, hence why sub-cultures develop and why personal "codes" of conduct are followed. All things are not equal, and under extenuating circumstances, for some it is "right" to steal and those will feel justified in doing so, and defiant in the face of judgement, no shame, though they may be told they should feel ashamed.

I'm really unsure of the scope though, in evolutionary terms, where it fits in. It appears to me to be largely environmental. Crowing and bragging, shamelessly, is a big part of human behaviour, and part of what is healthy about group behaviour. We get together, tell stories, discard our burdens. Laugh at our embarassments, foibles and follies. Which is where I agree with you, shame, wherever or however it found it's way into our collective behaviourisms, has become deeply and psychically harmful (though I still err on the side of it being fear of judgement, rather than shame, I feel shame is a reaction to knowing you did something that you feel might be/is wrong...accidently or otherwise. Being found out, and subsequently judged upon that action is where I feel the fear lies, and the trap.

Not sure. It may just be me, having made numerous mistakes, and survived them, learned from my failures and humiliations, I tend to encourage others to do the same. Some mistakes are bigger than others. I know a lad, used to be a regional rugby player, and like Kor he attacked another man for showing an interest in his girl. The man died and he did 18 months for manslaughter. He's currently in rehab after living on the streets for six years. He feels shame because he took someone's life. He will forever suffer the consequences and because he broke the "rules" of society he was judged and punished. He continues to be judged by some, for that reason and others, and he still feels his own shame. The judgement and punishment don't take it away or recompense his loss of innocence or the life he took away. He has to find a way to live with that or he won't live much longer. Forgiveness and mercy are such powerful healers, but only when they can be applied, being honest with yourself always has to precede honesty before others.

Hmm? I realise I am contradicting myself. I'm not, but I am. It's a tough one. I have my own "code" as a consequence of not really having any solid moral, hypocrisy-free, examples as a kid. I suppose I learnt through experiences of "shame", I have made numerous mistakes, but it is not a tangible process that I can remember as anything other than memory snippets, way-way-way back in my own development. Really, I think I might be quite different to most in this way. My head may explode if I try and wrap it around this any further now...I'll let that simmer. See what, if anything, you get out of that.

But, one way or another, thanks for the think.

posted on May, 24 2016 @ 04:35 AM
a reply to: Astrocyte

Mod'rn w'rld calleth t m'rals and dogma, m'ral and ethics 'r shame and guilt.
One of those folk is f'r thee the oth'r is f'r those thee meeteth.

The cullionly f'r pow'r is at each moment hath used on those two f'rces.

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