Why Shame and Guilt?

Published January 12, 2019 by Nan Mykel

Some point out that guilty feelings keep our conscience in shape. But does excessive wallowing in feelings of guilt or shame help anything? How can making myself miserable make sense? Perhaps a masochist might try it, but believe me there’s no pleasure in it, sexual or otherwise.
Perhaps feeling pain over one’s thoughtlessness is a Shadow concept–it may help us avoid our own feelings of rage at being ignored, discounted, ridiculed or mistreated. Are guilt feelings more acceptable than rageful anger to some folks? Like me?
I reported myself for chewing gum while on safety patrol duty in the sixth grade. I don’t feel guilty about it now, possibly because I got a demerit for it at the time. I can tell I’m wandering into la la land but if that’s so, then so be it. Losing psychic energy in an irrational manner is la la, and detracts from energy that could be used constructively, even for helping others.
I have some defense mechanisms that explain or almost excuse my behavior, but I can’t utter these because they sound so much like excuses (such as a very slight habit to briefly dissociate).
It’s obviously rooted in my unconscious. I was not allowed to ask for what I wanted–not even to hint, and was told that I didn’t feel what I felt, often. I wonder what it means in actual terms that I introjected my Pig Parent (per transactional analysis)? I do recall that in therapy I once Gestalted my Pig Parent and didn’t get back in my own skin until later in the day. I do remember that I couldn’t do a Gestalt “goodbye” to my abusing father because I felt there would be nothing left inside me. (I was able to much later, however.)
Empathy runs too deep in me (unless it’s just a defense against rage.) If you lurked silently around me for very long you would hear me muttering “I’m sorry. I’m sorry” when one of my much earlier thoughtless behaviors come to mind.
I’ve begun re-reading Ernest Becker’s “The Denial of Death” again, and come across the following: “Man does not seem able to ‘help’ his selfishness…If we care about anyone it is usually ourselves first of all…In man a working level of narcissism* is inseparable from self esteem, from a basic sense of self-worth. (p 2,3) So, maybe I think more highly of me for apologizing constantly than being puffed up. I probably respect myself more (secretly) than if I were more blase and felt more positive about myself. (This blog posting is probably an attempt to puff myself up.)
Maybe I should return to identifying with “The Watcher” part of me again. Funny how I make a discovery and then it eludes me.

*Note: There’s a great difference between narcissism and Narcissistic Personality Disorder

5 comments on “Why Shame and Guilt?

  • I don’t know if narcissism and protection-of-self are exactly the same thing. I do think that we all (or most of us) have innate self-protective survival instincts. But narcissism (even if it isn’t a personality disorder) is EXCESSIVE self-absorption, to the point it block the ability to see our impact on others. I would disagree with Becker; I don’t think we are all narcissists. Many of us have a lot of empathy for others, give to charity, volunteer and help out others. At least I want to believe that those behaviors come from good, caring places.

    On the other hand, there is such a thing probably as too-much empathy and too-little concern for self, something that comes from being raised in an unhealthy environment. Sounds like you know what that’s about. So do I!

    Like

    • I did post more today. Don’t know if that clarifies or befuddles. Maybe it’s because feelings were denied in childhood I feel a blast of fresh air when I read super realistic ways of looking at things.

      Like

  • Well now, that was an interesting ramble around your conscience…and unconcious 🙂 I’m thinking that we should feel shame for real guilt but no shame if it’s false guilt. Hopefully shame motivates us to seek forgiveness and behave differently? I wish abusers would feel guilty/shamed enough to STOP!

    Like

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