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Shame and Guilt: Masters of Disguise



The impact of growing up in a shaming environment affects an individual's life. Debilitating shame affects our ability to form loving relationships, honor ourselves adequately and may impact our future generations. Yet it has only been in the last ten years that the dynamics of shame have received attention in the field of psychology. Helen Block Lewis (1987) in her book, The Role of Shame in Symptom Formation, refers to shame as the "sleeper." Earlier attention was focused on guilt and frequently the two emotions were confused. Shame was ignored entirely. It makes sense that shame would be ignored in that it is one of the most difficult feelings to communicate. We are ashamed of our shame.

Books on shame are now being published. This is an important step in bringing it out of hiding. It is my feeling that debilitating shame and guilt are at the root of all dysfunctions in families. Our understanding of these masters of disguise will enhance our understanding of all adult children of dysfunctional families and/or communities. It will help explain why many adult children of depressed parents, abuse, religious fanaticism, war, cultural oppression and parental and sibling death (to name a few) identify so readily with the characteristics of adult children of alcoholics. All these adult children have one thing in common... they grew up in shaming environments where the grief of the past was not resolved in the past and their parents in delayed grief could not healthily bond to children.

Some of the difficulties that we have faced in understanding the concepts of debilitating shame and guilt are that the concepts have been confused historically in the literature and that the theoretical information has been difficult to understand.

When I was asked to write a clear easy-to-understand book on shame and guilt, I was excited by the challenge. I found that using fairy tales to portray shaming environments allowed readers to reach the shamed child in themselves and added clarity to sometimes difficult concepts. Throughout my research I found that there were definable characteristics of shaming environments recounted by adult children who experienced debilitating shame in childhood In this book characteristics of shame-based behavior in relationships are explored and defined I have listed these characteristics in several sections and have given examples that I believe will aid in the understanding of each characteristic on an emotional as well as cognitive level.

As an introduction to the chapters that follow, I list and describe common characteristics of adults shamed as children and shame-based adults in relationships.

Characteristics Of Adults Shamed In Childhood

Characteristics Of Shame-Based Adults In Relationships:

Throughout the remainder of this book, these characteristics will be fully explored.


© 1990 Jane Middelton-Moz. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Shame and Guilt by Jane Middelton-Moz, Ph.D. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442.