Lidija Rangelovska advanced the idea that some children subjected to abuse in dysfunctional families objectified, dehumanized, their boundaries breached, and their growth stunted develop intense feelings of shame. They turn out to be codependents or narcissists owing to their genetic makeup and innate character. According to her, children who turned out to be codependents as adults are resilient, while the more fragile narcissists seek to evade shame by concocting and then deploying the False Self.
As Lidija Rangelovska observes, shame motivates “normal” people and those suffering from Cluster B personality disorders differently. It constitutes a threat to the former’s True Self and to the latter’s False Self. Owing to the disparate functionality and psychodynamics of the True and False selves, the ways shame affects behavior and manifests in both populations differ. Additionally, pervasive, constant shame fosters anxiety and even fears or phobias. These can have either an inhibitory effect or, on the contrary, disinhibitory functions (motivate to action.)
The True Self involves an accurate reality test with minimal and marginal cognitive deficits as well as the capacity to empathize on all levels, including and especially the emotional level. People whose True Self is intact, mature, and operational are capable of relating to others deeply (for example, by loving them). Their sense of self-worth is stable and grounded in a true and tested assessment of who they are. Maintaining a distinction between what we really are and what we dream of becoming, knowing our limits, our advantages and faults and having a sense of realistic accomplishments in our life are of paramount importance in the establishment and maintenance of our self-esteem, sense of self-worth and self-confidence.
Shame threatens the True Self by challenging the affected person’s ego-syntony: by forcing her to “feel bad” about something she has said or done. The solution is usually facile and at hand: reverse the situation by apologizing or by making amends.
In contrast, the False Self leads to false assumptions and to a contorted personal narrative, to a fantastic worldview, and to a grandiose, inflated sense of being. The latter is rarely grounded in real achievements or merit. The narcissist’s feeling of entitlement is all-pervasive, demanding and aggressive. It easily deteriorates into the open verbal, psychological and physical abuse of others.
When the patient with the False Self feels shame it is because his grandiosity, the fantastic narrative that underpins his False Self, is challenged, usually – but not necessarily – publicly. There is no easy solution to such a predicament. The situation cannot be reversed and the psychological damage is done. The patient urgently needs to reassert his grandiosity by devaluing or even destroying the frustrating, threatening object, the source of his misery. Another option is to reframe the situation by delusionally ignoring it or recasting it in new terms.
So, while shame motivates normal people to conduct themselves pro-socially and realistically, it pushes the disordered patient in the exact opposite direction: to antisocial or delusional reactions.
Shame is founded on empathy. The normal person empathizes with others. The disordered patient empathizes with himself. But, empathy and shame have little to do with the person with whom we empathize (the empathee). They may simply be the result of conditioning and socialization. In other words, when we hurt someone, we don’t experience his or her pain. We experience our pain. Hurting somebody – hurts US. The reaction of pain is provoked in us by our own actions. We have been taught a learned response: to feel pain when we hurt someone.
We attribute feelings, sensations and experiences to the object of our actions. It is the psychological defence mechanism of projection. Unable to conceive of inflicting pain upon ourselves – we displace the source. It is the other’s pain that we are feeling, we keep telling ourselves, not our own.
Additionally, we have been taught to feel responsible for our fellow beings and to develop guilt and shame when we fail to do so. So, we also experience pain whenever another person claims to be anguished. We feel guilty owing to his or her condition, we feel somehow accountable even if we had nothing to do with the whole affair. We feel ashamed that we haven’t been able to end the other’s agony.
by Guest Author Sam Vaknin, the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.
He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb, and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.
Visit Sam’s Web site.