Shame is a raw psychological surface, a prototypical border, a first draft of skin. When early attachment is difficult, shame acquires the status of an active drive to avoid what is intrinsic to us because acknowledging it might not be compatible with our survival. Shame is arousal we disavow, perjuring ourselves in a realm before conscience, which may later prosecute us on this basis for crimes of which we have only the dimmest, most diffuse and vestigial awareness. Shame is the origin of much of the disposition of conscience to be bad. Shame is all at once agonizing, voluptuous and addictive.
The luxury of shame’s certainty, which depends on the inner fictive presence of a cherished intolerant and absolute other, deprives us of a chance to see ourselves with our own eyes. To the extent that our prior states and situations in life shame us, we will find ourselves lying even to ourselves about our current state and situation. The resolution of our shame requires that we be able to look at it through a maximum security prism. No one of us can do this alone.
Our best qualities embarrass us as much as our worst ones. We may be shamed by what is deep, tender, powerful and true about us. Shame and embarrassment are the consternation of the current regime. Consternation may be for the good , as well for ill, but it is always uncomfortable. So many people can let themselves be known only when they know they are leaving, as if they need an escape route from their shame.
Shame is a most intimate part of the agony of loss. . When a loss shows us just how small we are, we recoil from our image in this mirror. Survivor embarrassment may be much more difficult than survivor guilt precisely because it is so diffuse and pervasive.
Shame is the formless critic that plays such a large part in forming our capacities to give ourselves form.
If guilt is about doing, then shame is about being. If guilt defends the border between “good me” and “bad me”, then it is shame’s lot to define the border between “me” and “not me.” Once we realize that both “good me” and “bad me” maintain secret and complex relations with the realm of “not me”, we begin to grasp how complex is the role of shame in helping us edge both towards ourselves and away from ourselves. Shame makes us passive and passivity shames. We feel shamed when we our overwhelmed from within by feelings which steal our form from us. We are never more infantile than when we are shamed. To recover from the injury of a serious shaming we require the most tender and intuitive care.
Shame closes the book of life before it has been written.
Narcissism is shame’s shield against clues to and from the self.