A Comment about Shame

The Grandiosity Gap is the difference between self-image – the way the narcissist perceives himself – and contravening cues from reality. The greater the conflict between grandiosity and reality, the bigger the gap and the greater the narcissist’s feelings of shame and guilt.

There are two varieties of shame:

Narcissistic Shame – which is the narcissist’s experience of the Grandiosity Gap (and its affective correlate). Subjectively it is experienced as a pervasive feeling of worthlessness (the dysfunctional regulation of self-worth is the crux of pathological narcissism), “invisibleness” and ridiculousness. The patient feels pathetic and foolish, deserving of mockery and humiliation.

Narcissists adopt all kinds of defences to counter narcissistic shame. They develop addictive, reckless, or impulsive behaviours. They deny, withdraw, rage, or engage in the compulsive pursuit of some kind of (unattainable, of course) perfection. They display haughtiness and exhibitionism and so on. All these defences are primitive and involve splitting, projection, projective identification, and intellectualization.

The second type of shame is Self-Related. It is a result of the gap between the narcissist’s grandiose Ego Ideal and his Self or Ego. This is a well-known concept of shame and it has been explored widely in the works of Freud [1914], Reich [1960], Jacobson [1964], Kohut [1977], Kingston [1983], Spero [1984] and Morrison [1989].

One must draw a clear distinction between guilt (or control)–related shame and conformity-related shame.

Guilt is an “objectively” determinable philosophical entity (given relevant knowledge regarding the society and culture in question). It is context-dependent. It is the derivative of an underlying assumption by OTHERS that a Moral Agent exerts control over certain aspects of the world. This assumed control by the agent imputes guilt to it, if it acts in a manner incommensurate with prevailing morals, or refrains from acting in a manner commensurate with them.

Shame, in this case, here is an outcome of the ACTUAL occurrence of AVOIDABLE outcomes – events which impute guilt to a Moral Agent who acted wrongly or refrained from acting.

We must distinguish GUILT from GUILT FEELINGS, though. Guilt follows events. Guilt feelings can precede them.

Guilt feelings (and the attaching shame) can be ANTICIPATORY.  Moral Agents assume that they control certain aspects of the world. This makes them able to predict the outcomes of their INTENTIONS and feels guilt and shame as a result – even if nothing happened!

Guilt Feelings are composed of a component of Fear and a component of Anxiety. Fear is related to the external, objective, observable consequences of actions or inaction by the Moral Agent. Anxiety has to do with INNER consequences. It is ego-dystonic and threatens the identity of the Moral Agent because being Moral is an important part of it. The internalisation of guilt feelings leads to a shame reaction.

Thus, shame has to do with guilty feelings, not with GUILT, per se. To reiterate, guilt is determined by the reactions and anticipated reactions of others to external outcomes such as avoidable waste or preventable failure (the FEAR component). Guilty feelings are the reactions and anticipated reactions of the Moral Agent itself to internal outcomes (helplessness or loss of presumed control, narcissistic injuries – the ANXIETY component).

There is also conformity-related shame. It has to do with the narcissist’s feeling of “otherness”. It similarly involves a component of fear (of the reactions of others to one’s otherness) and of anxiety (of the reactions of oneself to one’s otherness).

Guilt-related shame is connected to self-related shame (perhaps through a psychic construct akin to the Superego). Conformity-related shame is more akin to narcissistic shame.


Also Read 

Responsibility and Other Matters

Is the Narcissist Ever Sorry?

Guilt? What Guilt?

Narcissists as Drama Queens

The Narcissist as Know-it-all

Narcissists and Emotions

Narcissists and Mood Disorders

The Narcissist as VAMPIRE or MACHINE

Projection and Projective Identification – Abuser in Denial

Does the Narcissist Have a Multiple Personality (Dissociative Identity Disorder)?

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