Psychologists and psychiatrists are learning that many of the conditions and behaviors previously defined or ascribed to other conditions are actually stem from shame. Shame is being identified as the root of most depression, anxiety disorders, relationship problems, and sexual disfunction. In fact, one writer suggested that shame is the basis of of crime and 'all extravagant behavior.'
“There’s no record of a violent action other than as a reaction to shame or humiliation.” Donald I. Nathanson, M.D.
Is there shame in you?
I would like to review a couple of excellent blog posts by Holly VanScoy, Ph.D found on PsychCentral.com that clearly describe shame from the psychological point of view.
The Many Faces of Shame - December 12, 2006
This article begins with the question: "Shame has many faces. Is that one of them in your mirror?" With that challenge, quoting the work of Jane Middelton-Moz in her book “Shame & Guilt: Masters of Disguise,” she lists many of the obvious and subtle symptoms and effects of shame beginning in childhood:
- Feeling controlled
- Emotional boundary confusion
My favorite quote in this list is, "You don’t believe you make mistakes, you believe you are a mistake."
She continues with a list of 'profiles of shame' gleaned from the writing of Marilyn J. Sorenson, Ph.D., author of “Breaking the Chain of Low Self-Esteem." Catching my attention are her points that shame frequently causes people to maintain unrealistically high expectations; becoming workaholics and over achievers to compensate for their perceived inadequacy.
In a second article, Dr. VanScoy provides a more thorough review of work being done in the area of shame.
Shame: The Quintessential Emotion - December 12, 2006
Drawing from the authors previously mentioned and several more, the post describes in some detail the origins of shame and its effects on the person. She states,
... there’s mounting evidence that problems occur when shame or humiliation becomes an integral part of a person’s self-image or sense of self-worth. Over the past two decades, psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals have reported that abnormal styles of handling shame play an important role in social phobias, eating disorders, domestic violence, substance abuse, road rage, schoolyard and workplace rampages, sexual offenses and a host of other personal and social problems.
Dr. VanScoy goes on describe shame as "a deep, unproductive well" of behaviors which leads to difficulties in all areas of life. Quoting Aaron Kipnis, Ph.D., author of “Angry Young Men: How Parents, Teachers and Counselors Can Help Bad Boys Become Good Men,” she contrasts the positive effects of guilt vs. the negative results of shame. This is because, "when we’re convinced that we are wrong as a result of shame, our whole sense of self is eroded.”
The article goes on to describe interesting differences between the way men and women react to shame. Men tend externalize shame to develop anger and rage while women internalize shame leading to depression. In both cases, VanScoy notes, an internal 'feedback loop' develops where the person is ashamed of the shame and anger, building the shame to an overwhelming degree.
Sexuality is frequently a cause of shame, which can lead to physical and emotional withdrawal from sex or to sexual aggression.
Finally, the article concludes with some discussion of how shame has been treated in the past and ideas for working with shame going forward. The patient's "shame of the shame" is being discovered as counter productive to the counseling or therapy process and must be clearly recognized and countered by the therapist.
Most interesting is that, while anti-depressant drugs prove helpful in reducing some of the emotional effects, some writers quoted do not believe that they are effective in alleviating the shame itself. Quoting Middelton-Moz, “Medications send yet another message that the individual is helpless; that they are not the one making the change. The hope that we can achieve a better self through chemistry is inevitably a false one in shame-based conditions.”
©2009 David Loofbourrow All Rights Reserved