Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom
Excerpts about Shame
Shame and Vulnerability
As we have seen, the main reason we engage in meddling, resistance, and defense is that we’re afraid that if we’re vulnerable, if we’re open, if we allow ourselves to just simply be where we are, we will not be safe. Many people these days blame their insecurity on terrorism in the world. But the actual lack of safety is more a result of the terrorism that is inside your mind—the internal saboteurs. Our primary fear is that if we are open and let ourselves be where we are, we’re going to be belittled. We’re going to be rejected. We’re going to be humiliated. We’re going to be attacked. We’re going to be judged. We’re going to be criticized. We’re going to be shamed. We’re going to be made to feel guilty.
We’re afraid that other people will do these things to us and sometimes that actually happens. But more often, we do these things to ourselves. Have you ever said to yourself, “If I really let myself be vulnerable, I feel so delicate, sweet, and innocent. If people notice that, they will judge me as good for nothing”? Or maybe you’ve thought, “If I feel that sweet innocence, I’m going to get embarrassed. I’m going to be humiliated. It means I’m not strong. Somebody is going to reject me or shame me.” These worries are usually a projection onto other people of our own inner terrorist that’s scaring us.
The Unfolding Now, pg. 64
The Most Painful Affect of them All, Shame
Narcissistic Shame: The narcissistic emptiness and its associated feelings are difficult to tolerate both because of its own phenomenological properties and because of the reactions to it. It is difficult for the student not to take it as an actual deficiency of the self and react accordingly—with judgment and rejection. We always find the student struggling with painful reactions to the emptiness as it is exposed. She feels deficient and inadequate, worthless and unimportant, weak and inferior, a failure, a loser, a nothing. She feels fake and unreal, lacking substance or value. She feels that she is a liar and a deceiver, an impostor. She feels her life has been a hoax, a waste. These feelings and reactions bring up the most painful affect of them all, shame. The student feels ashamed of herself, embarrassed about herself; she wants to hide. The shame is a specific painful feeling of deficiency, exposure and judgment, all related to a sense of inadequacy in being oneself. What makes this shame specifically a narcissistic manifestation is that one feels inadequate in being oneself, or judges oneself as such. She judges herself as unable to be real. She feels also the emotions associated with the “great betrayal”: she is a traitor to herself, she has sold out; she has been too weak and dependent to stand her ground. Narcissistic shame is an intense pain related to social failure, failure to be a true human being. It is a sense of being an inferior human being, exposed to social judgment in the midst of severe disintegration of the self. When experienced fully, the affect is very painful. The affect itself has a disintegrating effect on the self.
The Point of Existence, pg. 334
Working with Shame
Let's suppose a man feels ashamed every time he feels tenderness toward another person. The superego attacks him with shame and belittling, according to the judgment that tenderness in a man means he is weak and feminine. To begin work on his superego, first the man needs to be aware of the attack, its content, and the content of the judgment. Then he needs to understand the judgment psychodynamically. For instance, he might remember that his father had the attitude that men should be tough, that tenderness belongs to girls and women. Here he understands that he introjected his father's attitude and made it part of his superego. He usually responds to this attitude, which is an attack on himself, with shame and repression. Now, in applying this method, he envisions his father and tells him, in his mind: "Daddy, go to hell! Who cares what you think of me?" Here he is dealing with his superego in a way he could not have dealt with his father in his childhood. He was not able to defend against his father because he believed him, was scared of him, and needed him. This method might not work the first time, but if it is done repeatedly, it will bring out the man's aggression, and he will be able to assert himself and separate from his father's attitude.
The defense needs to be intelligent to be effective. For instance, if the man responds with: "Father, it's not true I am feminine and weak. Tenderness is good and does not mean weakness or femininity," then he is being reasonable with a superego that is not really rational. Also, he probably has tried this response many times but without success because in this response the man is on the defensive; he is trying to justify his feeling and to account to somebody else for its being okay. Any justification already implies some guilt, and so it won't work. The response of "Daddy, go to hell" is effective because there is no attempt at explanation or justification and thus no implication of unconscious guilt. The man just throws back the attack and refuses to listen to its content. He completely disengages from the superego and does not give it any power over him.