More Thoughts on Shame and Guilt

Published January 14, 2019 by Nan Mykel

(I punched the wrong button somewhere along the line and can’t post images any more. My screen says: (Technological message doesn’t print on blog, just Dashboard). If anyone knows what to do please advise. Back to this post: [Well, there you go. I don’t know what I’m doing in this technological world]. Welcome, image.

I committed the cardinal sin of using words without defining. In my earlier post on Shame and Guilt I referred to “narcissism” without defining it as “healthy narcissism,” or “self esteem.” Obviously (to me) that definition is permissible because if my primitive ancestors hadn’t cared about themselves above all else I won’t exist. We’re all the product of organisms who won over their neighbors. Pledging one’s life to helping others, unfortunately, can also function as a way to improve one’s self esteem or “puffing oneself up,” as I said in my original post.
The closest I’ve come to sniffing out unequivocable altruism (maybe) are the postings showing one kind of animal protecting another kind, or a seeing dog helping a blind one.
Ernest Becker is somewhat extreme in his attempt to tear down defenses which help us avoid seeing life as it really may be, with everything doomed to die.

Man does not seem able to “help” his selfishness; it seems to come from his animal nature…In man a working level of narcissism is inseparable from self-esteem, from a basic sense of self-worth….When you combine natural narcissism with the basic need for self esteem you create a creature who has to feel himself an object of primary value…The basic motivation for human behavior is our biological need to control our basic anxiety…To have emerged from nothing, to have a name, consciousness of self, deep inner feelings, an excruciating inner yearning for life and self-expression–and with all this yet to die…We need to assure ourselves that we have achieved something of lasting worth…It doesn’t matter whether the cultural hero-system is frankly magical, religious and primitive or secular, scientific and civilized. It is still a mythical hero-system in which people serve in order to earn a feeling of primary value, of cosmic specialness, of ultimate usefulness to creation, of unshakable meaning…To become conscious, aware of what he is doing to earn his feelings of heroism is the main self-analytic problem of life.

“A person spends years coming into his own, developing his talent, his unique gifts, perfecting his discriminations about the world, broadening and sharpening his appetite, learning to bear the disappointments of life, becoming mature, seasoned–finally a unique creature in nature, standing with some dignity and nobility and transcending the animal condition; no longer driven, no longer a complete reflex, not stamped out of any mold. And as Andre Malraux wrote, the real tragedy is that that it takes sixty years of incredible suffering and effort to make such an individual, and then he is only good for dying”…He has to go the way of the grasshopper, even though it takes longer…. Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death, Simon and Schuster, Free Press Paperbacks, New York).

Now what does all that have to do with me? Let’s avoid the religious question if we may. I’ve said my head is atheistic and my heart is hopeful.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that my apologies and suffering over transgressions against others is a way to protect my self esteem. I’m working on abandoning that part of me and focussing on my “heroic journey,” of which I am aware. I seek to be a hero by creativity, my blogging, empathizing with others including my children, absorbing beauty and nature, feeding my hungry curiosity and giving free reign to my imagination.

9 comments on “More Thoughts on Shame and Guilt

  • In Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, she mentions ” the sacred flame … personality being so important nothing else matters …” I quote imperfectly but it is something I’ve been pondering for years. It seems selfish – considering one’s own growth above all. I even sent a text to a few friends at the time and their responses were invariably others are as important as oneself. True. If everyone, though, considered their own growth as a primary pursuit and I think I mean to then not spend time doing each other down the world may very well be a better place. Narcissism, to me, is being so in love with oneself even doing another harm in order to stay within that self-absorbing state is permissible. Not so. I think I understand the reason for meditation then. Removing oneself from the community in order to spend time with one’s own soul is essential (for some). A part of the day should be put aside for such a personal journey. Perhaps this is a timely post to remind me to take up that part of my journey again. I’ve been neglecting it for too long.

    As far as your technological question is concerned – I’ve no idea. Perhaps email me with more detail as to what you’re trying to do and what is happening that you can’t manage I’d be able to come up with something?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I may reply to this in spurts or in future postings. If it’s true that the only person you can change is yourself, then the most effective expenditure of energy seems to try and develop the self to become nearer one’s ideal human. Altruism is good, but denying the difficulties the world and evolution pose appears sort of a cop out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You could be guessing–could be personality vs self or anima or spirit. Or maybe she defined it elsewhere. I’m all I have to offer and I try to hone that. I act as though I Believe but wish I could.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think there is a school of thought defining soul as personality. There’s a line from the writer Ursula le Guin that has stayed with me as well, saying a similar thing – for to take one’s focus of the goal of the growth of one’s own soul is a losing of the self.


      • I would think that if one’s soul (whatever that is) grows it would take others along with it. If you become a more loving person others must benefit, as opposed to “do-gooders.” Obviously I’m quite confused about all this. Then there’s the ego and the super-ego. Too bad folks don’t all use similar terms! I tried to post a quote by the author of Amazing Grace, from Walter Marks. The quote was John Newton’s:
        “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am” … I’m sure she means what she means. It’s just that there are so many personality disorders, and its similarity to the anima (our public presentation) that I even confuse myself. Talking with you is fun. I was going to post Newton today but got messed up with whatever button I have punched incorrectly. My helper is coming this Saturday…


      • I’m busy reading up on The Tao or Lao tzu where selfishness is mentioned but in a good way. One kind of does what one does (I’m not really in a position to make this statement as I’m very far from where I’d like to be) and others can follow if they see value – so perhaps not a case of ‘taking others with’. I’m way too wobbly to try and ‘take someone with’. 🙂 The selfishness matches the wish t spend time with one’s wn journey without interference I think.

        Liked by 1 person

  • Oh, I see I’m not a careful reader. She does say soul. Wish I had one. Hope I have one, but don’t want to mislead myself into fantasy. A firm footing beneath my feet is more reassuring, and I don’t want to lose that and be left with not having done anything in my life to try to improve the status quo. . A fund-raising phone call just woke me up so I may no be making sense here, either.


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