My last post was about shifting shame into blame. I am interested in this, because I think it’s part of disorganized attachment and the personality disorders that result from them. It’s a regulation strategy, when the shame feels too great.
I think the purpose of shame is to maintain cooperation. Cooperation is what human beings are really great at. I think we feel shame when we depart from the perspective of those around us. Human beings use the feeling of shame strategically (and not always honestly) to shape conscience, so that children growing up internalize those things that other people never like: cheating, for example, or stealing.
Shame gets us back on the track of trying for attunement. I don’t think we should never have to feel shame and I also think adults routinely shame children into behaving without realizing it. I think the difference between what we recognize as emotional and abuse and what people do every day is about intensity. Emotional abuse overwhelms the child, activates fight-or-flight instincts, and shuts down reflection, making behavioural change impossible or at least unlikely. “Healthy” discipline leads to shame, remorse and behavioural change.
When a parent lacks a fully developed Theory of Mind and cannot understand the perspective of their children, then I think the child grows up feeling ashamed of normal experiences: the parent thinks, “I don’t know why you are hungry, because I am not,” as though the parent has never been hungry before and doesn’t know what hunger is like.
Shame becomes about one’s being, not just because your parents tell you that you are terrible, but because you don’t have the ability to regulate the impulses and emotions your parents expect you to be able to control. A young toddler can’t wait until dinner time and probably also can’t stop crying.
What I am getting at is that the pain a narcissistic parent causes begins with the first time a parent’s ability to understand their child’s intentions and desires breaks down, and not the first time the parent hits the child. Normal infants and parents have hundreds of breakdowns in attunement, but the parent has the skills to repair the break. In disorganized attachment, the parent doesn’t have those skills.
I don’t know how to express the extent to which shame feels unbearable to a young child who can’t turn to the parent to help them regulate their self-esteem. Being you feels bad. It makes you want to leap out of your own skin.
So one way of dealing with this is to blame someone else, and I think this happens with disorganized attachment. The original source of shame is the desire for closeness in the first place. Your parent was busy shooting up or knitting or whatever their thing was, and couldn’t understand your need for affection or protection or support, and so you felt ashamed.
As you get older, you don’t know why you feel ashamed whenever you start to feel close. In some people this leads to anger: the drive for closeness is sparking feelings of shame, which hurts, and so there is a desire to lash out at the person who seems to be inspiring the urge for closeness, as though they are the ones hurting you.
You can’t understand yourself as owning the desire for closeness, because then the shame would feel unbearable, so it must be understood to belong to someone else. The downside to this is that you then become a puppet of a person, whose desires and instincts are operated by other people while you stand helplessly by.
The other way to cope with the shame is to try to narrow and particularize it so that doesn’t feel like your whole self anymore. This is probably healthier and more “adult,” but it still leads to a confused understanding of yourself, if the “real” prompt for the shame is attachment, but you think it’s caused by a typing mistake.