Thursday, January 14, 2021

12 - Shame and guilt

Floating in the vast ocean of 

1 – Visual example of getting shamed in action

Shame or being shamed by others has a huge impact on how we behave in society. It’s a process to keep us in line with the existing norms, rules and prejudices of a given group. All groups and societies, to some degree, use shaming to get a “normalized” behavior from all their participants. 

In former times people with visible body handicaps or of certain classes (desfigurement, scars, …) had to walk, like in the clip, ringing a bell so that others could go out of the way and wouldn’t get “polluted”. 

2 – Three flashlights on shame and/or guilt

  • Guilt is putting today’s knowledge on yesterday’s problems. 
T. R. Golden 
Swallowed by a Snake 

  • Shame is essentially rage turned against the self. 
E. Erikson 

Guilt is about wrong doing, 
shame is about wrong being. 

3 – Two questions 

 • Which characteristics of yourself you are ashamed of? 

 • Who told you, when you were a kid, that you have to feel ashamed of these? 

 In general human beings like more blaming others than to take responsibilty for something that went “wrong”. There are very few humans who like to say: “Blame it on me!” That’s not how our brain works, since it likes to be right, and it does nearly anything and some more for not being wrong, for not being the one that made a mistake. But, then again, there are exceptional or not very intelligent human mammals who might say: 
But when it comes right down to it, 
There's no use trying to pretend. 
For when it gets right down to it, 
There's no one here that's left to blame. 
Blame it on me, you can blame it on me, 
We're just sugar mice in the rain. 

4 – Shame and guilt in language games 

4.1 – The birth and nurture of shame and guilt 

Shame and guilt are not so called “basic emotions” but they are social constructions induced to each of us via the process of upbringing and education in a certain society. All groups and societies produce and use the feelings of shame and guilt so that we can become predictable and productive citizen of a given social entity. 

We get introduced to feel shame or guilt when relevant others, in the beginning our parents or caretakes, tell us what is good and what is bad, how to behave in different situations, what clothes to wear to cover our body (the body seems to be the most shameful human object which has to be covered in nearly all societies all the time and everywhere). By getting shamed (“you can’t do that!”) small humans learn and adapt the customs and manners, the language and expressions, the appearance (clothes), and behaviors of the group they belong to by birth. 

Humans learn all the customs and rules when they are young and innocent, and later on these same customs seem like something natural to them, whereas for somebody from another culture, the rules of an foreign society are completely arbitrary and touch on folly. 
  • The manners and social customs too are a baffling enigma at first. Their conversation topics are very rarely the things they want to be talking about, and I could write ninety-seven books on body shame and clothing etiquette before you would get even close to understanding them. 
Matt. Haig 
The Humans 

So parents will tell their youngsters and repeat it over and over again how to behave properly. When their kids don’t behave as they’ve told them, some kind of punishment may follow, so young kids are quite eager to follow the indications of their parents, like e.g.: “Say thank you!”; “Boys don’t cry!”; “Girls don’t get angry!”; “You can’t wear that dress, you look like a …!”; “Don’t use this word!”; “You can’t play with dolls!”; You shouldn’t climb trees!”, “Don’t play with the kids from …!”, and a trillion of other advices and prohibitions. 

All that is the so called socialization process for all human beings which lasts for years and which all of us had to go through and in which we learned especially how to behave in a “mainstream normal” way. Especially we learned to identify whom and what to consider as good and bad, the most elemental division of and in the social world. Whom to approach (members of your own group) and whom to avoid if possible (all others). 

Not following the advice (listened to over years and years) of your parents will produce some nagging body sensations that you will interprete as shame or guilt, depending on social context and personal circunstances. Psychoanalysts say that shame and guilt come from the Super-Ego, which in turn is the voice of our parents and early teachers in our mind or brain. 

4.2 – Semantics of shame and guilt 

The distinction between guilt and shame in everday parlance is not, to say the least, self-evident, because a lot of people use both interchangeably. But thinking a bit, we realize that we feel guilty because of an action we committed or ommitted, and which wasn’t according to our own moral standards. 

We feel shame when we think we have betrayed the “main stream rules or norms” of the group or society we live in, and, what is the worst of all, other people have seen or know about it (or we think that they know). Shame needs the real or imagined judgement of others to have its effect, whereas guilt can be an unique personal affair. 

For example, you can be accused of a crime, you know that you didn’t do it, so you don’t feel guilty, but you will feel shame because other people will think that you are the culprit. That means we feel shame when we think about what others believe (think) about us, their moral jugdement of us, and also when significant others don’t accept or reject us for some reason or another. 

Guilt is connected to something we’ve done or we think that we’ve done, and that feeling informs us that our action wasn’t really in line with our own moral standards, so we may feel bad. The gap between how we should behave and how we behaved can produce what psychologists call a “Cognitive dissonance”, a situation our mind doesn’t like, and so we try to close the gap, either by convincing ourselves that it wasn’t too bad what we did, or by repairing the damage done. 

Other people can reject (shame) you by making fun of your appearance (weight, height, your clothes, nose size, lack of hair, outstanding ears, skin colour, accent, …), your physical (dis)-abilities (“you are so clumsy!”, …), your imagined lack of intelligence, (“you are stupid”), or somebody belittles and makes fun of you in front of others (the famous “boys don’t cry” or “girls don’t get angry”, etc.) for some aspect that isn’t in line with the conventional judgements of the dominant majority. 

Shame and guilt are so called self-conscious emotions, they need a reflection on your actions and on the norms of the group your are in. Both are also nurtured by self-reproach, but whereas guilt is saying: ‘I’ve done something wrong,’ a shameful person may say, ‘I am wrong here (and probably everywhere).’ 

Shame is one of these emotions that most people try to avoid, like bad breath, smelly feet and paying taxes, but, like these three enchanting compagnions of human lifeforms, shame is another “thing” we can’t avoid. Mainly we try to avoid getting shamed by dressing like other people do, doing the things others do, following the rules and sharing the exisiting prejudices, by being polite and not “rocking the boat”, which would call too much attention to ourselves. 

We may feel shame in a given situation, like not knowing something when asked a question during our presentation of a given theme, where we are supposed to know the answer. In that particular moment we would like to vanish into thin air, and exactly when we want the time to pass quickly and we are looking for the nearest exit, then it’s one of these moments which seem to last an eternity. 

Shame comes up when we think that we don’t measure up to the implicit or explicit standards of the society or culture we live in. If you don’t accept or don’t care about the given standards, then you shouldn’t feel ashamed! 

In some situations you can reduce the risk of being shamed or doing something wrong by others with a simple precautionary measure: 

Everybody makes mistakes. 
The key is to commit them when nobody sees you. 
Peter Ustinov 

5 – When do we need them? 

In different situations and during all or our life. Guilt helps us to say “I’m sorry!” and with that apology we can repair a broken relation and to a certain degree undo a wrong action. 

By feeling shame we try to restore our connections with the group by assuming a low profile and following strictly the behavior of the silent majority, so that nobody can shame us anymore by saying: “You’re weird”, “you’re different!”, etc. We try to avoid behaviors that stray too far away from the main stream behaviors. 

You can feel too much or too little of a certain feeling, and the same is true for guilt and shame. Sone people even feel guilty for things they didn’t do. There are people who feel ashamed about their body (too tall, low, big, fat, thin, …etc.), whereas others with the same characteristics couldn’t care less. 

6 – Evolutionary aspects 

As all the other emotions, shame and guilt exist because they gave our ancestors (and us) a survival advantage. Guilt tells you to repair or restore a wrong-doing by saying: “I’m sorry!”. Seen from an evolutionary perspective, guilt is the information that induces you to invent an apology and so heals and preserves the fabric of your social relations. 

Shame tells you that you are not good or not good enough, so that you move and act to get in line with the standards of significant others or with the group you’re part of. Both emotions tell you that something is wrong, that a relation or connection isn’t working as it should. Something’s wrong and you feel uneasy, although a lot of times you can’t put your finger on. 

All humans depend on grown-ups from their first second of life on earth, and after some time our parents will inform (teach) us step by step what life is all about as a social being in a given society, and we learn quite early to evaluate our own attributes and then compare them to those of others.  

We rate our physical appearance (hot or not), our intelligence (diplomas) and our social status (house or flat; Rolls Royce, Lada or third hand bicycle; our income in kilos, megas or gigas; …), and, depending on our own rating against the “success measurement stick” of society, we may feel pride or shame. 

So if and when you accept and interiorize the social and economic commandments of mass-media and public institutions, then you are lost to the opinion and arbitrary standards of others, and you are floating in the vast ocean of the shame inducing consumerism memes. 

Guilt and shame are information that help you to reflect about yourself and, if necessary, bring you to the conclusion that you have to change something inside or outside of you body-nind unit. Especially shame is there to protect your reputation, your social exchange value in everyday interactions, one of the most important “things” you have when living and working with others. Shame may also tell you, that you have to look for a new group of humans which share the same values as you do. 

You are afraid--embarrassed too 

No one has ever said such a thing to you 
Your mother's ghost stands at your shoulder 
Face like ice--a little bit colder 
Saying to you--
"you can not do that, 
it breaks all the rules you learned in school" 

Since childhood the grown ups around you will tell you with whom you can play and with whom not, whom you should trust and whom not. Later the social group you belong to will tell you what to study, which job to take and whom you can love (and marry), and whom never ever! They will indicate you the characteristics of a standarized love object, how many of them you may have at the same time (officially only one, but some people are more courageous), his or her educational and income level, age range, gender, number of melanin pigments, etc,, all that approved and certified by your “social class or caste” in collaboration with the ISO.
Learning to cope with feelings aroused in me 
My hands in the soil, buried inside of myself 
My love wears forbidden colours 

If and when you don’t follow the more or less gentle indicaciones of your group you will feel bad and excluded (guilty + shamed), because your significant others will avoid you and tell you what you have done isn’t right. That means they shame you and you have to pay a price for not submitting to the current norms of the existing mainstream social order. Every group has its rules and norms to function smoothly and no group can permit that everybody can decide and do what s/he wants. Individual choice in a group is always limited, and freeing yourself from social norms comes with a heavy price tag. 

Rule of thumb # 13:

Biology enables, culture forbids. 
Biology is willing to tolerate a very wide spectrum of possibilities. It’s culture that obliges people to realise some possibilities  while forbidding others, 
from a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. 
Whatever is possible is 
 – by definition – also natural. 
Yuval Noah Harari 

7.1 - Shame is useful for 

• To recognize our limits, mistakes and weaknesses. 
• To realize that we are not superhumans. 
• Accepting the rules and rights of others. 
• Belonging to a group. 
• Developing humility. 
• To accept ourselves as imperfect. 
• To create self-acceptance. 
  Asking for forgiveness in an authentic way. 
• To put our strengths at the service of the general public. 
• To know the things and actions to avoid. 
• To show others that you care about their opinion. 
• To behave like others want you to behave. 
• Not to hurt others. 
• To feel ashamed of your feelings. 
• To despise yourself. 
• To let your inner critic run wild. 
• To think that you’re inferior to others. 
• To avoid any kind of contact. 
• To never go out of your room again. 
• To feel bad always and to glide into a deep depression. 
• To feel and behave like an outsider and outcast all of your life. 
• Others: … 

7.2 - Guilt is useful for
• To recognize that you’ve done something wrong. 
To apologize and restore a broken relation. 
• Develop consciousness about how you relate to and how you treat other humans. 
• To accept your fault and forgive yourself. 
• To say negative things to yourself. 
• To repeat the imagened or real mistake in your mind-movie over and over again. 
• To punish and hurt yourself because you’ve done something wrong and you think you deserve the punishment. 
• To engage in self-destructive behaviour: drugs, reckless driving, overeating, not eating, … all just to escape the pain of feeling guilty. 
• Contemplating and attempting self-harm. 
• Others: … 

  Rebranding our shame 

8 - Forms of shame and guilt 

So called “Normal shame and guilt”: see above. 

Toxic or overwhelming shame: You can feel ashamed all of your life because of experiences you are not even aware of, since they occured during your toddler years. You may feel it any- and everywhere. Most of the time you try not to feel shame, so you desplace that feeling and you get angry at other people, especially after haviing numbed your shame with some kind of chemical mood changer (alcohol, drugs). 

“Shame bind” exists when you are ashamed of your real feelings which weren’t allowed in your family of origin. If as a child you couldn’t be angry, as your parents told you that “you don’t have any reason to feel angry”, you hid your anger and instead you felt ashamed that you still felt angry, since feelings don’t disappear by orden, you can suppress and hide them, but you still will feel them somehow (without showing them to the outside world). 

Grief guilt: This feeling comes over you when you weren’t there when something terrible happened or when somebody died. You think you could have prevented the hurt or dead of somebody, if … And on top of that you may feel doublefold guilty because you feel angry with the person who died or has committed suicide. 

You also can feel guilty of actions or situations which didn't depend on you and you couldn't influence in any case, like when your older sibling had a car accident and you were at school at that time. Nonetheless you can feel guilty about it as if you were the culprit. Sometimes feeling guilty doesn't have any relation to an accident in outside reality, but is a sign of how your inner brain is working when interpreting events in the real world.

9.1 - Shadow side of shame 

Some people may use shame to manipulate you, so that you do what they want you to do and to be. After being shamed by others for a long time you might not know anymore what you want and who you are, notoriously difficult questions in the best of times! The result of being shamed too often and for too long is that you are not your best friend and supporter. You try to live your life according to the values and prejudices of other people, and you haven’t reached your “authentic self” yet (supposing that something like that exists and can be reached). 

Shame from childhood experiences, when others where mistreating you (physical and/or psychological abuse) can persist all your life and in general needs some professional “soul” guidance. 

9.2 - Shadow side of guilt 

Assuming too much responsibility for all the bad things that happen in the world and also assuming too little. That means that you can feel guilty for things you couldn’t do anything about it, or, the contrary, that you don’t even feel guilty for the things you did and which hurt others in the process. 

How do you know whether it’s too much or too little? Good question! There’s no correct answer! Your actions in life are based on your decisions and choices, and then you may or may not take full responsibility! If you don’t take full responsibility, according to some so called “thinkers”, then you act in “bad faith”, and consequently you are excluded from the elite humans with a “perfect consciousness”. 

10 – How to increase or decrease you your guilt and shame generator 

Depends on how much you have and what’s the best to have and to use in a given situation. 

As with all the other feelings and already mentioned, you can feel too much or too little of them. With too much you are living your life being scared of people and situations, you hide, you don’t want to be seen. With too little of these two feelings you will hurt a lot of people during your short stay on earth, without being aware of it. In extreme cases you will be labelled as a “psychopath” or “sociopath”, which in clinica political correct language are now tagged as “Antisocial Personality Disorder!. 

In any case, moral decisions in daily life are quite complex, since different parts of our brain have divergent opinions on how to act properly, so we may feel guilty if we do something, but also if we don’t do it! It isn’t always easy to do the correct thing in a given situation as the following real life situation shows: 

A quite common and complex situation in mainstream life: 
  • Late at night, after a long celebration with your friends and plenty of alcoholic drinks, you reach your car and one part of your brain says: 
  • “I shouldn’t drive when I’m drunk!” 
  •  After a second, the more rational part of your brain answers a lot more reasonably: 
  • Wait a minute! I shouldn’t listen to myself when I’m drunk!” 
Homer Simpson 

11 – Four examples of shame and/or guilt in literature and/or real life 

  • The last word my mother ever said to me was “love.” She was so sick and weak and out of her head she couldn’t muster the “I” or the “you,” but it didn’t matter. That puny word has the power to stand on its own. 
  • I wasn’t with my mom when she died. No one was. She died alone in a hospital room, and for so many years it felt like three-quarters of my insides were frozen solid because of that. I ran it over and over in my mind, the series of events and choices that kept me from being beside my mom in her last hours, but thinking about it didn’t do a thing…. 
  • I would never be with my mother when she died. She would never be alive again. The last thing that happened between us would always be the last thing…
  • There would be the way I got my coat and said, “I love you,” and the way she was silent until I was almost out the door and she called, “love.” And there would be the way that she was still lying in that bed when I returned the next morning, but dead. 
Cheryl Strayed 
Tiny Beautiful Things 

  • “Why are you drinking? demanded the little prince. 
  • "So that I may forget," replied the tippler. 
  • "Forget what?" inquired the little prince, who was already sorry for him. 
  • "Forget that I am ashamed," the tippler confessed, hanging his head. 
  • "Ashamed of what?" insisted the little prince, who wanted to help him. 
  • "Ashamed of drinking!” 
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 
The Little Prince 

  • A young boy named Ronnie was born in Robbinsville, North Carolina. Soon after he was born, it became clear he was blind. At one year and one day old, his mother abandoned him, citing that his blindness was her punishment from God. He was raised in poverty by his grandparents until he was five, then sent off to a school for the sightless. 
  • When he was six years old, his mother came by, just once. She had another child now, a girl. His mother said, “Ron, I want you to feel her eyes. You know, her eyes are so pretty. She did not shame me the way that you did. She can see.” That was the last time he ever had contact with his mother. …
 David Eagleman 

  •  After her husband died, a well-known death educator and researcher stated, “I didn’t want to eat because he could never eat again. Watching a beautiful sunset seemed selfish, because he would never be able to see one again.” 
Bob Baugher 
Understanding guilt during bereavement 

12.1 – Coda shame 
  • Shame says: "I am wrong, because other people tell/told me so.” 
  • Mission: Self-reflection Predisposition to act: To hide, to vanish. 
  • Duration: depends on person and context. 
  • Shadow: Self-tearing, self-loathing. 
  • Force: Humility.
  • Energy: Self-consuming, running on empty 

12.2 – Coda guilt 
  • Guilt says: "I have done something wrong." 
  • Mission: Restauration of a connection. 
  • Predisposition to act: To apologize, to recognize your error. 
  • Shadow: Self-punishment, rumination.
  • Force: Self awareness, moral behavior. 
  • Energy: high but somehow blocked 

The first five lines of this song describe what most humans and entire nations and civilizations do to stay nearly mentally sane (if such mental state exists or ever existed!). To function in real life and in the ever changing present you have to care only to a certain degree about wrongdoings (insults, hurts, slights) from the present or the recent or far away past, given to others or received from them. 

 Also, you have to let fade into the backyards of your memory the things you said and did and the ones you shouldn’t have done. The same with the things you should have said or done and didn’t. Your brain helps you in this kind of forgetting process with a bad memory and a narrowing of awareness, called “willful ignorance”, all of which help you to avoid the rabbit hole of guilt and shame over all the things you committed or ommitted to do – and which made or make you feel bad. A failing memory, limited intelligence, a busy work schedule and/or chemical mood improvers can be very useful in the battle against overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame! 

And I don’t look back anymore 
But when I look back, 
I only see my happy moments 
I gladly forgot everything else 
And just bridged it with beautiful memories, whoa oh 
Believe me, brother, I don't look back anymore 

Our brains or minds don’t like memories that hurt our self-esteem and especially it loathes the thougths that make us feel bad, so the ego defends itself with all its force and weapons of self-delusion: 

Rule of thumb # 14:

“I have done that', says my memory. 
I cannot have done that—says my pride 
 and remains unshakeable. 
 Finally—memory yields.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

4 - Emotions 1

1.1 – Visual example of how emotions are evoked   First test: If you don’t sense or feel anything moving in your body-mind unit after having...