Shame and Jealousy: The Hidden Turmoils

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A volume in the Psychoanalytic Ideas Series, published for the Institute of Psychoanalysis by Karnac. Here, shame and jealousy are examined as hidden turmoils; as basic human feelings found in everyone but often suppressed and neglected. An unfulfilled need, unanswered plea for help, and failure to connect with and understand other people are all underlying causes for shame and feeling inadequate. Mollon argues that feelings of shame form an intrinsic part of the analytic encounter but 'astonishingly, this shame-laden quality of the psychoanalytic and psychotherapeutic setting is rarely addressed.This lucidly written and much-needed volume explores the profound effects shame and jealousy can have on self-esteem and how this can eventually lead to a chronic condition.'In the gaps and clumsy steps in human intercourse, in the misunderstandings and misjudgements, in the blank mocking eyes where empathy should be, in the look of disgust where a smile was anticipated, in the loneliness and disappointment of inarticulate desire that cannot be communicated because the words cannot be found, in the terrible hopeless absence when human connection fails, and in the empty yet rage-filled desolation of abuse - there in these holes and missing bits lies shame. Shame is where we fail.'- Phil Mollon, from the Preface

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CHAPTER ONE. Shame and jealousy

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Panic in the classroom

A homosexual man in psychoanalytic psychotherapy was reflecting upon his residual feelings of anxiety about revealing his sexual orientation. He suddenly recalled an incident at school when he was age twelve. At that time, he had begun to notice a good-looking boy in another class and would often steal a secret glance at him. One day he found himself in the same class as this boy and suddenly believed he overheard him making some reference to his looking. Overwhelmed with shame and panic, and terrified the whole class would discover his secret, he fled from the room.

An anxious manager

A middle manager was required periodically to make business presentations to groups of staff. Mostly he managed this reasonably competently. However, during a period when he was feeling quite depressed he failed to make adequate preparations and also, to his horror, found that he was unable to ad lib and think on his feet in the way he usually had been able to. On one disastrous occasion he found himself completely lost for words, panicking, unable to think, sweating profusely, feeling about to faint—and basically suffering all the features of a panic attack. He felt profoundly humiliated and devastatingly shamed by his own failure and his vision of the surprised and concerned looks on the faces of his audience. Following this, he felt increasingly anxious about any prospect of having to make any kind of public presentation. Eventually he became completely disabled by shame anxiety.

 

CHAPTER TWO. Further reflections on shame

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Shame involves a hole—a hole where our connection to others should be. In shame we fall out of the dance, the choreography of the human theatre. And in the deepest depths of shame we fall into a limbo where there are no words but only silence. In this no-place there are no eyes to see us, for the others have averted their gaze—no-one wishes to see the dread that has no name.

Shame and schizophrenia

This is sometimes conveyed most vividly and painfully by people suffering from schizophrenia. One patient, Sally, described how she would observe other people communicating, with words and gestures, each person seemingly perfectly “in step” and harmonized with the other—an astonishingly intricate interlocking of sound and movement, determined by dauntingly complex rules of form and content, whereby each person apparently conveys meaning to the other. As a child, Sally had always experienced difficulty in “joining in” with others, despite her intense desire to do so. She had never been able to understand how and why people behaved towards each other in the way that they did, and why one kind of behaviour or conversation took place in one situation, but not in another. Increasingly Sally’s social experiences had been painful and discouraging, involving rejection, teasing and scorn from her peers who had clearly regarded her as odd. She came to feel ever more awkward in the presence of others, never knowing how to behave or what to say. Her feelings of shame and self-consciousness intensified, crippling her social capacities even further. Finding the social world almost entirely without reward and consistently humiliating, Sally withdrew more and more into her secret alternative world of inner fantasy. She began to devise her own private code of communication involving certain gestures and signals. When imposing this on others she was attempting both to deny her own failure to understand the shared social ‘‘language” and to make others feel something of the incomprehension and bewilderment that was her recurrent experience. By late adolescence she had become floridly psychotic.

 

CHAPTER THREE. Psychic murder syndrome

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Sometimes the mother’s rejection of the child’s communicative initiatives, and of his or her needs for understanding and empathy are so profound that the developing self is pervaded with shame and distrust. In such cases the natural wish to make emotional connection with others is thrown partly into reverse. The core self is covered by various levels of (unconscious) disguise and protection against overwhelming shame. A resulting pattern of sabotage of intimate attachment relationships can appear perplexingly destructive, unless the underlying process and motive are understood.

The “Stepford Child”

I have noticed the following constellation of features occurring frequently in patients who have experienced their early environment as fundamentally opposed to their authentic self potential. This psychological environment was perceived as intent on “psychic murder”—wanting to do away with the child’s actual self and replace it with an alternative preferred version. An analogy can be drawn with the film “Stepford Wives”, in which the sinister “men’s club” kill the wives and create artificial replicas that look identical to the original, except that the new versions are completely compliant with their husbands’ desires; here we might think of a “Stepford Child”. The mother of such a child may have been experienced as extremely controlling, invasive, and lacking in empathy. This would be associated with pervasive shame, both because the child’s need to be understood empathically would be continually thwarted, and because the core self would be felt to be in danger of violation. As a result, the child would come to feel that attachment relationships are fundamentally threatening to the core self. In later life, the formation of attachment, involving potential vulnerability, would give rise to anxiety. The stronger the attachment, the greater the anxiety.

 

CHAPTER FOUR. Jealousy

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“Jealousy is one of those affective states, like grief, that may be regarded as normal. If anyone appears to be without it, the inference is justified that it has undergone severe repression and consequently plays all the greater part in his unconscious mental life”

Freud, 1922, p. 223

“A person who suffers an instinctual frustration experiences intense unpleasure, and we take it as a matter of course that he should feel hatred against the frustrating object. Nor does it seem to us a problem that he should feel envy toward another person who is more gratified than he—that is, that he should identify that person with himself and experience the more bitterly the contrast between this empathy of his imagination and the unpleasant reality and, out of this contrast, should develop aggressive tendencies against the luckier one. Jealousy is obviously a combination of this envy with that hatred …”

Fenichel, 1935, p. 349

Jealousy erupts violently, often without warning, brutally trampling on feelings of love and trust. The effect can be traumatizing for both the one who feels it and the one to whom it is directed. Its torment is intense and insistent, accompanied by powerful physiological concomitants, the whole body shaking and pulsating with shock. Some people rarely experience the turmoil of jealousy—instead they create it in others (White, 1980; White & Mullen, 1989). These are the agents of jealousy, the ones who always turn away first, and who thereby force their partner to suffer (projectively) what they repudiate from their own experience. Jealousy is such a ubiquitous and intense emotion that we might wonder what function it serves. It does not make for happiness. Indeed it can often be so disruptive to a relationship that it brings about the very abandonment or betrayal that is feared. Jealousy is often regarded as fundamentally destructive. Popular self-help and inspirational literature urges sufferers to strive to overcome their possessiveness and to attend to their own underlying feelings of insecurity (Ellis, 1998; Lobsenz, 1975; Schoenfeld, 1979)—the implication being that a secure person with healthy self-esteem would not experience jealousy. Thus jealousy is regarded as a sign of weakness, of inappropriate possessiveness—and so the pain of jealousy is mixed also with shame. Shame and jealousy fuel each other: the perception of a rival contains the idea of one’s own inadequacy compared to an other, and hence gives rise to shame and jealousy—which gives rise to further shame and feelings of inadequacy—in turn giving rise to further jealousy—and so on. The Oedipal situation—the childhood prototype of later jealousy— inevitably contains shame since the child is bound to feel inadequate in comparison to the adult rival. Naive idealism may confound the shame of the jealous adult. Thus, the anthropologist Margaret Mead, in an early paper, written when she was aged about 30, denounced jealousy as “undesirable, a festering spot in every personality so afflicted, an ineffective negativistic attitude which is more likely to lose than to gain any goal” and speculated that it might be possible to eliminate or reduce jealousy by, for example, the Soviet experiments in socialism, or through living in a cosmopolitan city such as London or New York! (Clanton & Smith, 1998, p. 127). Even some recent commentators have suggested that jealousy is derived from capitalist society and culture (Bhugra, 1993)—but Buss (2000) observes that “Cultures in tropical paradises that are entirely free of jealousy exist only in the romantic minds of optimistic anthropologists, and in fact have never been found” (p. 32). Neu (1980) comments:

 

CHAPTER FIVE. Shame in the psychoanalytic consulting room

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“As with panic anxiety, most patients prefer to flee from shame rather than face it. To confront shame therefore requires a leap of faith on the part of the patient that they will not be abandoned by the analyst and will be able to tolerate the pain of the underlying affect”

Bronheim, 1998, p. 83

Shame and the threat of shame are pervasive features of human life. We are social beings, concerned with finding a place of recognition, approval and value in the complex society that human beings have created. If we fail to find such a place, there is nowhere else to go. Without a positive place in society, we must identify with the marginalized, the outcasts, the scape-goats—or else inhabit a no-place of psychosis. From the beginning of our lives, we strive to be understood, to be loved and to love. As adults, we need to make our contribution to the social world, through work, through mating, and through the protection and raising of the next generation. If we fail in any of these areas, we feel shame. There is much that can go wrong—many ways in which to feel defective, inadequate, incompetent, unacceptable, unlovable, and an outcast. Moreover, it is not only our own failings that can lead to shame. Others may force us to feel shame through their ridicule and humiliating criticism—or through overt hostility and abuse. We may as children have been given the message not only that an aspect of our behaviour was unacceptable, but that our very being was bad and defective. Even when the creation of shame was not the intention, we can feel this through the failures of connection and empathic attunement in our childhood interactions with parents or other care-givers.

 

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