There is an old adage: live and learn. This is the first half of life experience. The first half of life is the work of shaping and expression. The infant already has many forces that have shaped her at birth. There are inherited traits of her family going back into the distant past. There are the influences from the womb. The infant does not enter the world an unshaped lump of psychological, physical or spiritual clay. There are many experiences in the womb such as loud noises or chemicals released by or passed through the mother’s that shape the growing fetus.
Once born the child’s most important task in the early years is learning how to fit in. Her humanness has many needs that are seeking to be fulfilled. There are the obvious ones of protection and feeding. There are the very important human ones of nurture, guidance and being important. Her family environment teaches her what she must do to get those needs met. What she learns is what things are significant, how that significance effects her, and how to express what is significant to her.
She also learns the other side of fitting in. In learning to adapt her needs, she may have to tone down, warp or even hide her young self. The developing child learns meaning. She learns meaning so that she can survive. Some of this meaning is fairly straight forward physical survival information. It is the kind that warns that a fire is hot. It also teaches what responses her cries for food, attention, fear, or frustration will get. It is teaching her how to belong to her family.
Most of us spend the first half of life verifying what we have learned. We seek and/or create environments and people that confirm this early shaping.
Learn and live” of the second half of life is not an easy job. Nor does it every end. As we experience our patterns, we must learn “how we got to be the way we are”. What are the many experiences, often mercifully buried, that shaped our young ego. As we learn how we were molded at the same time we must learn “how we are”. This is different than the shaping influences. “How we are” is the expression of our early adaptations in the first half of life.
It is interesting to note that there are usually three to seven primary experiences that act as themes for our ego expression. We may have been beaten every day of our life but there is one beating that is the defining theme of that experience and how we assimilated it into our self image. It is each of these three to seven thematic experiences that we must meet and grieve to learn in the second half of life.
These early shapings are the source of brain chatter. It is the dos and don’ts of adaptation that keep the human animal within the bounds of acceptable behavior. With illumination we bring to consciousness the themes and energy behind the patterns of our behaviour. This is a necessary first step.
Illumination is not fault finding in its orientation. It is critical and gentle assessment. For example when assessing anger it is examined in various ways. How do I display or not display anger? What were my childhood models for anger? Was there a rageful person in the past that made anger displays a non choice because of a wish to not emulate and/or a fear of display? Was it a home where anger (or any emotions) was proscribed? What happens with angry thoughts? Is there guilt? Is there shame? If anger does not come out straight how does it display? Which of my behaviors are sideways expressions of anger? How has my anger and other’s anger influenced my relationships? If there was no good role model for anger what are a my personal, acceptable expressions of anger? How do a I learn to practice these expressions?
Illumination work encompasses all of our patterns. How do I control my world? All life needs to have a sense of control or efficacy. Are there moods that I use? Do I fail inorder to succeed or the reverse? How do I define my territory? All life defines territory if no other way than occupying a space. What displays do I do to indicate when my territory is invaded? How close is intimate, personal, social? What did I learn about sex, sexuality and sensuality?
How we got the way we are is one component of illumination. We must also learn how we are. This is very difficult to do alone. We need a trusted environment and trusted others to be mirrors for us. It is the old trees for the forest problem. If we can know that the feedback is in the now and not put someone else’s face (for example a mother) on the person giving the information then we are on our way to learning our old patterns and beginning new patterns.
This is hard work. We were shaped at a very young age. The breadth and depth of awareness and development of the emotions were very immature. As new behaviors are attempted there are screams of protest and covert sabotage from our early shaping in the name of survival. The adaptations established were put in place at a very young immature age and they were design to meet at least minimally the requirements of the environment that allowed the child to get its needs met.
Energy constantly follows thru and around us. When we are wounded - when our love is imageless - when our hope is dammed - when our dance is bound then the energy does not flow. Two birds are hatched in our chest. The one flies with a broken wing. The other hides in the nest afraid to fly.
Hiding in the nest we hold dreams of goodness and fantasies of loud applause as we would soar. The broken wing flier goes in circles; so the world always looks and feels the same. We learn to fly this way. This is how flying is done. When flying is not done this way we fear falling. The world must always look the same or . . . ! ! ??
The point to the two birds is that our adaptations are the circling bird. Who essentially maintains the wounds. We in some ways selectively live in situations that keep us circling. Why should the child within (the bird hiding in the nest) trust you the adult who continues to apply the constraints and “abuses” and continues to exist in situations that apply these constraints and “abuses.” So we must make friends with ourselves. Learn to trust ourselves.
The true move for healing is switching our feelings of shame to feelings of guilt. Then we are dealing with our behavior and not our personhood. With shame changed to guilt we can do things that atone for the behavior and begin to have a deeper sense of belonging. We may also decide that the behavior is not one to feel guilty about; that the making the behavior negative was someone else’s problem and the behavior is a natural and acceptable part of ourself. We can learn to accept mistakes, weaknesses, and inabilities as well as our gifts and abilities.
We do not change. I think we can face our devils and neutralize them by moving shame to guilt which is impowering because then it becomes behavior. I think we can learn that what was our onus is also our gift and learn to use it as such. I think we can release some of the early energy tied up in wounds so we are can be more childlike and not childish. But I don't think our essence or the early shaping of it can change. We become aware. We move from the powerful shapings of self-talk and shame to the choices of mature self reflection.
Shame is a critical part of our humanness. Shame can be looked at as a feeling of not belonging, of exclusion from the group. For a highly and imperatively social animal, our lifelong development of attachment/bonding is pivotal to belonging. We have a genetically based need to find structure, process and meaning within a social context that arises from both our evolutionary path and the very composition of our information processing. It is an interplay of biology, language, family, society, culture, and cosmology. It is a dynamic, ongoing, relational process within ourselves and with others.
It is important to understand the core of shame is not belonging. As a totally social animal, not belonging is a powerful motivator. As example, shame arises when we, as children, have no socially acceptable release for our natural frustration/anger. Or where our natural feelings of flight manifest as fear or terror are condemned. Shame is the feeling that arises when a behavior that is manifesting a naturally occurring internal state invokes the social response of disgust; of being cast out; of not belonging.
With the social response imprinted very early on our basic survival patterns, self- consciousness acts to maintain a sense of shame whenever the disallowed internal experience occurs. This is often below awareness because recognition of this aspect of our self is a threat to belonging; hence to survival.
Shame’s counterpart is guilt. Guilt arises from the disapproval of our behavior as opposed to rejection of our personhood. When guilt occurs, a way is taught for rectifying our error and for the acceptable expression (no matter how convoluted) of our experience within the social context. Guilt provides a process for continued membership in the group. In this way it provides continued support for the “traditional” patterns of socially accepted behavior.
Shame and guilt are decidedly different experiences. Guilt offers continued membership while shame banishes. The pathway to human belonging is channeled and powered by these two emotions of reference that arise through the functioning of self-consciousness. I believe these two emotions of reference are primary in the processes of personal and social change.
(The concept of emotions of reference comes from Lewis, Michael. 1992. Shame-The Exposed Self. The Free Press. N.Y.)
A few readings:
Gilbert, Paul and Andrews, B. 1998. Shame: Interperson Behavior, Psycholpathology, and Culture. Oxford U. Press. Oxford.
Lewis, H.B. 1987. The Role of Shame in Symptom Formation. Eribaum Ass. Hillsdale, N.J.
Lewis, H.B. 1971. Shame and Guilt in Neurosis. International University Press. N.Y.
Lewis, Michael. 1992. Shame-The Exposed Self. The Free Press. N.Y.
Lynd, Helen Merrell. 1965. On Shame and the Search for Identity. Science Editions. N.Y.
Peristiany, J. G. 1966. Honour and Shame. University of Chicago Press. Chicago.
Scheff, T. and Retzinger, S. 1991. Emotions and Violence: Shame and Rage in Destructive Conflicts. Lexington Books. Massachusetts>
Schieffelin, C. 1985. "Anger, Grief, and Shame: Toward a Kaluli Ethnopsychology." In Person, Self, and Experience. Edited by G. M. White and J. Kirkpatrick. Univ. of California Press. Berkeley.
Schneider, Carl. 1977. Shame, Exposure, Privacy. Beacon. Boston.
Sroufe, L. Alan. 1995. Emotional development: the organization of emotional life in the early years. Cambridge U. N.Y. Page 68 for 18 month old shame.
Tangney, June and Fischer, Kurt; editors. 1995. Self-Conscious Emotions: The Psychology of Shame, Guilt, Embarrassment, and Pride. Guilford. N.Y.
On the bioeconomics of shame and guilt
Klaus Jaffe, Astrid Flórez, Marcos Manzanares, Rodolfo Jaffe, Cristina M. Gomes, Daniel Rodríguez, Carla Achury
Shame has biological roots, possibly enhancing trust, favoring social cohesion. We studied bioeconomic aspects of shame and guilt using three approaches: 1—Anthropo-linguistic studies of Guilt and Shame among the Yanomami, a culturally isolated traditional tribal society; 2—Estimates of the importance different languages assign to the concepts Shame, Guilt, Pain, Embarrassment, Fear and Trust, counting the number of synonyms listed by Google Translate; 3—Quantitative correlations between this linguistic data with socioeconomic indexes. Results showed that Yanomami is unique in having overlapping synonyms for Shame, Fear and Embarrassment. No language had overlapping synonyms for Shame andGuilt. Societies previously described as “Guilt Societies” have more synonyms for Guilt than for Shame. A large majority of languages, including those from societies previously described as “Shame Societies”, have more words for Shame than for Guilt. The number of synonyms for Guilt and Shame strongly correlated with estimates of corruption, ease of doing business and governance, but not with levels of interpersonal trust. We propose that cultural evolution of shame has continued the work of biological evolution, but its adaptive advantageto society is still unclear. Results suggest that recent cultural evolution must be responsible for the relationship between the levels of corruption of a society and the number of synonyms for Guilt and Shame in its language. This opens a novel window for the study of complex interactions between biological and cultural evolution of cognition and emotions, which might help broaden our insight into bioeconomics.