Thursday, February 10, 2011

" Shame and the “alpha” male or female? Or my “stuff” is better than yours. "

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they attack you, then 
you win."  Ghandi

Shame and the “alpha” male or female? Or my “stuff”  is better than yours.

We can have fond memories of George Carlin or just go to You Tube. “Stuff”, your stuff and my stuff. We all have “stuff” and we all like our “stuff.” Of course Mr. Carlin might or might not use another synonym for “stuff.”

Well, the other day I invited someone via email to look at some of my “stuff.” I had run across their work after a long hiatus and thought I would reconnect. I admit I had little hope of achieving my goal but without persistence you cannot have any hope of succeeding. My goal was not only have them look but join in a conversation and actually join our conversation at the Affect Psychology Facebook page. That was my “stuff.”

What I got in return was a “hello” and a brief update on our past mutual activities and a link to his recent page. Not a word about what I had sent him.

I may be wrong and I offer open season on myself but I do not think I would do this. I think I would have looked at the link sent me and commented on it. Being as fair as I can be I suppose I could have complimented him on his “stuff” right then and there. The page I had first found. But for one this material I was already familiar with when I had first met him. The “stuff” he sent me was new.

It seems to me such a common malaise today and something that Carlin foreshowed in “This is my stuff: your stuff?

I just finished an essay commenting on a David Brooks piece about conversation and there I put it severely.

 Unfortunately everyone becomes equal in all ways. So why would anyone have anything to say to anyone? Everyone is right in their own way and beautiful as the song says. Give me my space and I'll give you yours. Just leave me alone. No discussion. I can't risk the humiliation.”

So once in this position what does one do? What position? In that position of being ignored, to put it simply. All one has to do is ignore you. It is ,I believe, a topic for a PhD thesis in “humiliation studies” how does one respond to humiliation without humiliating other?

I really think that is the question for practitioners.

This is what all “alpha’s” know intuitively that shame begets shame. That such tension tends to lead to more and more negative affect and often inevitability to some type of violence or that the only way to deal with it is violence. And there are all types of violence. And the alpha knows that in most instances in society that “violence” is such that “all” that is going to happen is that the injured party is  going to look like the aggressor or the fool. Or if the alpha really is in power, “the boss” ect. will only be able to more readily be able to dismiss the lowly one once more. See: and   The important point is that they know that no matter what it is, it is  as if you where a nat.  This sometimes fails and there is a tipping point and someone comes back with a gun or a revolution starts.

You say well just ignore them. Who? Those that ignore us. But we are told and I believe that we do need to express all affect when we can and when it is appropriate and why is it not appropriate here. And why should we have affect. Because to be ignored hurts. Again I  just used a quote in an essay and it expresses the idea does it not?

The basis of shame is not some personal mistake of ours, but the ignominy, the humiliation we feel that we must be what we are without any choice in the matter, and that this humiliation is seen by everyone.”1

We cannot help the pain of shame.

It is as if it is the most hidden of human “pivot points” but it is the point upon which almost all power rest and turns.  I am speaking of this moment of being ignored. Of saying essentially “you are nothing.”  If we would teach it to all, all power would melt away. Outlaw it. 50 dollar fine. “I’ve got you. I know what you are doing. You are ignoring me. You are trying to make me into nothing.”

There are many ways to express this. It has been pointed out that children that have been “actively” abused do better than abandoned children. Simple explanation would be is that the child is not “nothing” but something. The parent is attending to them is some way, providing for them showing interest.

Then recently I had a conversation about how showing slight contempt is often worse than a punch in the face. The later of course shows real engagement and recognition of your existence while the former is dismissive of your existence.

We are severally  pained by divisiveness of unanswered emails and in academics it is legend that colleagues will turn blue before admitting to having read their colleagues work. I can at least be a little more “something” if  I ignore you, if your “nothing”, at least to me.

 Shame and Humiliation (Summary of Principles used in these posts.)

Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.

Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nat
On  Amazon by Brian Lynch Paper Back and Kindle:
"Knowing Your Emotions"
"Doing- Thinking- Feeling - In The World"

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Who Says We Are Not Aware of Shame and Humiliation?

Who Says We Are Not Aware of Shame and Humiliation?
"The basis of shame is not some personal mistake of ours, but that this humiliation is seen by everyone."
Milan Kundera   as 

quoted by Hotch on “Criminal Minds”
The full quote appears to be “The basis of shame is not some personal mistake of ours, but the ignominy, the humiliation we feel that we must be what we are without any choice in the matter, and that this humiliation is seen by everyone.1
Shame and humiliation are concepts that have become more prevalent in the psychological literature over last twenty years.  At the forefront of articulating their meaning and use has been those who work with the concepts of Silvan S. Tomkins and Donald Nathanson. 

This short paper is the result of my in dept use of these concepts in my work and study of Affect Psychology for a number of years and nascent ideas about how I see these ideas playing out in the culture especially in the popular media.
The final impetus for this was an episode of a popular TV series call “Criminal Minds.”

This show revolves around a fictional FBI task force stationed at Quantico Vg. of mainly criminal “profilers” that can be called into action by invitation by local authorities to investigate difficult crimes. Usually these are serial killers.  They are  a “strike team” with their own private jet.  In realty the FBI has no such force. At Quantico there are, however, special agents with profiling skills that can be called.

There is much fantasy here: first that there would be federal dollars to support such a task force on an ongoing basis. Then are just not that many cases in realty and the more disturbing fact is that it portrays the mentally ill as statically much more violent than they are.

Why this case?  Really no particular reason other than it was just one more that is based on the motive of humiliation for murder.

Three talented young women disappear; they are all preparing to go off to college on athletic scholarships.

A relative of one of the girls contacts one of The FBI team members and gets them involved.  Jumping to the conclusion it is found that the suspect must have been on the soccer team long ago. He is a garbage man, he blew out his knee in the championship game, lost a scholarship to Notre Dame, and everyone forgot about him. As many of these scenarios are they are rather gruesome.

This man had sequestered the three girls in a dungeon like room without  food or water until they decide who they would kill. They had to kill one of three so that two would live. One of them was sick so as she became weaker   the more aggressive of the three took control and convinced the third they simply had to  do her in. They yell to their captor telling him they have decided and his response is to throw them two large hammers. Once they realize what has happened they weaken , at least one of them, one weakens the other becomes resolved that they have to kill their mate while they are agreeing the third revives sneaks up and hits the aggressive girl  in the head killing her instantly. A neat twist, thus saving the audience and the girls form  the other horrid outcome of the other two wailing away freely on their teammate. Here we have a more clear cut case of self defense.

One might be quick to say that none of the synopsis of the murder adds  much to my theme of shame and humiliation except to suggest and  remind us the debts to which toxic shame can lead people I mainly recount it for completeness.

Yet it does.  What is the murder doing? This TV crime show is not just a silly excitement riddled story. The killer is playing out his morality play of and repeating a ramped up version of his own humiliation as payback to this pristine community for the years of “nothingness” he has felt.”  It is what I call the dangers of inadvertent humiliation.  The society has not a clue, nor in this case should they, of what happened in this young kids mind so many years ago and how it festered. How it could show up in such pathology so many years later. And we know it is quite rare that such a scenario would or does happen.  If it did happen it would be much more proximal to the emotional injury.  That is not to say that it does not happen.

The important point is that humiliation was used as a motivation for the action.
It is noted it that the motivation of humiliation is not even spelled out or followed through on in this particular episode. It is implied. We see the agents unite friends and relatives of  these girls in this small town and then watch as they start fighting amongst each other and then  see the agent telling them that this is what the suspect wants. Why? They don’t say it but the only reason would be to redress some previous wrong, that is for  revenge.

Then all we find out is that he is a garbage man and supposedly all others involved have much higher stations in life and of course the three girls are star athletes and going off to IVY league schools and we learn that he lost a scholar ship to Norte Dame. But there is no further comment about him. No interview, just his arrest. It seems as if a slight misstep in the writing or just the time constraints of the format leave no time for exploration of motive. That is not the point of the show. As always in American TV it is the chase it is our addiction to “excitement.” That does not does not diminish our growing maturity in recognizing shame and humiliation as a motivation to crime.  Or it might be more sophisticated; a recognition that the viewer can sort all this out.

All this said it is and was for me an opportunity to comment on how humiliation has become a mainstay, a work horse of motivation in TV drama as well as in “reality” TV.  There has been some discussion of this on email lists but with this episode it just occurred to me how it is really “right under noses” and yet not explored.

It has been suggested to me that at least the general public will more or less readily accept and understand humiliation and the concept of shame at this level. The level of it being a motivation for murder where as we as public have a much harder time understating the concepts in our day to day emotional lives. I am not sure I buy this.

What do I mean? I mean that this whole point of this is a segue to talk about that despite the concepts of shame and humiliation  being in the literate for many years  they are not readily or easily accepted or introduced to the public or patients. Yet as we see with this episode of “Criminal Minds” they are used in popular culture.

This raises some interesting questions that I think are being ignored.
First, I should be clear that for those not familiar with  television drama that this episode of “Criminal Minds” is by no means isolated.  I wish I could offer a statistical analysis of a number of shows but I can’t. I can attest that any number of episodes  of the set of  “CSI” series,  the set of “Law and Order” series and well as “Criminal Minds” base the motivation for the murder on revenge, revenge for having been humiliated. Of course “revenge”  is an age old motivation what is different it the addition of the motivation for the revenge. 
Likewise, for years now there have been a number of “reality shows” of all types. Shows that pit peoples against one another in artificial situations such as “Survivor” to shows such as “Hell’s Kitchen” and the “Weakest Link.” All of these in one way or another, in non fictional ways, put people in situations or play up situations where they are apt to be or are  ritually shame and humiliate each other or are humiliated.

I have broached the idea for some time that quite possibly “ we”, meaning, man in general are simply  discovering these concepts and there is no particular “positive” way to come to peace with them. Or in “Affect” language. They are, for the first time, coming fully into human consciousness.  Technology and the entrainment medium offer a somewhat “safe” way to offer and arena to , gain, come to terms with these powerful emotions.  We have always had the battlefield and 2000 thousand years ago we had the had the coliseum with Gladiators to “play with our emotions.” We still have the battle field but to a much lesser extent despite popular opinion and we still have the coliseum for the  NFL to the WWF but we also have the reality that we have seen concerning how war technology places solders in a surreal world where killing becomes a video game.

So this is about a simple observation and that is there is, it seems to me, much wailing and gnashing  of teeth about how there is little or no recognition of the concepts of shame and humiliation in the culture.

True enough when I and my colleagues present these ideas in talks and in therapy sessions and  we marvel at how little excitement and understanding they almost always elicit. Note I said how little understanding, they elicit little interest and excitement..

Years go by and we are left unsatisfied in our goal of dissimilating our ideas. I believe there are many reasons for this which I will not go into further.
I will say that I think we, for whatever reason, miss a great trove or resources by ignoring what is available in popular cultural.  That in one sense the world is passing us by.

Then the question is why is it that popular culture,  in my mind at least, is  equal with or ahead of science in this area?

The is a saying that “the artist get there first.” 

This is completely consistent with “Affect Psychology” and if we follow the concepts of Affect Imagery and Consciousness which happens to be the title of Silvan Tomkins major work. The idea is that our information flow is in that order. It is preconscious in our deep memory banks of  “affect” bundled up with  “imagery” and it is only finally that it comes into consciousness. So it would seem that groups and history would follow the paradigm of the individual.  The artist works on the subconscious level. They simply are pulling up the feeling and imagery more  quickly.

It is said that the whole history of modern physics is portrayed in early modern art.

I will leave you with a  synopsis of what I think is one of the poorer crime shows on and that is “CSI Miami” it focus almost totally on the mechanics of yet to exist technical crime techniques and very little character development. I say this as this episode had a fairly strong story line based on humiliate.

The telling of the tale, however, takes only a few lines. The story takes place during famous “Spring Break” in Miami. Two young men are found dead under suspicious circumstances. It turns out that at some previous point they had severally humiliated a young lady who was overweight making her feel as if she was “nothing.” So much so that she lost the weigh and became quite attractive, came to spring break and enticed them sexually. They being none the wiser as to whom she was. At the appropriate moment she let them know who she was and then killed them.

My final comment is this type of understanding of shame and humiliation is articulated over and over again. Clearly the writers have a very conscious understanding of it or so it would seem. They must be familiar with the literature? I invite comments about it. So it would seem that we in the business seem to be, to me, on a “high horse” of sorts and with blinders thinking we are the only ones of sorts “holding these concepts in consciousness.”  

1The opening quote is complex and accurate on all levels but that said I am sure the author had no knowledge of the Tomkins definition of shame. That is shame being the “Impediment of going positive feeling.” So it is certainly not some “personal mistake of ours.”  But it is precisely the helplessness we feel in the fact that we have no choice in the fact that our desires are interrupted by life willy-nilly and we are brought to our knees that we, often, feel immense, humiliation. And when we are exposed it can drive us insane.

Shame and Humiliation (Summary of Principles used in these posts.)

Tomkins, Silvan S.: Affect Imagery Consciousness NY: SPringer Publishing Company, 1963.

Shame and Pride : Affect, Sex, and the Birth of the Self by Donald L. Nat

On  Amazon by Brian Lynch Paper Back and Kindle:
"Knowing Your Emotions"
"Doing- Thinking- Feeling - In The World"

Facebook | Affect Psychology